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Amsterdam’s best art museum, the Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam’s best art museum, the Rijksmuseum


The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a huge world-famous
collection presented in 80 galleries exhibiting 8,000 objects that tell the story of 800 years
of Dutch art and history. Come along on a journey from the Middle Ages
up through the 21st century, spread over four floors told in chronological order. The collection focuses primarily on Dutch
paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, rather than trying to present a complete sample
of the entire world of art. The museum has a lot to show, thanks especially
to the extreme genius of those great native painters, Frans Hals, van Ruisdael, Jan Steen,
with his merry family singing and drinking, and most famously Rembrandt. Don’t miss out on the absolute highlights,
like Vermeer’s Milkmaid, Van Gogh’s Self-portrait and a gorgeous collection of Delft Blue pottery
ranging from tea sets to vases. The total archive includes 1 million objects
from the years 1200 up through today, with more than 2,000 paintings from the Dutch Golden
Age. Some 30 galleries are dedicated to the glory
of the Golden Age, when the young mercantile republic led the world in trade, science,
shipping and the arts. Many objects from Dutch history tell that
story with paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, silver, porcelain, delftware, furniture, jewelry,
weapons, musical instruments, costumes and much more. The building itself is a major work of art,
designed in a neo-Gothic and Renaissance styles by Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the similar-looking
Central Train Station, both completed in the 1880s. The red terra-cotta façade is adorned with
many statues, decorative stripes, reliefs and ceramic plaques depicting the arts, using
a mix of medieval and 19th century styles. A busy road for bicycles and pedestrians runs
right through the middle of the building through a dramatic arched portal. An impressive new entrance lobby, called the
Atrium, features large glass-covered roofs and pale polished stone floors that reflect
the natural light, making the entry way feel airy and bright. Flanking the courtyards are the warm brick
façades of the surrounding museum buildings, interspersed with windows and niches. This was created in the recent renovations
which closed the museum completely for 12 years of major reconstruction and expansion. You’ll hear a bit more about that later. The museum gets very busy with 2 1/2 million
annual visitors, so here’s a couple of tips for avoiding the crowd. Come in the off-season when there are fewer
visitors to Amsterdam, which has become one of Europe’s most popular cities, and enter
the museum when it opens at 9 AM to beat the rush. That way you can get to the busiest sections
first and enjoy the paintings in peace and quiet. As you’ll see it’s just the main gallery hall
that gets very crowded. Here’s how it looks about 9:30 in the morning
and then within an hour it begins to fill up, especially here in front of Rembrandt’s
The Night Watch, which is the most popular painting in the museum that everybody has
to come see, kind of like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. For the first hour in the morning even the
most popular galleries are not crowded, and then later they do fill up, but you’ll find
the museum is so big that most of the other galleries are very comfortable to walk through,
depending on the season, of course. If you’re here in the summer it’s going to
be busier no matter where you are the museum but in that off-season, or shoulder season,
you can enjoy a real tranquil experience throughout most of the building. When you enter head straight to the top floor. This brings you into the Gallery of Honor,
an extended corridor directed towards a clear focal point, The Night Watch Gallery. We’ll come back later in the show for a much
closer look at this brilliant masterpiece, but now we want to continue exploring the
museum to see what else they’ve got. The side alcoves along the Gallery of Honor
contain some of the most popular paintings in the museum, ranging from the 17th century
right up through Impressionism. In particular, the genius of Vermeer, including
his world-famous Little Street, set in his hometown of Delft. These galleries also get quite busy so get
here in the morning right after enjoying The Night Watch. The Cuypers Library is the largest and oldest
art historical library in the Netherlands. Visitors, students and art historians alike
are welcome to use the library to delve deeper into the Rijksmuseum collection. iPads are available for general use and there
is free WiFi access both in the library and throughout the museum. Their website is loaded with helpful information
about the collection, including some audio guides that you can download that will help
walk you through the museum or just listen to the information from the comfort of home. The museum took the unusual step of making
high-resolution images of its collection available for free download via its Rijksstudio website. Already they’ve got over 100,000 items available
for download and eventually the entire collection of 1 million works will be available, and
you can do anything you like with the images, there is no limitation. The museum has placed them in the public domain. And yet most visitors like to take their own
photographs to capture that personal experience of being there. Taking pictures and video inside the museum
is allowed but no flash, no tripods or selfie sticks please. It is possible to see the museum collections
in half a day. After all visitors don’t usually have more
than three or four hours to devote to a single museum, even one so large and wonderful as
this. And if you find you need more time for careful
examination or to see more, hopefully you’re in Amsterdam for enough days that you can
come back for a second visit. It’s not usually a good idea to spend the
entire day inside one museum. It’s just too much even for the diehard art
connoisseurs. Instead, you’ll find many other wonderful
places in Amsterdam to spend some time. The museum has three miniature dolls houses
made in the 17th century that provide a detailed view of how affluent houses were once furnished. In those days doll houses were not toys. They were a hobby, the equivalent for women
of the collection cabinets kept by men. What makes these dollhouses so unusual is
that all the pieces were precisely made to scale in the same way and using the same materials
as their regular counterparts. The second dollhouse contains ready-made furniture,
including a large amount of miniature silver. There is miniature porcelain from China, and
skilled craftsmen were commissioned – cabinetmakers, glassblowers, silversmiths, basket-weavers
and artists to furnish the dolls’ houses: an extremely expensive hobby. Each little house cost as much as an actual
house on a canal! The Special Collections comprise more unusual
objects from the rich holdings of the Rijksmuseum. For example, musical instruments, magic lantern
slides, glassware, porcelain, Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture, an impressive armory
with guns, cannons and armor, and a large number of ship models. These weapons are a reminder of the military
force the Dutch used in their economic conquests in southeast Asia and the Americas back in
the days of colonialism in the 17th century. Often called the Golden Age, the 17th century
was a time of great prosperity for the Netherlands, even though there was also an endemic warfare
between them and Spain happening. Called the Dutch War Of Independence or the
80 Years War, they went from 1568 through 1648. It was the most violent and chaotic period
in Dutch history. Churches were plundered, cities besieged,
people slaughtered and battles fought everywhere. Ultimately, the country was torn apart, with
Belgium created as independent country to the south. But it was also a period of economic trade
with Indonesia, the Spice Islands, South America, and great prosperity at home with the flourishing
of the arts and development of a strong merchant class. Even though the 17th century is typically
called the Dutch Golden Age, there has been a bit of a politically correct backlash to
that term lately, where certain museums, such as the Amsterdam Museum on the other side
of the city, is no longer using that term Golden Age. Their curator said, “That term ignores the
many negative sides of the 17th century, such as poverty, war, forced labor and human trafficking. While some other critics maintain that erasing
that term Golden Age is complete nonsense. You can’t erase the past. It was a time of expansion and progress that
also had its negative sides. The Rijksmuseum is continuing to use the term
Golden Age, as its director explained. He said, “That does not alter the fact that
we also acknowledge the dark side.” This model shows the Dutch trading post on
the small island of Deshima in Japan. You might recall that Japan closed itself
off to the outside world from the 17th through the mid-19th centuries, but the Netherlands
was the only European country that maintained an active trading agreement. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement between
Japan and the Netherlands, because the Japanese were able to acquire knowledge of Western
science and technology in this way, while acquiring cannons and other weapons, and the
Dutch were able to establish a monopoly in trading various Japanese goods to the Western
world, especially ceramics, which led on to the creation of the Dutch Delft pottery industry. One of the fun and interactive exhibits is
the display of magic lantern slides. Magic lanterns are the forerunners of modern
video and film projectors. Back in the mid-17th century it was discovered
that a small picture painted on glass could be projected on a larger scale using a light
source in a series of lenses. These images were projected on screens or
walls and inspired such wonder in viewers that the invention became known as the ‘lanterna
magica’ or magic lantern. At first the magic lantern was considered
a novelty that was mostly acquired by scholars and the wealthy. But in the early 18th century itinerant lantern
operators began to travel the land giving magic lantern shows. Gradually the magic lantern became a source
of entertainment for a wide public. The subject matter was quite wide-ranging,
including biblical stories, classical tales, portraits of historical figures, caricatures,
exotic animals. It was for education as well as entertainment,
and some of the scenes verged on the erotic or perhaps they were medical in nature, showing
a lot of flesh and other kinds of ribald scenes. The telescope and microscope were invented
Holland in the early 1600s. The magic lantern can be seen as a further
development of this technology. Prominent Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens,
is nowadays widely accepted as the inventor of the magic lantern. Although the popularity of magic lanterns
decreased after the introduction of movies in the 1890s, they remained a common medium
until slide projectors came into widespread use during the 1950s. You can see there is a lot more to the Rijksmuseum
than just Rembrandt and Vermeer. And we will continue showing you more of the
museum in a little while, but for now we are going back to Rembrandt and some of those
other early Dutch painters. Let’s take a close look at The Night Watch,
Rembrandt’s most famous painting and also his largest at 11 feet by 14 feet, created
in 1642 for one of the meeting halls of Amsterdam’s civic guard, a militia company that protected
the city. I am
The captain and his lieutenant are in the front and followed by their soldiers streaming
out of the guard house into the sunlight. But surprise, it is not really nighttime. The men are leaving in broad day. The remarkable chiaroscuro effect of highlight
and shadow and darkening of the canvas over time led to the mistaken title, but the event
represented really takes place in daylight. Each one of the guild member represented paid
a hundred florins to Rembrandt for his portrait, so that as it were originally 16 in the group,
the painter received 1600 florins for his work. Other celebrated paintings here are his self-portrait
as a youth and as an older man with characteristic highlights and shadows forming the shape,
and the portrayal of The Jewish Bride. It figures this museum has the world’s largest
Rembrandt collection with 22 paintings and over 1000 prints and drawings. After all, he lived and worked in Amsterdam
for most of his life. Here is the miracle of genius. These paintings alone would make a trip to
Amsterdam worthwhile. The “Syndics” is also a famous Rembrandt portrait
group, the epitome of Dutch Masters. Five cloth-merchants, all dressed alike in
black, with white collars and large black hats, are seated around a table, covered with
a red cloth, verifying their accounts. Some critics consider it Rembrandt’s greatest
picture. Two other large and famous group portraits
of this style are in the gallery by Bartholomeus van der Helst. One represents Captain Roelof Bicker’s Company
of civic guards, also intended to hang on the wall of their guildhall headquarters,
quite similar to The Night Watch, but brighter in overall color pattern. It contains thirty-two life-size figures in
a substantial canvas 7.5 meters wide that almost fills an entire wall. Every figure is dramatic in pose and expression,
and the colors of the costumes are brilliant and varied. The other large work by der Helst depicts
a banquet of the St. George company of crossbow men in their guardhouse. The dramatic occasion was the signing of the
Treaty of Münster which marked an end to the long war with Spain. In the middle the captains of the civic guard
company shake hands as a sign of peace and the drinking horn is passed around. The 25 figures are splendidly dressed in velvet
and satin doublets, plumed hats, lace collars and cuffs, sashes, high boots and golden spurs. Painted in 1648, it depicts the joy of Amsterdam’s
armed militia, that their weapons can now be laid to rest. While we continue exploring the museum, it’s
worthwhile to consider the history of how this collection was started and developed. In 1798 the Government decreed the formation
of a National Museum, which was first installed in The Hague in 1800. But in 1808, King Louis Bonaparte, brother
of Napoleon, moved his residence to Amsterdam and ordered a Royal Museum to be created there,
something similar to what had recently happened in Paris with opening of the Louvre Museum. This new Museum was opened in Amsterdam’s
Royal Palace on the Dam Square in 1809, with about 200 paintings, including already, The
Night Watch and some other Rembrandts. Over time the collection grew to include many
more pictures, drawings, prints, sculpture, carvings, jewelry, antiquities, and curiosities
of all kinds. Work on the building we are in now commenced
in 1876 with a design that combined the Gothic and the Renaissance styles. This museum building was opened officially
in 1885 with an expanded collection including departments of Dutch History, Sculpture & Applied
Art. Over time, the collections increased while
museum practices and philosophies continued to evolve, and so the Rijksmuseum building
underwent changes with addition of many more rooms. The monumental building experienced more than
125 years of intensive use, and by the 1990s the building gradually started to fall short
of modern requirements for museums and needed to be renovated with a thorough overhaul. The museum was officially closed to the public
for more than 10 years of reconstruction and renovation, starting from 2000 until the Rijksmuseum
once again opened its doors to the public in 2013. Both the building and the presentation of
the collection underwent a total transformation. The added modern spaces and up-to-date facilities
to the neo-Gothic building have the 19th century structure into a light and open museum for
the 21st century. We have many more movies about the Netherlands
covering most of the great destinations of this beautiful country. Look for them in our collection.

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