I have been looking forward to Amsterdam for quite some time, I only hope that my expectations are not too high. One of the main reasons I have been so excited about this city is it’s history, culture and art. Today, I want to share with you some of Amsterdam’s Art History. Of all the Art Galleries that are in Amsterdam, there seems to be an endless number of them; four are definitely on my agenda, they are the Rijksmuseum, The Van Gogh museum, The Rembrandt House and The Anne Frank house.
|The National Museum of the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum
Today’s post is going to focus on the Rijksmuseum, which is the magnificent National Museum of the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum posses nearly 1 million works of art, only a fraction of which is on display. I was somewhat disappointed in that the museum is partially closed for renovation, however they have established a “Masterpieces” exhibit that holds the best of the museums inventory in the Philips Wing.
A little history is in order
The Rijksmuseum was established by King Louis Bonepart (brother of Napoleon Bonepart) in 1800 in the Royal Palace on the Dam (in the Hague). In 1863 a design contest was held for a new building to house the Rijksmuseum, but none of the submissions were considered to be of sufficient quality. Pierre Cuypers also participated in the contest and his submission reached the second place. In 1876 a new contest was held and this time Pierre Cuypers won.
The design was a combination of gothic and renaissance elements. The construction began on October 1, 1876. On both the inside and the outside, the building was richly decorated with references to Dutch art history. The museum was opened at its new location on July 13, 1885. The front of the museum is located at the Stadhouderskade, but on the other side it has a prominent position on the Museumplein, nowadays among the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Concertgebouw.
In 1890 a fragment building was added to the Rijksmuseum. This building was made out of fragments of demolished buildings that together give an overview of the Dutch history of architecture. In 1906 the hall for Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” was rebuilt. The museum has been undergoing renovations continuously since the early 1900’s, however It’s current renovation is based on a design by Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz, is the most comprehensive in it’s history. Many of the old interior decorations will be restored and the floors in the courtyards will be removed. During the restoration and renovation process only about four hundred of the one-million piece permanent collection are on display in an exhibition called The Masterpieces in the already renovated “fragment building,” nowadays called the Philips wing.
It is a great opportunity to see all the highlights of the Dutch Golden age together; the beautiful doll houses, a wealth of silverware, delftware, spectacular civic company pieces, icons of Dutch History and over 400 masterpieces by the Netherlands most famous artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Vermeer.
Delftware, what is that?
The earliest tin-glazed pottery in the Netherlands was made in Antwerp by Guido da Savino in 1512. The manufacturing of painted pottery may have spread from the south to the northern Netherlands in the 1560s. It was made in Middelburg and Haarlem in the 1570s and in Amsterdam in the 1580s. Much of the finer work was produced in Delft, but simple everyday tin-glazed pottery was made in places such as Gouda, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Dordrecht.
The main period of tin-glaze pottery in the Netherlands was 1640-1740. From about 1640 Delft potters began using personal monograms and distinctive factory marks. The Guild of St. Luke, , to which painters in all media had to belong, admitted ten master potters in the thirty years between 1610 and 1640 and twenty in the nine years 1651 to 1660.
In 1654 a gunpowder explosion in Delft destroyed many breweries and as the brewing industry was in decline they became available to pottery makers looking for larger premises; some retained the old brewery names, making them famous throughout northern Europe, e.g. The Double Tankard, The Young Moors’ Head and The Three Bells. The use of mari, a type of clay rich in calcium compounds, allowed the Dutch potters to refine their technique and to make finer items. The usual clay body of Delftware was a blend of three clays, one local, one from Tournai and one from the Rhineland.
From about 1615, the potters began to coat their pots completely in white tin glaze instead of covering only the painting surface and coating the rest with clear ceramic glaze. They then began to cover the tin-glaze with clear glaze, which gave depth to the fired surface and smoothness to cobalt blues, ultimately creating a good resemblance to porcelain. During the Dutch Golden Age, the Dutch East India Company had a lively trade with the East and imported millions of pieces of Chinese Porcelain in the early 17th century.
The Chinese workmanship and attention to detail impressed many. Only the richest could afford the early imports. Although Dutch potters did not immediately imitate Chinese porcelain, they began to after the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620, when the supply to Europe was interrupted. Delftware inspired by Chinese originals persisted from about 1630 to the mid-18th century alongside European patterns. By about 1700 several factories were using enamel colors and gilding over tin-glaze, requiring a third kiln firing at a lower temperature.
Delftware ranged from simple household items – plain white earthenware with little or no decoration – to fancy artwork. Most of the Delft factories made sets of jars, the kast-stel set. Pictorial plates were made in abundance, illustrated with religious motifs, native Dutch scenes with windmills and fishing boats, hunting scenes, landscapes and seascapes. Sets of plates were made with the words and music of songs; dessert was served on them and when the plates were clear the company started singing.
The Delft potters also made tiles in vast numbers (estimated at eight hundred million) over a period of two hundred years; many Dutch houses still have tiles that were fixed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Delftware became popular and was widely exported in Europe and even reached China and Japan. Chinese and Japanese potters made porcelain versions of Delftware for export to Europe.
|Rembrandt’s The Night Watchman, Current Size
Without a doubt the main draw in this museum is “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt. It is a massive painting, measuring nearly 11ft.,10in. X 14ft,4in. It was painted in 1642, for the Dutch Militiamen.
|Rembrandt’s, The Night Watchman, Original Size
In it’s original size it was even larger, but was damaged and cut back, the left side of the painting was cut off leaving the current incarnation slightly off balance.
In it’s day it created quite a stir because of it’s size, subject matter and that it expressed the subject matter in action, which was unusual for a portrait at that time. The people in the portrait were considered to be the wealthiest, if you wanted to be in the painting you had to pay for the privilege. It is an exquisite painting, and the largest that Rembrandt ever painted.
Rembrandt also painted a series of Self-Portraits throughout his life as did many painters of his time. These self portraits help us to gain insight into his life and character today. In many of these portraits he painted himself as religious figures. One of his most famous self portraits is of Rembrandt as St. Paul.
Another extremely famous and equally spectacular painting that is hung in this Masterpiece exhibit is The Kitchen Maid, by Vermeer.
|Vermeer’s, The Kitchen Maid
My guess is that most of you have seen this painting at some point in your life. However to view the original painting up close, is another thing. It is truly one of my favorites, the sense of realism is conveyed by his masterful use of light, color and perspective. The artists view was slightly from below against a bare wall, the simple, sturdy girl seems almost tangible, quiet and still, except for the milk flowing from her jug.
If you would like to view more of the Masterpiece’s of art, I suggest you try the Google Art Project/Rijksmuseum, this is a great way to get a close up look at some of the worlds most spectacular art. Click here to see.
I am guessing that you can tell this was a long day, and I’ve just begun. There is so much Art to see in this beautiful city. Come back and read more about The Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt’s House and the Anne Frank House. See you soon.
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