I better start by confessing that I have a humongous soft spot for Golden Age still-lifes and portraiture, otherwise you’ll wonder why I’m being so enthusiastic about depictions of half-cut blokes and messy dining tables.
So before I go on: the Rijksmuseum is a gallery of objects and art tracing the history of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century in a gorgeous redbrick palace designed by Pierre Cuypers, who also designed Amsterdam Central Station.
I think the thing that excites me so much about ‘The Golden Age’ is that it’s the furthest point back in history that we get quasi-photographic glimpses into the lives and spaces of ordinary (or non-aristocratic) people. Painters such as Joachim Beuckelaer, Willem Claesz Heda, Floris Claesz van Dijk, Abraham Diepraam and Adriaen van Utrecht (pictured above) had the skill to capture light, shape, texture and colour to a degree that makes subjects appear three-dimensional and simultaneously layer in symbolism and social commentary.
What makes this period of time in the Netherlands even more astonishing is that this level of skill in the artistic community was commonplace – or at least accurately replicated in workshops – and the region’s general prosperity meant ordinary people could afford to buy art like this for their own home. You can see a whole new class of proud, intelligent, curious, commercial citizens emerge on the walls around you: their staring eyes, their revealing expressions, their carefully curated clothing and surroundings, the things that they celebrated and denigrated.
The café in the vast, bright Atrium of the museum looked fine, but the queue was apparently 45 minutes long due to the torrential rain outside when we visited so I can’t make the usual comments on cake. However, I’m sure it’ll be a perfectly good half-time pit stop (if you can get a seat) as the Rijksmuseum is too big to do in one go.
My favourite bits:
- Jacob Conelisz van Oostsanen’s self-portrait (1533). The earliest known north Netherlandish self-portrait.
- The Well-stocked Kitchen by Joachim Beuckelaer (1566). A cornucopia of colours and textures that gives you an idea of what was on the menu back then with a moralising scene in the background for good measure (yep – that’s Jesus.)
- Abraham Diepraam’s The Tavern (1665) looks like the smell of ale, body odour and bad breath and an uncertainly good time.
- The Merry Fiddler (1660-1680) looks like he’s been found in another corner of The Tavern, and 350 years on his ruddy nose, sallow skin and rough chin make him a familiar figure to anyone who’s ever seen a local pub band stop for a drink halfway through their set.
Exhibits: 10/10. An entire national history told through art. I haven’t even mentioned Rembrandt’s The Night Watch!
Environment: 10/10. What you’d expect from the Dutch state museum. Impeccable design and excellently maintained.
Refreshments: N/A. They take coffee seriously there though, so I’m sure it’ll be good.
Cost and Location: 5/10. The one sticking point. It’s a hefty €17.50 for over 18s. However, right in the heart of the Museum District which has other major galleries nearby.
Overall Score: 7/10. The collection is worth every penny if you can spare them, but I will never understand why national collections are put behind a ticket barrier.
Main website: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
Explore the exhibits online: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio