Building and history of Museum De Lakenhal

Museum De Lakenhal gets its name from the special building in which it is found: the monumental Laecken-Halle from 1640. Here the world-famous Leids Laken was inspected for quality and provided with a so-called cloth lead. This building has housed Museum De Lakenhal since its founding in 1874. Over the centuries, the building has undergone all kinds of transformations. We are happy to tell you more about it.

Museum in the City Hall

The seed for Museum De Lakenhal was sown as early as the sixteenth century. Fearing the Iconoclasm, the Leiden city council had a number of altarpieces removed from Leiden's Pieterskerk and Mariënpoel monastery in 1566: The Last Judgment by Lucas van Leyden and two triptychs by Cornelis Engebrechtsz. They are temporarily housed in the Leiden Town Hall. At this location, after the Leyden Relief on October 3, 1574, important historical objects from this period, such as emergency coins, medals of honor and stamps, will also be displayed to the public. It marks the start of a city collection on the history of Leiden. Between 1795 and 1820 other objects from old city institutions, such as the Schuttersdoelen, the Waag, the Boterhuis and guild houses, will also be kept in the city hall.


Construction of the Laecken-Halle

On May 8, 1639, the Leiden city council decides that a judging hall for wool fabric should be built: the Laecken-Halle. Arent van 's-Gravesande (ca. 1610-1662) receives the commission. His task is to design a classicist city palace that reflects the quality and international reputation of Leiden fabrics. Van 's-Gravesande is not the least of these: he is among the most important architects of the seventeenth century. He also designed Leiden's Marekerk, for example. More than two years later, on August 8, 1641, the Laecken-Halle was officially opened.


New functions

The textile industry falls into decline during the nineteenth century. Thus, in 1820 the Laecken-Halle loses its function as an inspection hall for cloth. In the following years, the use takes on the function of Hall of Manufactures, a kind of Chamber of Commerce for wool fabrics, and hospital for cholera patients. In 1868, the City Council decided to designate "part of the Lakenhal building as a repository or museum for objects of archaeological or other artistic value". It marked the start of Museum De Lakenhal as the city museum of Leiden.

Bouw van de Laecken-Halle

Op 8 mei 1639 besluit het Leidse stadsbestuur dat er een keurhal voor wollen stof moet komen: de Laecken-Halle. Arent van ’s-Gravesande (ca. 1610-1662) krijgt de opdracht. Zijn taak is om een classicistisch stadspaleis te ontwerpen, dat de kwaliteit en internationale reputatie van de Leidse stoffen weerspiegelt. Van ’s-Gravesande is niet de minste: hij behoort tot de belangrijkste architecten van de zeventiende eeuw. Hij ontwierp bijvoorbeeld ook de Leidse Marekerk. Ruim twee jaar later, op 8 augustus 1641, wordt de Laecken-Halle officieel geopend.

Growing building

Soon the museum is too small to accommodate the growing collection. The City Council decides that the second floor of the Cloth Hall should also be made available. Between 1872 and 1874, other rooms of the Cloth Hall are also added to the museum, such as the Governor's Room, the Stamp Room, the Workmaster's Room and the Great and Small Press. As a result, the amount of space grows considerably.

The Governor's Room of Museum De Lakenhal
The Governor's Room of Museum De Lakenhal Photo: Ronald Tilleman

For everyone to visit

On May 1, 1874, three hundred years after the Relief of Leiden, the entire building of the Lakenhal was finally opened as a museum of "objects of antiquity and historical value". From then on, the museum is open to everyone. On Sundays and during the annual commemoration of Leidens Ontzet on Oct. 3, admission is free.

Harteveltzaal in Museum De Lakenhal
Harteveltzaal in Museum De Lakenhal Photo: Ronald Tilleman

Continuing to expand

Museum De Lakenhal continues to expand. In 1890, the museum received a gift from Daniël Hartevelt (1824-1895), which made it possible to add a new exhibition hall: the Hartevelt Hall. Here, contemporary art, including works by George Hendrik Breitner and the Hague School, was exhibited - unique for the time. The collection also continued to grow. In 1893, for example, a unique collection of sample books, used in the old Laecken-Halle from 1690 to 1791, is moved from the municipal archives to the museum.

Great donation

Several decades later, Museum De Lakenhal is already suffering from a lack of space. Fortunately, in 1918 the museum receives a royal gift from Mr. Pape, in memory of his deceased brother. This made it possible to pay for the desired expansion, almost doubling the size of the museum. It will also provide the museum with an attic and basement, where collection pieces can be stored. The Pape Wing was inaugurated on April 5, 1922.

Eviction during World War II

When World War II breaks out, in 1940 the most precious pieces are moved to the museum's basement. In 1941, it was decided to transfer The Last Judgment, relics of Leiden's Siege and Relief, city silver, glassware and other precious objects to the bombproof government air raid shelters in the dunes near Zandvoort. Later, The Last Judgment would even be taken to a warehouse near Maastricht. After the bombing of Leiden on December 10-11, 1944, the entire building was evacuated. In 1945, Museum De Lakenhal reopens as one of the first museums in the Netherlands.

Reference sign to shelters
Reference sign to shelters Collection Museum De Lakenhal

Work in Progress

A major project entitled Work in Progress is taking place at Museum De Lakenhal in 2010. In the exhibition halls, museum employees are continuously working to map out the 22 thousand objects in the collection, under the eyes of the public.

Restoration and expansion

From 2016 to 2019, Museum De Lakenhal is closed due to extensive restoration and expansion. The Achterplaats, where textile workers used to have to wait for their fabrics to be inspected, is transformed into a covered courtyard, where all parts of the building from different centuries come together. At the rear of the building, on the contrary, new construction is being added: the Van Steijn rooms, named after Carla van Steijn, who donated 5 million euros to the museum's friends association. This creates 2.5 thousand square meters of additional space for exhibitions, as well as for logistics, storage, workshops, offices, museum café and a museum library, in addition to 450 square meters of exhibition space.

Achterplaats of Museum De Lakenhal
Achterplaats of Museum De Lakenhal Photo: Ronald Tilleman

Award-winning project

The combination of restoration and expansion requires a diverse team of architects. Responsible for the restoration part is the renowned firm Julian Harrap Architects (JHA) from London. The young, talented Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven Architects (HCVA) from Rotterdam is responsible for the expansion. It works from an artisanal, sustainable base on designs that connect new construction with the urban or landscape environment in a natural and contemporary way. In 2019 HCVA will receive the Abe Bonnema Architecture Prize for the restoration and expansion of Museum De Lakenhal and will also be named Architect of the Year 2019 by Architectenweb Awards.