On the embankment of one of Amsterdam’s canals a huge building stretches for a whole block. Its traditional Dutch peaked roofs and red brick walls bring it in line with the surrounding buildings. The building is not remarkable for its special architectural merits, but naturally belongs to the general appearance of the city. It is the Rijksmuseum – one of the largest art museums in the world .
Already in the middle of the last century, fifty years after its creation, it was clear that the beautiful old Trippenheims, where it was located, could not accommodate the rapidly growing collections. Between 1876 and 1885 the architect Kuipers constructed a gigantic brick building. Repeatedly renovated and remodeled inside, it continues to serve today.
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is a museum for the art history of the northern Netherlands. In its halls you can get a remarkably broad idea of the artistic development of the country. As has been said, not much has survived from the Middle Ages. It is only from the fifteenth century onwards that our knowledge of the artistic development of these lands becomes more or less detailed and complete. The museum shows examples of wooden and stone sculpture, which used to decorate the altars of the churches, works of jewelers and embroidered gold vestments of the clergy.
But paintings are undoubtedly of the greatest interest. Already in the fifteenth century easel painting was the leading field of art in the northern Netherlands, and easel paintings are known to be much better suited for museum exhibitions than murals or monumental sculpture, created to adorn a particular building. The latter lose some of their artistic expression when they are transferred to a museum, torn from their original architectural environment. Because of the predominance of easel works, Dutch art can be displayed in a museum more fully than art from many other countries.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the culture and art of the Northern and Southern Netherlands (that is, modern Holland and Belgium) form a more or less unified whole, with local schools in the North being strongly influenced by the major art centers that flourished in the South. Just as we call the Northern Netherlands Holland, the Southern Netherlands is usually referred to as the most significant, most advanced of its constituent regions, Flanders. Already in this early period Dutch painters differ from their Flemish counterparts in the greater intimacy, domestic simplicity and immediacy of their works.
In the North, the first major painter with whose work we are quite familiar was Gertchen that Sint Jaané (that is, “the little Gerrit of the monastery of St. John”). Gertchen worked in the 1980s in Harlem; the small, darkened church of the monastery where he was a novice still stands there.
Among the first paintings purchased in 1808 by order of Louis-Napoleon, there was one curious piece, entered in the inventory of the museum under the following title: “Jan van Eyck. Gothic Temple with Figures. Jan van Eyck, the great founder of the Dutch school of painting, author of the Ghent altarpiece, was at that time perhaps the only Dutch painter of the 15th century whose name was widely known to collectors; he was attributed any piece that seemed old enough. This time he was thought to be the author of “St. Familia” by Gertchen.
Written on a small wooden board, Gertchen’s work reproduces not the canonical text of the Gospel, but an apocryphal legend. According to this legend, St. Anne, the mother of Mary, had two other daughters, whose children later became apostles-pupils of Christ.
In the interior of the Gothic church (the church is “the house of God”), the artist places the elderly Anne, her three daughters, their husbands and children. Not only the children, but also the adults are marked by a clear serenity and naivety. The women babysit infants, old Anna rests from reading, resting her glasses on an open book. On the stone floor of the slender temple, in the very middle of the picture, sit three little boys in long warm shirts and wool stockings with red heel patches; but the future apostles Paul, James, and John play with their attributes-the sword, the barrel, and the cup. They have the charm of amusing lively children. With delightfully simple-hearted directness, Gertchen combines reality and fantasy, everyday details and the majestic architecture of the temple. For him everything is interesting and attractive – both great and small. Nearby hang two other works by Gertchen: “The Root of Jesse” and “Adoration of the Magi” with its wonderful landscape background.
The work of a major Dutch painter who worked in the last quarter of the fifteenth century and is known as Master Virgo inter Virgines has a different character. The nominal “name” of the anonymous artist comes from a painting that was still in the National Gallery of Art in 1801 and came from there to the Rijksmuseum. It is “Mary with the Child and the Holy Virgins,” or in Latin “Virgo inter Virgines” (“Virgin among the Virgins”).
Like an entourage of court ladies, the Mother of God is surrounded by sumptuously dressed saints Catherine, Cecilia, Barbara and Ursula. Their attributes (the wheel on which St. Catherine died; the arrow, the symbol of St. Ursula’s martyrdom) are transformed into fine gold ornaments. The slender, gentle women are frozen in contemplation, from which not even playing with a miniature baby can bring them out. The artist repeats his favorite, very unusual type of a woman’s face with an exorbitantly large convex forehead, thin eyebrows and half-puffed, slightly swollen eyelids. Pale faces, dim and often grayish colors, among which even red loses its resonance – all this evokes a strange feeling of a little sad and coldly detached from all the earthly. The internal structure of the painting contrasts with Gertchen’s works hanging in the same hall.
Imagination plays an important role in the works of both masters. In the Master Virgo inter Virgines it is refined and conventional, like the madrigal of the court poet of the time, in Gertchen it is imbued with real impressions and is close to the lively, varied fantasy of folk tales. In the works of many of Gertchen’s compatriots scenes from Christian legends look as if they took place in the environment surrounding the artist and familiar to him. The author of a series of paintings depicting the Seven Works of Mercy is particularly consistent on this principle.
The series was executed in 1504 for the church of St. Lawrence in Alkmaar, so its author is conventionally called the Master of Alkmaar. Seven paintings comprise the frieze. On each of them pious burghers, fulfilling the covenant of Christ, then give clothes to the poor, then feed the hungry, then bury the dead, etc. All this happens in the clean, cobblestone streets of a Dutch city. Each of the “works of mercy” is reminiscent of a genre scene because of its domestic concreteness. In the crowd of ugly beggars, blind and crippled, there is one person who does not take part in the action, whom the others do not notice. This is Christ. According to the artist and his clients, he is invisibly present, reminding us of the religious meaning of what is happening. The dry work of the Master of Alkmaar brings us into a world of everyday prose and stern moral duty, remotely anticipating some features of seventeenth-century Dutch art.
The Rijksmuseum has several works by the greatest Dutch artist of the early 16th century, Luca of Leiden (probably 1489-1533). Among them the “Sermon in the Church” is especially interesting. A Renaissance church building fills only two-thirds of the background; on the right, in the distance, one can see a street where a richly dressed nobleman is distributing alms to the poor. In the foreground, the same nobleman with an intelligent, thin face is depicted standing at the right edge of the picture; taking off his hat, he is listening to a church sermon. It is possible that the artist worked at the request of this man, and the group of people around him consists of portraits of his relatives and friends. Noticeably different from them are the listeners seated in a semicircle in front of the pulpit: there are strange freaks and a lively child; a beautiful young woman looks at the audience with a smile, not paying attention to the preacher’s words; finally another woman is asleep, and on her head sits a small owl – a symbol of trickery and folly in Dutch folklore. This strange genre scene, full of vague hints, is painted with translucent liquid strokes of light, uncertain colors; both stroke and color convey the anxious mood characteristic of Luca of Leiden’s painting.
The greatest landscape painter of the first half of the 17th century was Jan van Goyen (1596-1656). In 1641 he painted his “Distant View with Two Oaks”. It is an unremarkable area with sand dunes typical of the Dutch coast. At the top of the dune, at the foot of gnarled old oaks, two travelers stop to rest; the receding figure of a third passerby takes our gaze away, toward the flat coast, where a gleaming strip of water can be seen on the horizon, on the left. Clouds cover the expanse of the sky, the sunlight breaking through them onto the dune and the powerful, half-drained trunks. The artist seems to be studying them from a close distance, tracing the bark irregularities, the almost humanly expressive, tense bending of the limbs. At the same time, the wide expanse of distance is perceived as their natural environment and this “kinship” with infinite space helps us feel the majesty and power of giant trees.
Along with its main sections – Old Dutch art and Dutch paintings of the 17th century – the Rijksmuseum has a considerable collection of Dutch paintings of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The works of Cornelis Trost (1697-1750), the creator of portraits and genre scenes that often reproduce episodes from theatrical plays, are of interest among the works of the 18th century. Following the traditions of the previous century, Trost painted a huge group portrait of the trustees of an orphanage in Amsterdam (1729). Much more interesting and appealing, however, is a small sketch of one of the trustees, Jan Lepeltak, hanging in the same room. It is painted with ease and ease. In it, more than in the large portrait, the influence of the national painting tradition is noticeable.
The Rijksmuseum also has works by foreign masters – Italians, Spaniards and Flemings. They are few in number, but some of them cannot go unnoticed: the paired portraits of the Florentine architect Giuliano da Sangallo and his father Francesco Giamberti, the work of Piero di Coeimo (1462-1521), El Greco’s Crucifixion (1541-1614), a number of portraits by Van Dyck (1599-1641), Portrait of Don Ramon Satue (1823), Goya (1746-1828) and others. However, as interesting as they are, they constitute only a minor, lateral branch in the Rijksmuseum’s collection .
The Rijksmuseum, or State Museum in Amsterdam, ranks among the top 20 most popular museums in the world. Each year it receives around 2.5 million visitors. The museum’s art collection is comparable to the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
The Netherlands State Museum has the world’s largest collection of works by Dutch masters.
History of the opening of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The art collection that became the Rijksmuseum’s first exhibit was assembled in 1800. It was originally kept in The Hague. In 1808, the French Emperor Napoleon I’s brother Louis Bonaparte, who was also the King of the Netherlands, took the collection to Amsterdam and put it in the Royal Palace.
The collection was enriched by items owned by the royal family. Later the exhibition was kept in the Trippenhuis Palace.
In the 1860s it was decided that a separate building was needed for the museum. In order to select the design of the building, a competition for architects was organized. It was held in 1876, the competition committee chose Petrus Kuipers as the winner. He designed the building, the appearance of which was a mixture of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. The architecture of the building was too innovative for the Netherlands at the end of the 19th century and King William III, reigning at the time, was not happy with the construction.
The architect Petrus Kuipers was the creator of the Rijksmuseum.
Since then, the museum has been regularly rebuilt and new buildings have been added to it. The national museum was opened to the public in 1885.
In 1890 a block that consisted of fragments of demolished historic buildings was added to the main building. This way it illustrated the history of Dutch architecture.
In 1906, an exhibition hall was rebuilt especially for Rembrandt’s painting “The Night Watch”. Throughout the 20th century, the Reichsmuseum’s building was restored several times.
From 2003 to 2013, Amsterdam’s main museum was closed for a decade-long renovation, the cost of which approached half a billion euros.
During this period, the masterpieces of art that are in the Rijksmuseum were exhibited elsewhere.
Paintings at the Rijksmuseum
The museum’s exposition consists of art and historical collections. There are paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, historical clothing and archaeological finds.
The main value of the museum is a collection of paintings by world-famous artists.
Most of the exhibited paintings are by Dutch masters. There are works by Rembrandt, van Gogh, Vermeer, Hals, Rijsdal, de Hoch, Sten, van Scorel, van der Gelst, Rubens and El Greco.
The main masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum exhibition are:
- “The Night Watch”, Rembrandt, 1642;
- “The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt, 1665;
- “Sindiques,” Rembrandt, 1662;
- “Family Portrait of Isaac Massa and his Wife,” Frans Hals, 1622;
- “Love Letter,” Vermeer, 1668;
- “The Milkmaid,” Vermeer, 1658;
- “The Cage with the Parrot,” Jan Sten;
- “The Mill at Wake Bay Dursted,” Reisdahl, 1670;
- “Woman and Child in the Pantry,” Pieter de Hoch, 1660.
Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” is the main exhibit of the museum.
The centerpiece of the largest museum in the Netherlands is Rembrandt’s painting “The Night Watch.” It belongs to Amsterdam and is in temporary storage at the museum.
“Night Watch” is one of the largest paintings on display at the State Museum. Its dimensions are 363 by 437 cm. In order to add the painting to the exhibition, an entire room was rebuilt for it.
Information about current exhibitions is published on the Rijksmuseum website.
The Rijksmuseum can be visited every day from 9.00 to 17.00.
Tickets cost 20 euros for adults. Admission for children under 18 years is free. If you buy tickets online they are cheaper.
There are hotels close to the Amsterdam State Museum:
- Amsterdam Centre;
- Amsterdam Museum Quarter;
- Marriott Hotel;
- Hotel JL No. 76;
- Hotel Fita;
- Conservatorium Hotel;
- Hotel Aalders;
- Hotel La Boheme;
- De Spot;
- Wetering Suite 4.
How to get to the museum
From Central and South Station you can take streetcar number 2 and 5, get off at the Hobbemastraat stop.
From Sloterdijk station streetcar number 12, the nearest stop is Concertgebouw (Concerthebouw).
You can take the subway to the station Weesperplein, then take streetcar number 7 or 10 and get off at the Spiegelgracht stop.