The Groote Museum first opened its doors in 1855. Ascending the stairs of the Main Building up to the museum on the upper floors, you would have seen display cases and cabinets stretching hundreds of yards and containing thousands of objects, from shells to skulls and from specimens to whole skeletons. This is where the zoological society Natura Artis Magistra (meaning: “nature is the teacher of art and science”) pursued its ambition of studying nature and sharing knowledge. People back then were curious about links between humans and other life. To the colonial way of thinking, "nature” included non-western peoples as well. Nature belonged behind glass, through which humans could look at it, sharply dividing the two. This museum closed in 1947. In 2022, 75 years later, it is reopening its doors to tear down that division.
Origins of the museum
Establishing a museum as part of ARTIS was a logical step for the founders of the zoological society Natura Artis Magistra in 1838. Their mission was to do research and pass on their knowledge of nature. They started by acquiring animals, both alive and dead. Live animals went to the park, while the dead specimens were exhibited inside a small building. Within just a few years, their collection had already outgrown this forerunner of the Groote Museum..
Member Hall and museum
Membership swelled, and in 1850 the society decided to build a new hall for members. Gradually, the idea arose to turn the upper floors into an exhibition space. This led to the design of the Main Building, now known as the Groote Museum, by the architect and honorary society member Jan van Maurik (1812-1893). Construction progressed in several phases between 1850 and 1855. Upon completion, it was the very first museum building in Amsterdam.
The museum was stocked with donations, purchases and deceased animals from the park. In the 19th century, the museum's collection grew so fast that the Groote Museum was no longer large enough to display it all. Parts of the collection were transferred to other buildings in ARTIS. While the Groote Museum mainly presented mounted mammals, birds, exotic birds, and the shell collection, the collections of fish, crabs, lobsters, snakes, and sponges were moved to the Aquarium. Many skeletons ended up in the Hippopotamus House. The ethnographic exhibits went to the Volharding Building, and Dutch animals, Japanese objects, and the insect collection went to the Library Building.
Checkered collection history
In 1939, the natural history collection was acquired by the University of Amsterdam. After the Groote Museum closed to the public in 1947, its collection of tens of thousands of animals, animal skins and study skins, as well as bones, was gradually transferred to the university buildings on Mauritskade. In 2011 it was subsumed into the Naturalis Biodiversity Center.
After the closure, the Main Building underwent drastic remodeling. However, the unique 19th-century museum interior was left largely intact. Plans to restore, renew, and one day reopen the Groote Museum as Amsterdam's first museum began to gain steam early in the 21st century. But, much as at ARTIS's other museum, Micropia, although there was a unique and historic exhibition space, there was no longer a collection. On May 12, 2022, following comprehensive restoration (2017-2021) of this national historic property, ARTIS is reopening the doors of the Groote Museum as its second museum on Artisplein, the park's publicly accessible square. A museum dedicated to the connections between humans, animals, plants, and microbes.