German born Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604 – 1679) was called "the Brazilian" for his fruitful period as governor of Dutch Brazil. Maurits loved Brazil, was interested in nature and culture and was known for his humane leadership and tolerance towards religion. He was a calvinist, but catholics and jews were welcome too.
He worked for WIC and a lot of money was made with sugar and slaves. In the 17th century Amsterdam owned 30 sugar factories that used rough sugar from 140 sugar plantations in Brazil, where African slaves worked. To get enough slaves Maurtits sailed with 9 ships and 1200 troops to the African Gold Coast and conquered Portugese slave station Elmina. Later he also took slave station Luanda in Angola. He was very cruel to slaves and the slave ships were called 'floating coffins'.
Maurits built his residence in The Hague city center, it was also called the Sugar Palace by locals.
Today the Mauritshuis is home to Dutch painting from the Golden Age, a compact, yet world-renowned collection. Masterpieces such as Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, The Goldfinch by Fabritius and The Bull by Potter are on permanent display.
From April - July 2019 the exhibition Shifting Image, in search of Johan Maurits was on view at the Mauritshuis. For the first time, the story of Maurits is told by different perspectives. Not only the positive, also the story of slave trade. He was the governor who in 1637 sent a fleet of warships to West Africa's Gold Coast, present-day Ghana. The capture of the Portuguese-built Elmina Castle boosted the WIC's trading position in that area. Some years later, the island of São Tomé and part of the Angolan coast were also captured from the Portuguese - likewise on Johan Maurits's orders - in order to increase Dutch trade in enslaved Africans. Thousands of men, women and children were shipped to Brazil. Johan Maurits personally owned dozens of enslaved people who lived and worked at his Brazilian court.
In 2020 the Mauritshuis will start a long-term research project that should result in a number of publications. Part of this new research focuses on getting a more detailed insight into the financing of building the Mauritshuis (known as the ‘Sugar Palace’ in the seventeenth century) and on Johan Maurits’s influence on the trade in enslaved Africans.