I’ve been rather quiet lately because of work and travel! A bit over a week ago, I flew to Amsterdam to participate in a PhD defense, and then traveled to Rome to give a talk and tour the city, which kept me quite busy. As I’ve done in the past, I thought I would do a series of photo essays on my travels.
I flew to Amsterdam on the 18th of June, arriving on the 19th, and pretty much had the entire day to myself, as my former postdoc advisor and his PhD student were taking care of last-minute preparations for her thesis defense. So, after a quick lunch with them, I was set free on the town.
I was staying at the Hotel Piet Hein, which is within a short walking distance to Amsterdam’s magnificent art museum, the Rijksmuseum. When I lived in Amsterdam back around 2003, the museum was mostly closed for major renovations, and so I had never had the opportunity to see it in its full glory. This trip was a nice opportunity to do so!
The Rijksmuseum was originally founded in 1800 and moved to its current building in 1885. It houses works of art from around the world, but has a particular focus on the Dutch masters like Rembrandt and van Gogh (though obviously most of van Gogh’s work is in the nearby van Gogh museum).
Times have changed in art museums. When I was growing up, photographs were strictly forbidden, but in the cell phone era, only flash photography is prohibited. I was taking photos throughout the museum and, realizing that I had wifi through a cool university system called eduroam, I started posting photos on twitter. The captions of these photos started off sincere, but quickly evolved into being largely irreverent and silly. Heck, if you want a serious tour of a museum, I’m really not the person you should be following!
So, without further ado, let’s begin “A (Largely) Silly Tour of the Rijksmuseum.”
(Note added: all the photos are high-resolution. If you want to see detail, click on a photo and hunt for the “view full size” button.)
As I noted, the Rijksmuseum was largely closed for renovations for a long time, running from 2003 to 2013. One of the big additions to the new museum is this magnificent basement-level entry hall, cafe and gift shop.
In what would turn out to be a very ironic twist, the very first thing I encountered upon passing through the entrance of the museum is a bronze reproduction of the famous sculpture Laocoön and His Sons.
This reproduction is attributed to Francesco Righetti around the year 1781, and is a copy of a work commissioned for a Roman home somewhere around the year 0 B.C.E.! It depicts the final mythical struggles of the priest Laocoön and his sons against serpents sent by Poseidon to drag them to their deaths in the sea. Laocoön had gone against the will of the gods by trying to warn the Trojans about the dangers of the Trojan Horse, and this was their punishment.
It is ironic that I took this photo, because I wasn’t even really paying attention to what I was looking at, yet I would see the original in the Vatican Museums in Rome only a few days later! (I’ll blog about that in an upcoming post.)
One of the first things that always strikes me when visiting art museums, time and again, is how vibrant the colors are when you see the works in person. For example, look at the following triptych, which depicts the moment before Moses came down from the mountain and got really pissed at the Israelites.
Not far from the Golden Calf is Saint Ursula, a most likely fictitious woman who went on a pilgrimage to Europe and was murdered by the Huns, along with her retinue of virgins.
In addition to looking at individual works of art, it is always worth taking a moment to appreciate the atmosphere of individual museum rooms, which often have an elegance and aesthetic that augments and is augmented by the pieces within.
This particular portrait, of a young lady wearing Italian clothes in a Parisian shop, painted by a Dutch woman, really stood out to me.
Fun trivia about the next work, which says a lot about the social mores of the time: the horse droppings depicted in the image were only discovered in a recent restoration of the work, and had been painted over by some easily offended previous owner.
Nothing weird to say about this next piece, which is simply beautiful and a masterpiece.
Also in the realm of “paintings which had to be changed because they offended someone,” the woman in the center of the next work was originally depicted as a maid but was changed to an elegant lady after a negative review.
This next painting, which lies across from the few van Goghs at the Rijksmuseum, really caught my eye. My photo of the description was blurred beyond recognition, however, so I had to do a Google image search to find the artist.
The most famous works in the museum, however, are largely together in one great hall on the second floor, which is quite magnificent.
There are often details in the paintings that are easy to miss if you’re just strolling past, such as the gravedigger in the following work.
It’s about at this point in my tour that I started to get kinda silly.
The next work is one that I actually purchased a print of from the Rijksmuseum and now have hanging in my home. It is a nice reminder of my years in Amsterdam.
I was then getting closer to the most famous painting in the museum…
At last, I viewed the grand masterpiece.
It is quite a magnificent painting, and very large. It was once even larger, however, as pieces were cut from the edges of the canvas long ago in order to make it fit in a smaller space; sadly, those pieces are now lost.
In a room behind The Nightwatch is a sculpture gallery that I think many people miss on their trip through the museum; it has a few nice pieces worth seeing.
Remember what I said about nautical disasters appearing regularly? Well, sometimes they’re celebrated, as in this painting that commemorates the destruction of a Spanish warship. Note that a lot of that debris flying in the air consists of bodies.
The Netherlands went through a dark wave of iconoclasm, in which Protestants went around and destroyed the beautiful art and relics in Catholic churches. The following piece is one of the few that portrays the destruction.
Even violent scenes can be painted in an absolutely beautiful manner. I find the ocean in this painting of a naval battle to be hypnotic.
I had already been walking through the museum quite some time at this point, and my depictions started getting rather silly, as the following series will demonstrate.
The next painting was a fun one for me to see in person, because it is of a scientific and historical figure, Democritus, who is known as one of the earliest people to put forth an atomic theory of nature, circa 400 B.C.E.! He was also known to be a fellow who liked to laugh.
And back to some silliness…
This next image would fit right into my old post on the relationship between visual art and horror, as it depicts a truly terrifying sea monster threatening the shipwreck survivors.
Okay, where was I…?
Sometimes, snarkiness fails me, and I just have to admire a stunning portrait.
Sometimes, I am absolutely terrified.
Yet another stunning portrait of a woman follows. This one is placed quite high on the wall and is easy for a museum visitor to miss, though the portrait is fantastic.
At this point in my tour, I had ended up in the lower level of the museum, which holds some of the more “mundane” exhibits, like pottery. Nevertheless, the famous Delft blue pottery is quite lovely, and can make interesting tiled scenes.
Other sculptures reminded me of other things.
My time at the museum was nearly over, and it started to seem like the residents were ready for me to leave.
So, ready for a rest, I took my leave of the Rijksmuseum, stopping only to take a final panorama from the lovely museum gardens.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this silly tour of the Rijksmuseum! I should mention that this was done in the spirit of fun and was not intended to mock the artists or their work in any way. It was just a different way to go through the museum and enjoy it for me.
But there’s more! I didn’t have room in this post, but the Rijksmuseum also has some exhibits on display that are directly related to optical science! I will discuss them in the next post.