My 5 Wonders of the Rijksmuseum

The Rijkmuseum is the vast home of fine art in Amsterdam. And a fine-looking home it is too – it re-opened in 2013 after an entire decade of restoration! From its 1million+ collection of objects, it tends to have c.8,000 on display at any one time. Here is my personal take on 5 wonders of the Rijksmuseum … enjoy!

Wonder 1: Vermeer – Lots of!

Love Letter by Johannes Vermeer c. 1669 -70

Vermeer painted intimate domestic scenes which teem with life and suspense. He may have been painting in the 1600s but his colours and characters appear just as alive today, suspended in time. There is plenty of action, eye-contact, suspense just what is going on between these characters? They strike me as scenes from a soap-opera, fascinating and mind-boggling to think they are over 400 years old!

Head directly to the 2nd floor, to find these masterpieces along with many other Dutch masters in the Gallery of Honour.

Wonder 2: The Night Watch by Rembrandt

Towering over the length of the Gallery of Honour you will find Rembrandt’s vast canvas The Night Watch. Also dating from the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s, despite the title, it is in fact a company portrait, depicting a band of civic militia responsible for maintaining order in the Dutch towns and cities. It’s an incredible painting to behold and you can also see it undergoing live scientific examination, but that’s not why it makes my list.

It’s on my list, because it is one of the earliest examples of secular art work on a monumental scale. It was commissioned by a private Dutch company – not a church, or head of state. Rembrandt was paid 16,000 guilders, roughly US $1 million in today’s money. He subsequently bought a prime house in central Amsterdam – today that’s where you can find the Rembrandt museum. But more than this it documents a pivotal moment in economic history, that went on to the change the world. It was these private Dutch companies which pioneered the raising of capital from private citizens. Sometimes these companies’ purpose was to civic protection – for example quelling revolts or putting out fires – as in The Night Watch. Others raised capital for overseas trading and colonial ventures and became the earliest fore-runners of today’s multinational corporations. Cue major changes to the world…

Wonder 3: Magic Balancing Dutch Still Life

Still Life with Cheese by Floris Claez van Dijck, c. 1615

Dotted throughout the rooms of the Rijksmuseum you will find many vivid still life paintings by Dutch artists. They depict food that looks tantalisingly good enough to eat, from freshly cut slices of bread to luscious segments of fruit. The artists are also showing-off their technical prowess tackling ‘difficult’ objects such as glistening glasses and using devices such as alcoves and plates balancing on the edge of tables, to make it seem as if you could almost reach out and pick some fruit from their painting.

They also tell a fascinating story of the vast overseas trading happening between the Netherlands and Asia. As the Dutch Indies Company expanded and the Netherlands became increasingly wealthy, the influx of foreign goods and luxuries are documented in Dutch Still Life works. The fruits become more tropical, there is chinese decorated porcelain, bowls of sugar, oysters and many other luxuries.

Wonder 4: The Library

A library to swoon over. Originally designed by Pierre Cuypers in 1876, but drawing heavily on styling from the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s. Drenched in decorative motifs which have all been handpainted in the recent decade-long restoration. When Cuyper’s original design was originally revealed to the public there was outrage at the decorative design. The Netherlands was strongly Clavinist at the time and it was viewed as morally dubious frivolity. Over time the decorations were slowly covered up, but today they have been restored to their full riot of decorative glory.

Wonder 5: The Dollhouses

Just one room in Petronella Oortman’s 3-storey dollshouse!

Miniature marvels depicting domestic life in the homes of the 17th Century Dutch elite. The level of detail is quite incredible, complete with chinese porcelain, hand-blown glass, linens and silks. These houses were commissioned by Petronella Oortman and were anything but a plaything. They were in fact considered an acceptable hobby for women at the time. They could recreate and order these domestic environments – their permitted social realm at the time. It is interesting to consider that these were the equivalent for women, of the cabinet collections kept by men at the time. The cabinet collections kept by men documented their travels, discoveries and acquisitions in the world outside the domestic – a world very much out of bounds for women at the time.

My Top Rijksmuseum TipS
  • Buy tickets in advance online. You skip the queue and save 1€! Adult tickets online are 19€
  • If you want to see ‘just’ the highlights plan to spend 2-3 hours
  • For a fuller visit, expect to spend 4-5 hours or more! Mix some highlights with a lucky dip and wander – the very best way to experience the Rijksmuseum.
  • Want a quick coffee? Skip the queues at the main restaurant and find the groundfloor coffee bar