Back in the spring, we made a special visit to Keukenhof tulip gardens in the Netherlands. During our stay in Holland, we finally took the time to visit another Dutch landmark that was on my bucket list for years – The Rijksmuseum.
Like Paris’ Louvre, the Rijksmuseum is a veritable palace dedicated to visual art, ranging in date from 1100-2000. The collection includes some of the world’s best-known works: Vermeer’s Milkmaid, Van Gogh’s self-portrait and, the crowning glory of the museum, Rembrandt’s Night Watch.
Beyond its important collection, the Rijksmuseum itself is a masterpiece. Designed by Pierre Cuypers, the museum first opened its doors in 1885. Currently, there are over 8000 pieces on display, although the collection numbers close to 1 million objects in total.
Despite walking by this iconic building weekly, while living in Amsterdam, I had never been able to explore more than a fraction of the Rijksmuseum’s collection, and little of its architecture. In 2003, the first year we visited Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum began its 10-year, €375 million renovation. For the duration, only a tiny portion of the museum and its masterpieces were on display. I had had a taste of the Rijksmuseum, but not the main course.
The Rijksmuseum reopened on April 13, 2013, and finally, almost a year later, Andrew and I were able to admire the stunning transformation. Here’s a taste of what we saw:
The newly renovated entryway and ticket hall allows access to the museum, shop, café, and auditorium. The high, glass ceiling makes the space light and gives a feeling of openness.
One clever aspect of the Rijksmuseum’s design is the Gallery of Honour. This hall, on the second floor, is a ‘one-stop-shop,’ for the highlights of the Rijksmuseum’s collection. For those visitors pressed for time (bus tour anyone?), the Gallery of Honour offers a good overview of Dutch art.
The architecture of the hall is stunning, with its beautiful arched ceiling and frescos.
At the end of the hall is Amsterdam’s most famous work of art – The Night Watch. The crowds surrounding it almost rival the hordes that flock to see the Mona Lisa.
The Night Watch however, doesn’t disappoint in size. The painting is massive and the detail, particularly in the light and shadow, is well worth braving the crowd to experience in person.
At the opposite end of the Gallery of Honour is the Voorhal, or Great Hall, and it is one of the most impressive aspects of the Rijksmuseum’s architecture. We stood in awe under the huge vaulted ceilings. I could have admired the stained glass windows and frescoes all day.
More than just pretty pictures, the frescos represent human virtues: patriotism, faith, self-sacrifice, prudence, justice and temperance.
The stained glass alludes to the building’s purpose as a gallery, with windows representing the arts of painting, architecture, and sculpture.
Another favourite discovery for me was one I didn’t even know existed, the Rijksmuseum’s library.
Like the stunning library at Trinity College in Dublin, this gorgeous room has that old book smell, intoxicating to bibliophiles like me.
We took our time wandering through the works of art and found some favourites.
Of course, the Dutch art of Delft pottery and tile making was well represented.
There was even a nod to the Netherlands’ long seafaring history in the form of an intricately detailed model ship.
Of course, we couldn’t resist a bit of ‘cheesy’ art.
Even though my art preferences tend toward more modern works, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Rijksmuseum, both for its collection and its stunning architecture. It was well worth the ten-year wait.
Admission for adults is € 17.50. You can save some hassle by booking your tickets online.
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