Museum Magic - Rijksmuseum

Truth be told, I didn't know much about museums in Europe. I knew about the Louvre - of course - Dan Brown made sure of that. But beyond that my knowledge was pretty sketchy. So visiting the many museums that Europe has to offer, was a revelation and an education.

The city of Amsterdam is famed for its canals. It is also home to the Rijksmuseum. Apart from the priceless artefacts housed here, the museum itself is of some antiquity. It was founded in the year 1798 as a means of promoting national unity following the establishment of the Batavian Republic in 1795. In 1800 it first opened its doors in The Hague. In 1808 it moved to Amsterdam on the orders of King Louis Bonaparte. In 1885 it moved to its current location.

The museum displays some priceless artefacts. The most famous are paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johanees Vermeer. (Don't worry if these names don't ring bells. The only one I recognised was Rembrandt! But hopefully, you will know more about them after reading this post). Giving below a description of some of the paintings which appealed to me.

The Night Watch, Rembrandt: I knew NOTHING about this painting. When my husband told me we are going to see The Night Watch in Rijksmuseum, I asked him 'what's that'. My shocked husband told me to look it up online. So I did.

Photo source: Deepa's personal collection
The Night Watch is Rembrandt's 1642 painting of the 'Militia Company of District II under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq' The Rijksmuseum site informs us that it was his largest and most famous painting. And rightly so. The play of light in the painting is awesome. In the vast expanse of the painting, light has been used cleverly to highlight the main figures of the captain and his lieutenant. An interesting interpretation attached to the painting  I found in Wikipedia says that "the Night Watch is symmetrically divided, firstly to illustrate the union between the Dutch Protestants and the Dutch Catholics, and secondly to evoke the war effort against the Spaniards. For instance, according to Rembrandt's multilayered design, the taller captain (in black) symbolizes the Dutch Protestant leadership, loyally supported by the Dutch Catholics (represented by the shorter lieutenant, in yellow)."

Photo source: Deepa's personal collection
The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer: OK, so I had never heard of this artist (said she shamefaced). Although the painting is titled The Milkmaid, it is actually of a maid working in the kitchen. Which is why the painting is sometimes also called The Kitchen Maid. It depicts a sturdy young woman, wearing clothing of the time, pouring milk from one container into another. Although this is just an everyday scene, there is something mesmerising about it-the way light shines in from the window on the left and illuminates half the woman's face, the young woman's absorption with her task, the foot warmer on the right with the detailing on the tiles. Personally I found this painting even better than The Night Watch (oops! can i say that?!).

My husband and I have jokingly nicknamed these two paintings as 'watchman' (like the security guards in our apartment blocks) and 'paalkaari' (milk maid in Tamil)

Photo source: Rijksmuseum website
The Threatened Swan, Jan Asselijn: Again, knew nichts about the painting and the artist. This was the first painting acquired by the Nationale Kunstgalerij (the forerunner of Rijksmuseum) in 1880. It depicts a swan fiercely defending her nest from a dog. It has been interpreted as a political allegory of Johan De Witt (a very high ranking Dutch official who was assassinated in 1672 ) defending the country from enemies. Wikipedia says that "Three inscriptions had been added: the words "de raad-pensionaris" (the grand pensionary) between the swan's legs, the words "de viand van de staat" (the enemy of the state) above the head of the dog on the left, and the name "Holland" on the egg on the right." (I really do not recall seeing this).

I'm going to stop here with the descriptions. There was so much more to see and marvel at, that the museum would need a dedicated blog! The third floor was contemporary art (which my husband snorted derisively at) and the ground floor had textile heritage showcasing changing fashions over the centuries There was also a section on the most amazing dolls houses - but I will save that for another day. A Van Gogh self potrait - which  I will not dwell on here as I plan to cover Vincent in my next post.

There is one matter that deserves mention and appreciation. This pertains to the easy accessibility that the Rijksmuseum provides to senior citizens, parents with infants and persons with disability. All the floors were easily accessible by wheel chair and stroller and allowed movement with dignity. Nobody was in anybody's way. If only our own museums and public buildings in India could do the same.

A few points to note if you're planning a visit. You can prebook your tickets (highly recommended). Just visit the Rijksmuseum website for that. Be careful to note the timings and holidays. The museum is easily reached by tram or bus or even bicycle if you are so minded. You will need to deposit your baggage in a locker. Photography is allowed inside the museum although without flash. And, saving the best for last, there is free wi-fi!

If you are in Amsterdam, do take the time to visit this wonderful museum. I promise it would be worth your while.

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