History of smoking in Europe
The coffeeshops of the Golden Age
Shortly after Columbus reached America in 1492, Europe was introduced to the tradition of smoking tobacco in ceremonial pipes. Europeans soon began to experiment with ways to give the tobacco a better taste and improve the pleasure of smoking. One of these experiments involved adding herbs such as hemp. This plant was cheap and readily available because hemp was cultivated for domestic and industrial purposes. Alternatively, smoking materials could be purchased if you knew where to look; for instance, tobacconists’ stock lists of the time sometimes made mention of a batch of hemp.
After a hard days’ labour, it was time to relax. Smoking. Drinking. Singing. Celebrating. For fun, and maybe for inspiration, too. The custom of smoking hemp and tobacco was spread by sailors, soldiers and artists, and developed into a pleasure which became popular with people in all walks of life. It was the simple joys of everyday life that the old masters were able to depict so well. Time and again, they painted people enjoying a smoke in ‘smoking houses’, the coffeeshops of the Golden Age.
However, smoking was not generally accepted in the 17th century, as it was contrary to Christian morals. As such, the scenes detailed in these paintings do not show behaviour that was supposed to be emulated; in fact, they show precisely what people were not allowed to do. Paintings such as these served to reinforce the morals of the day: they were not ‘photos’ of everyday life, but images that showed people behaviour that was both good and bad.
On display in the museum
The museums’ collections contain works by famous 17th century Dutch artists, such as David Teniers the Younger, Adriaen Brouwer, Hendrick Sorgh and Adriaen van Ostade. The works presented in our museums rival those on display in, for instance, the Rijksmuseum.
At the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Barcelona, these masterpieces are on display in a majestic hall, while a more intimate presentation at the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam lends itself well to studying the paintings closely. They depict a unique period in the history of smoking cannabis.