Since its founding in 1874, Museum De Lakenhal has been located in the monumental 'Laecken-Halle' (Cloth Hall) from 1640. This is where the world famous Leiden cloth was inspected and certified by attaching a lead hallmark. Over the past centuries, the building has lived through many transformations.

Cloister Mariënpoel outside of Leiden, 1527
Cloister Mariënpoel outside of Leiden, 1527 Leiden Archives

8 May 1639

Leiden's city administration decided to build an inspection hall for woollen cloth: the Laecken-Halle (Cloth Hall). City Master Builder Arent van ’s-Gravesande (approx. 1610-1662) was commissioned to design a classicistic city palace. The Hall had to reflect the quality and international renown of the cloth that made Leiden into such a wealthy city in the Dutch Golden Age.

Arent van ’s-Gravesande (ca. 1610 - 1662)

Van ’s-Gravesande is one of the most important architects of the Dutch Golden Age. He was a student of the renowned architect Jacob van Campen and worked in the Dutch Classicist style. From 1638 to 1655, van 's-Gravesande worked as Leiden's City architect. His works in Leiden include the Marekerk and the Cloth Hall.

Jan Antonisz. van Ravesteyn, the Hague Magistrate in 1636 (detail: portrait of 's-Gravesande)
Jan Antonisz. van Ravesteyn, the Hague Magistrate in 1636 (detail: portrait of 's-Gravesande) Haags Historisch Museum (The Hague Historical Museum)

8 August 1641

Official opening of the Laecken-Halle. After inspection at the Hall, the approved cloths received a lead hallmark that guaranteed their quality. This hallmark would become widespread around the world, which meant that cloths from Leiden caught on from America up to China.

Inden Jaere 1639 ende 1640 hebben de Heeren van den Gerechte de Laecken-Halle seer schoon ende cierlicken doen bouwen […] Van binnen versien ende verdeelt met verscheyden plaetsen ende cameren

The Leiden Burghomaster and history writer Jan Orlers (1570 - 1646) in 'Beschrijvinghe der stad Leyden (1641)


Due to the decline of the textile industry, the Laecken-Halle lost its function of inspection hall for cloths and it was occupied as a 'Halle van Manufacturen' and cholera hospital.

1 - 4 October 1824

First historical exhibition of the Netherlands in the Town Hall of Leiden, in honour of the 250th anniversary of Leiden's Relief. Over one hundred objects were lent out by private persons to the city.

May 1867

The ‘Committee for the preservation of objects of value or those that are important to the archaeology and art history’ collected the paintings that were scattered about', in order to gather them in the room of the former Weeskamer (Orphan's Room) on the first floor of the eastern wing of the Town Hall.

28 December 1868

The municipal administration initially decided to designate ‘a part of the Lakenhal building as a depository or Museum of objects of archaeological or other artistic value’.


Beginning of reconstruction into city museum. City Architect J.W. Schaap was commissioned to add a staircase to the building of the Lakenhal en to change the second floor into an exhibition space. Other spaces of the Lakenhal were added to the museum in the years 1872 to 1874.

J.W. Schaap, 'Situation of the Cloth Hall or City Museum', 1869
J.W. Schaap, 'Situation of the Cloth Hall or City Museum', 1869 Leiden Archives

3 October 1872

Prior to the official opening, the room opened to the public on the occasion of the celebration of Leiden's Relief. Due to the enormous number of visitors (over 4,000) it soon became clear that the museum was undersized. It was also too small for its increasing collection: the russet walls were covered from top to bottom in paintings and weapon shields. The showcases were also packed with goblets, medals, seals and relics to commemorate the Siege and Relief of Leiden in 1574 and the Kruitramp (Gunpowder Disaster) in 1807. Consequently, the Municipal Council decided that the first floor of the Lakenhal also needed to be made available.

1 May 1874

The comprehensive building of the Lakenhal was opened as a museum of ‘objects of archaeological and historical value’. The public was allowed in every day, for only 10 cents per person. On Sundays and during the annual commemoration of Leiden's Relief on 3 October admission is free.

At around 1880

Paintings that were mainly preserved for their historic narrative and links to the city became increasingly valued as key works of art. Modern artistic trends required more space than could be accommodated in the historical building.

20 May 1890

Festive opening of the new Harteveltzaal (Harteveld Room), with an exhibition on modern art, compiled by a committee of which the following artists from Leiden were members: Floris Verster, Theodorus Ouwerkerk and Menso Kamerlingh Onnes.


The annual report listed that the museum was struggling with an urgent lack of space. It became increasingly clear that the monumental building had not been designed for a museum function and that it did not comply with ‘modern demands of museum layout’. In May, Mr. C.P.D. Pape donated a 'royal contribution', in memory of his deceased brother C.W.J.J. Pape, LLM. This guaranteed the ‘extension craved for so long and in a manner that exceeded the wildest expectations.’

5 April 1922

Official opening of the Pape Wing. The exhibition space was not only enlarged considerably - the museum nearly became twice as big – but the museum now also had an attic and a basement to store collection pieces.

Article about the official opening of the Pape wing in the 15 April issue of Panorama
Article about the official opening of the Pape wing in the 15 April issue of Panorama Leiden Archives


'Work in Progress' was the largest exhibition ever for Museum De Lakenhal: all repositories were emptied! A 65-metre long blue roller conveyor moved through the exhibition room and on it were hundreds of yellow crates filled with soft pillows and museum objects that could be conveyed slowly. Museum staff members were continuously engaged in mapping the collection before the public's very eyes. Piece by piece, the collection items were viewed, investigated, photographed and registered digitally. What was the result? Museum De Lakenhal got acquainted with its own DNA, which consisted of approximately 22,000 objects. The museum and staff members could pride themselves on a strong basis for new and surprising exhibitions and projects, following the knowledge they acquired during the project.

Work in Progress (2010)
Work in Progress (2010) Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

2016-2019 Restoration and Expansion

Since 1948, the urge of the restoration and expansion of the monumental 'Laecken-Halle' which houses the museum is discussed. In 2013 it is denounced that the plans for the high quality restoration of the historical buildings, the improvement of the public facilities and the creation of more space for both the collection and exhibitions, are to become reality.