The Rijksmuseum was officially opened to the public in 1885. At over 130 years old, the building remains a grand and ornate sight.
It is not just about the famous artwork, but the building itself is amazing.
The newly renovated Great Hall comprises a floor of inlaid mosaics and wall paintings showing artists, rulers and important events of Dutch history.
Above are incredible stained-glass windows and decorated ceilings. So, before you make a beeline for the art, take the time to look around, up and down to see this magnificent work. It can often be overlooked.
The gallery rooms are spacious, and the artwork is given plenty of space in which to shine. You should allow a few hours for your visit here.
This museum is not only dedicated to Dutch painters either. Over 8,000 pieces of art are on display including paintings, Delft Blue ceramics, glasswork, miniatures, pottery, furniture and much more.
Now for some of those famous works of art:
Rembrandt was one of the most important master artists of the Dutch Golden Age (1581- 1672). The Night Watch (1642) is a permanent resident of this museum and most likely its biggest drawcard.
The painting is famous for three things: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm), the dramatic use of light and shadow and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static group portrait. Take note of the three most important characters among the crowd: the two men in the centre and the woman (apparently Rambrandt’s wife) in the centre-left background carrying a chicken. The figures are almost life-size. A total of 34 characters appear in the painting.
The Night Watch first hung in the Great Hall in Amsterdam. In 1715, the painting was moved to the Amsterdam Town Hall, for which it was trimmed on all four sides, presumably to fit the painting between two columns. This alteration resulted in the loss of two characters on the left side of the painting, the top of the arch, the balustrade, and the edge of the step.
This 17th-century painting “Copy after The Nightwatch” by Gerrit Lundens (c 1642-1649) shows the original composition.
“The Syndics of the Clothmakers’ Guild” (1662) These five men and their servant were the sampling officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ guild in 1662. No matter where you stand, all but one of the syndics follows you with their eyes.
“The Milkmaid” (1658) is a painting of a milkmaid by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. It is regarded as one of the museum’s finest attractions.
The painting shows a milkmaid carefully pouring milk into an earthenware pot. On the table in front of the milkmaid are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap and blue apron. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her near the Delft wall tiles. Apparently, this painting is quite suggestive in what she might be thinking.
Another of Vermeer’s famous paintings, “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” hangs in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
“Militia Company of District VIII” (1639) by Dutch artist Bartholomeus van der Helst. This civic guard painting is a substantial 7.5 metres wide.
Stop by this painting for awhile and look at the expresssions, the costumes, weaponry. There’s even a child and a dog. Amazing piece of work.
“The Threatened Swan” (1650) by another Golden Age Dutch artist, Jan Asselijn. It portrays a swan aggressively defending its nest, becoming a symbol of Dutch national resistance.
“A Woman with a Child in a Pantry” (1656) is a painting by the Dutch artist, Pieter de Hooch. In a room floored with yellow tiles stands, to the left, a young woman, wearing a red jacket and a blue skirt. She has just come from the pantry, and smilingly hands a jug to a little girl. There is something really sweet about this painting.
“Company in a courtyard behind a house” (1665) is another painting by Pieter de Hooch. It shows daily life in the Golden Age.
“Portrait of Helen van der Schalcke as a child” (1648) by Gerard ter Borch. He specialised in painting miniature portraits in the 1640s, and later established a new type of small full-length portrait. This gorgeous little painting measures just 34 cm x 28 cm. It portrays a two-year girl in a white silk dress and holding a carnation, symbolising resurrection and the hope of eternal life. She is the daughter of a cloth merchant.
“Woman at the Virginal” (c1640), a small painting by Jan Miense Molenaer. A young woman plays the virginal in an elegant interior. Painted on the inside of the instrument’s lid is a landscape with an amorous couple strolling. There is also a young man at the door and a monkey warning her of the dangers of carnal desire.
“The Oude Stadhuis in Amsterdam” (Old Town Hall) is a 1657 painting by Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, based on a drawing he made of the Old Town Hall on Dam Square in Amsterdam before before its demolition in 1641. It was bought from the painter in 1658 by the mayor of Amsterdam for his office in the New Town Hall.
“Banquet Still Life” (1644) by Adriaen van Utrecht. This artist has demonstrated that he could paint virtually anything, from tableware to glass, fruit, an enormous lobster on a Chinese plate, a cut-open pasty, and much more. Given its striking low vantage point, this large painting was most likely meant to hang above a chimneypiece. So much going on in this painting – Take the time to look into it.
“The Lute Player” (1661) by Dutch artist Hendrick Martensz Sorgh. This painting is beginning to depict high-life genre of life the Golden Age rather than those showing a more peasant lifestyle.
“Still life with Asparagus” (1697) by Adriaen Coorte. This small painting (20.5cm x 25cm) of a single vegetable is a stark contrast to other still-lifes that were in fashion at the time. It does draw your attention to it though
“The Thiumphal Chariot of Kallo” (1638) by Peter Paul Rubens. It is a good idea to photograph the details of a painting/artwork for future reference.
I only took part of this painting but love the detail. Not sure of the artist though. Point to note, follow advice just given previously.
Delft Pottery – Among many other displays of porcelain and ceramics, this particular one caught my eye. The blue and white Delft earthenware date from around 1640 to the end of the 19th century.
Most famous of these are the violin and the tulip pyramid vases.
Here is a selection of some other items on display.
Dolls Houses – The museum has three antique dolls’ houses on display. These 17th century curiosities were not children’s toys, but rather a sort of expensive hobby for wealthy housewives. Below is a painting of one of the houses.
These were the actual houses. They were decorated with glass, silver, china and textile furnishings created exactly to scale. Incredible.
“Girl in a Kimono” (1894) by George Hendrik Breitner is an exhibition I was able to view while visiting Rijklmuseum in 2016. There are several in the series. A young model, Geesje Kwak posed for most of these paintings wearing different coloured kimonos.
Catwalk Exhibition – I was also lucky enough to see the Catwalk Exhibition whilst visiting Rijksmuseum in 2016. This was dedicated to the fashion of the Dutch from 1625 to 1960. Garments from the Golden Age, silk gowns and velvet suits from the 18th century, classic Empire dresses and bustles from the end of the 19th century and French haute couture by Dior and Yves Saint Laurent of the 1960’s.
We actually took seats around the catwalk as it continually paraded these amazing outfits. Such a great idea to view how fashion has developed over the centuries.
Many other outfits were displayed throughout the display.
This particular Mantua Dress was interesting. On her wedding day in 1759 Helena Slicher wore this gown with a skirt no less than two-metres wide! The skirt is supported by large panniers and side hoops around the hips. Just amazing and beautifully embroidered, and over 250 years old!
This idol caught my eye and was just so beautiful. Look at the folds in the dresses.
If you have the time, check out the library – A booklover’s paradise, the Cuypers Library is the oldest and most extensive collection of art history texts in the Netherlands. Visitors are welcome to come and browse the shelves and study.
What an amazing museum. Hopefully if you have the time when visiting Amsterdam, you can spend some time here.
Also try and visit the Rembrandt Night Watch Sculptures in Rembrandt Square.
On the occasion of the 400th birthday anniversary of Rembrandt, two Russian artists re-created the canvas into a 3-dimensional representation. The result, a bronze version of the famous painting, can be found at the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) in Amsterdam. Definitely worth visiting where you can walk among the characters of the painting.
Many thanks to my friend Montse who took me to Rijksmuseum. As a local, she had been there many times before and knew all of the best parts to see in the limited time we had. What a memorable visit.
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