Photo: Mauritshuis

This Dutch Museum Is Pairing Smells With Paintings, and It’s Not Always Pleasant

Netherlands News Art + Architecture
by Eben Diskin Mar 18, 2021

Paintings are meant to be admired, but admiration isn’t always visual. A new exhibition opening at the Dutch art museum Mauritshuis in The Hague will pair art with scents to help visitors better understand the works and immerse themselves within them. The “Smell the Art: Fleeting-Scents in Colour” show includes “scent dispensers” that release a puff of scented air with the push of a pedal beside 50 17th-century Dutch paintings on display. Smells include a linen cupboard, bleaching fields, ambergris, myrrh, and the then-stench of the country’s canals.

The sense of smell is one of the most evocative senses and can trigger memories and emotions even more successfully than eyesight or hearing, so you’re unlikely to forget your trip to the museum. Yale University neuroscientist Justus Verhagen told Artnet News, “The sense of smell is tightly interwoven with the evolutionarily old limbic system of the brain by having direct access to structures like the amygdala, hippocampal complex, and cortex. These are strongly involved in emotions and memories.”

Other parts of the exhibition deal with the role of scent in 17th-century Dutch life, when foul smells were thought to be harmful for your health. The exhibition also addresses how trade with people in other parts of the world led to the introduction of new aromas.

The exhibition is scheduled to open as soon as the Mauritshuis museum reopens to visitors and will run through August 29.

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