Teylers Museum’s “UP!” exhibition

The name of the Teylers’ curent summer exhibition is actually not “Up!”. But their exhibition made me think of the highly enjoyable Disney film. For the exhibition in Haarlem is about hot air balloons. Pick the right day and time, a visitor even gets the chance to take a hot air balloon flight above the Alps – in virtual reality.

Up 1You may be surprised to learn, hot air balloons have been around since the reign of Louis XIV. As with the first ventures into space, animals were used for the first few balloon test flights. At the time, scientists were not sure humans could survive at “high” altitudes.

The exhibition explains how the first – totally involuntary and probably unwilling – hot air balloon passengers consisted of a sheep, cock, pig. The fate of pig and sheep were recorded for posterity. What happened to the cock was apparently less worthy recording. One presumes it either made a fortunate escape, or after surviving the flight … ended up flavouring a soup.

Once the animals had proven, life up in the air might be survivable, the first humans became adventurous. In no time, hot air balloon flights attracted large crowds. The daring deeds were recorded in illustrated prints and stories and in many languages.

Not that each and every flight went without mishaps, of course. Plenty of the prints in the exhibition illustrate various accidents. This exhibition also explain the various dangers involved.

Despite the risks, a flight by hot air balloon remained popular. One 19th century French artist actually had a cabin in the form of a small house. It even had its own dar room. For he was interested in areal photography. A replica of this extraordinary “house” is exhibited.

Of course it goes without saying, that it were not just adventurous men who went “up”. As usual, there were plenty women not afraid to climb into a basket. One of them was Sarah Bernardt.

The exhibition does not only show prints, paintings, photos and films. The major accidents are also shown. These of course included the Hindenburg disaster, which put an end to commercial Zeppelin flights for a while. The disasters at the North Pole are also poignant. Films showing survivors trekking across the ice and snow were found long after these men had perished.

The small exhibition is far more interesting than one may at first presume and is presented as suitable for families. Nevertheless, the young man aged about five, who was taken there by his mum while I was exploring too, preferred to gawp at fossils. Perhaps a short excerpt from Disney’s “Up” would have captured his imagination.

Teylers’ Museum “Hot Air Balloon” can be visited till the end of August, together with other exhibitions and its permanent collection containing fossils, minerals, paintings and more.


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