Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teylers Museum: back in time

Remember the way in which museums used to be stereotyped? Dusty, darkened corridors rammed with dry old specimens, shuffling schoolchildren being reluctantly herded from place to place by grim-faced adult minders, and the occasional tweedy man squinting at a nondescript lump of rock. In an effort to break away from such a stuffy image, many museums resorted to child-friendly interactivity, minimalist signage, video displays and shiny, swishy things.

But some people liked the old way (for one thing, there weren't so many bloody kids and terrible dinosaur toys). Teylers Museum is for them...for us.


Teylers Museum is located in Haarlem, (the) Netherlands, and dates back to the 18th century. Built as a showcase for the art and science of the time, it continues to preserve and display an unusual and highly varied collection to this day - and devotes considerable space to fossils. Which I thought you lot might be most interested in, for whatever reason. Best of all, it remains thoroughly old-fashioned in approach, with beautiful Victorian-style display cabinets chock full of the good stuff.


There's a decent mix of material here, much of it from the Netherlands and Germany, but there's a great deal from further afield, too. Due to the nature of many of the specimens (pressed flat), not to mention space concerns, you won't find many skeletal mounts here. However, those that you do find - like the above cave bear - can be viewed from any angle you so desire, with nary a glass panel to get in the way.




The first room is dominated by a gorgeous display of marine reptile casts, including the crocodyliform Steneosaurus (top), alongside the cave bear and elephant skulls, among other bits and pieces. To add to the very Victorian air, one will also find skeletal diagrams by everyone's favourite scraggly-bearded, hyper-competitive 19th century palaeontologist, Othniel C. Marsh.


The second fossil room is undoubtedly where you'll find the most exquisite material. Here, stacked high in row after row of cabinets, are stored any number of specimens from the Jurassic limestone of Europe, including Germany's famous Solnhofen. There's even an Archaeopteryx specimen...



Admittedly, it's not as spectacular as some of the others, but it's still very important in its own right.


Among the material from outside Europe, it's possible to find - stuffed in an easily-overlooked spot at one end of the long display case in the middle of the room - these brachiosaur bits, attributed to "Brachiosaurus sp." and hailing from 'east Africa' (presumably Tanzania or thereabouts). Of course, European Jurassic limestone provides by far the most beautiful and intricate specimens, just a few of which are below. It's enormous fun to scour the cabinets for fascinating fossils, including a number of holotypes (such as Atoposaurus), neatly presented like the open pages of a catalogue of prehistoric life. The name 'H. v. Meyer' crops up rather a lot, as one would expect!



There's a lot more to Teylers than fossils, mind you, and that is the museum's most unusual and wonderful aspect - it's like visiting three or four museums at once. Alongside marvelous displays of historic scientific instruments, there's an art gallery of considerable size displaying works from the Dutch Romantic and later schools, among others. The museum also possesses a remarkable collection of work from Old Masters, such as that recently showcased in a temporary (but highly impressive) Raphael exhibition.


Haarlem is a lovely city, and if you're ever in the Netherlands it's well worth taking the time to visit, quite apart from the fact that Teylers is located there. It's even a conveniently short distance from Amsterdam, should you so happen to be staying in the capital, and benefits from a glut of museums and historical landmarks, not to mention a lack of drunken tourists on a rampage. Teylers is but the icing.

Finally, apologies for this post being a little bit light on the content - it took me long enough to extract a digit and produce just this, and I really wanted to get the photos published at least (they say a thousand words apiece, you know). If you want to read more about the museum, do check out their official website and Wikipedia page.

7 comments:

  1. Teylers is going on the Swansong list, no question. My kind of museum in every way.

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  2. I've been there too. It can get a bit dark and gloomy in the winter, but there's a lot on display here.

    My favourite is the posters and diagrams by O.C. Marsh. They don't reconstruct dinosaur skeletons like that any more :-(

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  3. I've visited Teyler's a couple of times, very charming. The fact that it still relies heavily on natural light adds to that charm (but probably more so in summer!). I did find the labelling a bit infuriating on more than one occasion, wher I though hey that's a cool specimen of Obsoletus juniorsynonymus I want to know more...

    My favorite specimen is probably "antediluvian man", because Cuvier himself came to Haarlem to debunk the theory that it was a victim of the biblical flood.

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  4. Count me as another fan of the old-style packed (even cluttered) display cases and specimens crammed into every nook and cranny.

    "...apologies for this post being a little bit light on the content..."
    No apology necessary. It's always difficult to collect your thoughts after six or seven Amsterdam cookies!

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  5. Marc: "Remember the way in which museums used to be stereotyped? Dusty, darkened corridors rammed with dry old specimens, shuffling schoolchildren being reluctantly herded from place to place by grim-faced adult minders, and the occasional tweedy man squinting at a nondescript lump of rock. In an effort to break away from such a stuffy image, many museums resorted to child-friendly interactivity, minimalist signage, video displays and shiny, swishy things."

    That reminds me of HMNH, which seems to be somewhere inbtwn the old school/victorian museums & the new school/interpretive ones, which in turn reminds me of something I've been meaning to ask: Why do you & David dislike the latter museums so (I say David b/c the above quote also reminds me of his "Mecha-Sue" complaints: http://chasmosaurs.blogspot.com/2010/07/sue-vs-mecha-sue.html ). I don't wanna hate on your opinions or anything, but as a Natural History & Interpretation major ( http://www.esf.edu/efb/nhi/default.asp ), I can't emphasize enough the importance of said museums in bridging the gap btwn the scientific community & the general public, & thus connecting kids w/nature (especially city kids who don't get out much). The same goes for the new school/interpretive dino exhibits (including "Mecha-Sue"), which are WAY better than the old school/victorian ones at both putting dinos into ecological/evolutionary context & making science more accessible/relevant to dino-loving kids (among other things). 1 of my favorite examples is CMN's "Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery" ( http://nature.ca/en/plan-your-visit/what-see-do/our-exhibitions/talisman-energy-fossil-gallery ): The 1 half is a walk-through diorama of local Late Cretaceous dinos (for eco-context); The other half is a gallery of said dinos' skeletons arranged phylogenetically (for evo-context). Soon after my 1st time visiting CMN, I re-visited AMNH & was shocked by the difference btwn the 2 museums, interpretation-wise. While CMN's exhibit signs were short & sweet (I.e. A header for the exhibit's main theme + 1 or 2 paragraphs for its sub-themes), I felt like Whose Line's Greg in the following quotes when reading AMNH's. OK, I'm done ranting now. I just hope you guys understand where I'm coming from.

    Greg: "Oh my God! There's two paragraphs of text on this!"
    Drew: "They're all awfully detailed."
    Greg: "This is the Bhagavad Gita! There's fifty-thousand chapters! I didn't realize we were reading the whole Kabbalah" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2ujVFM_mKs ).

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    Replies
    1. It's important to not underestimate how tongue-in-cheek I'm being when I make comments like that (having recently had to put up with swarms of brats at the NHM probably doesn't help). I do think it's important to put the specimens in an ecological and evolutionary context, and also to cater to visitors at various levels. I was particularly impressed by the Dinosaur Isle museum in the Isle of Wight, which combines attention-grabbing stuff (life-size models and animatronics) with detailed specimen info for those who want it. I reviewed it last year: http://chasmosaurs.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/dinosaur-isle.html

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    2. "It's important to not underestimate how tongue-in-cheek I'm being when I make comments like that"

      I forget about that sometimes.

      "I was particularly impressed by the Dinosaur Isle museum in the Isle of Wight, which combines attention-grabbing stuff"

      Fair enough.

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