Art is already a feast for the eyes, but a new exhibit at the Dutch art museum Mauritshuis is hoping to make it a feast for the nose as well. By Stacey Leasca
“Smell the Art: Fleeting Scents in Colour”, a new show set to premiere at the museum located in The Hague as soon as it reopens to the public, not only showcases some stunning works by 17th-century painters but now also showcases what those paintings may “smell” like, thanks to some high-tech scent spritzers guests can activate with the touch of a button.
Can’t wait to see what art smells like? The museum is happy to ship you a scent spritzer and a ticket to a virtual show so you can take a digital tour for €25 (roughly $30 or INR 2,180).
“I don’t think that’s been done before—that you can actually smell something at home,” Ariane van Suchtelen, the show’s curator, shared with Artnet News. “We have to see how it works. This box is still an experiment.”
Sure, it sounds like a really cool multi-sensory experience, but fair warning, the smell might not be all that pleasant when it hits your nostrils, as the paintings represent scents both “fragrant and foul.”
“Have you ever wondered what an Amsterdam canal smelled like 400 years ago? It would have been pretty grim: excrement, waste materials, and all kinds of filth were dumped into the water,” the museum explains on its website. “The same water that poorer housewives then did their laundry in. Personal and general hygiene were far from what they are today. People were convinced that foul smells could harm their health. Luckily there were all kinds of tricks for disguising unpleasant smells and situations. Wealthy women carried a pomander on a chain, then an expensive fashion accessory. As well as looking good, this also meant they could also protect themselves against dangerous odours.”
Why would anyone subject themselves to such a disgusting scent? For the experience of course, and to evoke a sense of belonging in the painting.
“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,” Justus Verhagen, a neuroscience professor at Yale University, told Artnet. “These are strongly involved in emotions and memories.” Other senses, like vision, are “much less direct, as they are gated via the thalamus, among other things.”
The museum has created just 1,500 boxes to ship around the globe to interested parties, though van Suchtelen says if the kits are popular they are open to making more. Get on the list for a kit on the museum’s website now.