Our first stop in Amsterdam was the extraordinary Rijksmuseum, the Museum of the Netherlands. We made our reservations months ahead of time and were rewarded by a comfortable, early-morning visit with controlled crowds. What a treasure!
First off, the building itself is beautiful with a colorful brick exterior decorated with intricate designs of inlaid bricks. There is a feeling of graviats as you enter the building yet as you look up, the huge space fills with light and welcomes you to enter.
Secondly, the story of Dutch exploration and accumulated wealth is reflected in massive paintings of men at work and families at play, all richly dress and sporting elaborate jewelry. The Dutch lavishly support the arts so the museum has a bountiful display of great art as well as significant artifacts like furniture and boxes for storage of precious items. The entire museum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history.
You will see lots and lots of these kind of Dutch paintings across Europe. With no photography, back in the day, it was common for guilds and families to pose for portraits.
In this photo you can see how the painting looks on the wall at the Rijksmuseum. The painting on the left is the Drapers’ Guild; the painting on the right is The Jewish Bride.
This painting filled a long wall at the museum where it’s been a mighty crowd pleaser since 1885 and it was difficult to get close – so I borrowed this image from Wikipedia which says this is the best known painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. My source says, “The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.”
Each district of Amsterdam had a guard unit made up of about 120 men. This, most likely, was a guard unit who kept watch on their area of the city. “There were some 120 men in Frans Banning Cocq’s company, but only 19 of them are shown in the painting…Depending on where they were positioned, (the subjects) paid up to 100 guilders each to be included, and the captain and lieutenant no doubt paid more than that,” according to Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 2.” This wasn’t a fighting unit – Amsterdam largely used mercenaries to fight their wars – it was really more of a guild of city leaders.
The next painting is one of my favorites. My little “bible” of art, Julian Porter’s “149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe” says, “When he saw this painting in 1885, Van Gogh said, ‘What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting. Believe me, and I mean this sincerely, I would have given 10 years of my life if I could sit for a fortnight before this painting with just a dry crust of bread to eat.‘” Yes, it’s that good.
In the book Rembrandt, Christopher White wrote, The Jewish Bride “is one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.” No one is sure of who the people are in the portrait but some people think they were a couple posing as a biblical couple for this portrait.
The people of Amsterdam sometimes posed for portraits that depicted scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible. The Netherlands were a fairly new country when it became rich through trade in the 1650’s, so if painters wanted to paint history, some chose to paint bible history. This was a bit problematic because the country was heavily Calvinistic at this time and the religion placed restrictions on artistic subjects (paintings were even forbidden in Calvinist churches). Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen discuss this in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 3”, writing, “Calvin did not want paintings to be worshipped, his teachings thus forbad works of art depicting God, Jews, Mary or the martyrs of the Catholic Church.” That pretty much left the Old Testament. The Netherlands “certainly had no heroes who could hope to compare with the famous figures of the Old Testament.”
The Rijksmuseum has curated their collection in such a way that it is easy to understand not just the item but the context of the item. The picture above is a tiny self portrait by Rembrandt. The curation notes, in both Dutch and English, take up more wall space than the painting. This is terrific! I can easily see the text and the image, making my visit easy and interesting.
Here’s a typical sign that appeared next to the Drapers’ Guild painting. See how easy it is to understand both the history and the art?
Isn’t this swan just magnificent? It fills a wall at the museum. This painting was so lifelike, I expected the swan to hiss at me.
This isn’t one of the “greats” but I love it because it kind of reminds me of Christmas at our house when the kids were growing up. Note the child who got coal from St. Nicholas. Not good.
The Rijksmuseum is where I finally fell in love with Vermeer. I used to volunteer to teach art appreciation to students at my kids’ elementary school as part of a team of school docents. We introduced students to Vermeer but concentrated on his technique rather than content. Imagine my astonishment when I saw what the man could do beyond technique! The Milkmaid transforms the very space where it hangs with a rich butter-yellow tone that engulfs the room. Julian Porter writes, “The jumping blue of the balloon skirt against the flaxen yellow of the cloth blouse set under a gold pot against an ivory spotted wall flooded in light is a drawing room bravura act.” I already miss this painting.
Here is more great stuff at the Rijksmuseum showing the wealth made through trade.
There was an interesting exhibit of 21 Joan Miro sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, but we just ran out of time and didn’t visit. It was kind of funny that when we traveled to Barcelona to the Miro Museum, one of his sculptures was missing – it was back in Amsterdam and we had missed it there, too.
I did get to enjoy Miro’s Personnage 1975 as it was displayed in the Rijksmuseum lobby. I couldn’t find a sign telling me what I was seeing but people stopped and photographed the sculpture because it simply dominated the space.
So that’s the Rijksmuseum for this visit. I’ll be back again next summer 2016 and you can count on me adding to this page.
We traveled to the Netherlands for a week in August 2015. We landed in Amsterdam via a Viking Rhine River tour, stayed with a friend in Wassenaar, drove through the country and also visited Belgium, and left by high speed train to Paris. The weather was rainy and warm, the people were friendly, we were surprised at every turn by the tradition-laced modernity of the country, and we were charmed by the tolerance for all lifestyles.
We were excited to get to Amsterdam to see the city but the real draw was meeting with Maureen’s daughter Melody who lives in Wassenaar, about 1 hour from Amsterdam and next door to the Hague. Once our Viking boat docked, we stayed at Melody’s comfortable home for 7 nights and explored The Netherlands and Belgium using her house as a base and her car for transportation. Melody went way, way out of her way to make us comfortable – just a great hostess. Here’s Maureen with her daughter Melody in Wassernaur.
As our boat docked, we realized we didn’t have our Amsterdam Museum passes – they were at Melody’s house. So we rushed through the Captain’s good-bye dinner (delicious!) and grabbed public transportation to meet Melody at the Amsterdam airport. Kisses, hugs, introductions…. then back to the ship to spend the night.
In the morning, we packed up our suitcases, I enjoyed one last yummy breakfast aboard the Viking ship Hlin: scrambled eggs and sausage and a sweet roll with home-made jelly and sweet, sweet yogurt and Diet Coke. Then we rolled our suitcases about a block away to the train station where we stored them in the luggage lockers. Best of all, we met back up with Rachel who had come in from Bruges where she had spent the week while we Viking cruised. The 3 P-Nuts are back together again!
We stopped at the Tourist Information building directly across from Amsterdam’s Central Train Station (Bahnhof), picked up maps, and purchased a day card for public transportation (7.50 Eur). Then we were ready to explore Amsterdam.
I think video games were invented after a game designer made a trip to Amsterdam. Crossing the street is a major challenge as you dodge pedestrians, cars, baby buggies, taxis, buses, skate boards and bicycles. The bicyclists follow no rules and come at your from all sides out of nowhere, shouting as they pass within a breath of you. They ride their bikes across plazas, sidewalks, streets…anywhere you are.
The trams travel atop grass because it deadens the sound of the trains on the city streets plus adds some green to the cityscape.
On the other hand, one charming mode of transportation is these baby buggies. The first is driven by a bicyclist with baby seated in the bucket-like front seat – complete with plastic weather gear. The second is a day care wagon for 8 kids powered by what looks like a Segway. Sometimes babies are in car seats but most often, they’re just kind of hanging on. The third bike can be used for carting kids or groceries or anything else that will fit.
The people are gorgeous! Tall and big, they dominate the space with loud laughter and goodwill. Then again, maybe they were tourists.
Food is a problem in Amsterdam because everything is delicious and it’s hard to decide where to spend your appetite. We read great reviews for the teeny-tiny Upstairs Pancake House on Trip Advisor so we secured reservations at the Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs and took ourselves up a very, very steep staircase to the second floor to a little restaurant that perched like a nest in a tree. To reach the toilet, you needed to cross the two story staircase that was more like a ladder. We wedged into one of the four tables in the place and anticipated a great treat. Because we wanted to taste everything on the menu, we ordered three pancakes and split them among ourselves: Ham and tomato, pineapple and bacon, and strawberries and cream. All, spectacular. I want to do it all over again.
We continued to eat our way across Amsterdam at the Albert Cuyp Market. Getting there was an adventure as we knew we were near but couldn’t seem to find the huge market street because we always seemed to be on the wrong side of a canal or behind a canyon of buildings that blocked our view. So I asked myself, is it about the journey or the destination? then settled down and enjoyed the adventure. That’s when I discovered the quirks of Amsterdam.
First, a gorgeous doorway – I wanted to step inside just to look around then realized this was one of many, many doorways and I’d never get to see the other sides. Still, wouldn’t you just love to see what’s behind the door?
Some folks displayed their treasures in their picture windows. I wonder if this collector is sharing her wedding-toppers or if she’s the merry widow?
Can I just say I love the houseboats of Amsterdam? How romantic to live on a canal and bicycle to work.
It’s always a treat to spy my favorite brewery and the delivery truck just down the street.
A hotdog seems just the right thing to go with a cold beer on a very, very hot day in Amsterdam. What’s with the winter coat?
Albert Cuyp Market
We finally found the long, winding street just off the canals that is the Albert Cuyp Market. It’s lined with small shops and temporary stands selling baked goods, vegetables, blue jeans, Chinese kitchenware, scented candles, shoes, fruits, honey, scarves: you name it, it’s there.
We were advised to try the poffertjes. The little pancakes sprinkled with butter and powdered sugar were melt-in-your-mouth sweet bits of heaven.
We were also advised to try stroopwafels, which we did. But the little waffles glued together with a sweet paste were so sweet they made your teeth squeek. So I ate a couple bites and found a trash can for the rest. More pofferjes, please.
The good news about food is that you get to eat it all through the day. The bad news: I seem to have taken all photos of sweets. Here are a few of our other temptations.
Van Gogh Museum
It probably sounds churlish to say I expected more. Maybe I was just hot. Maybe I was just tired. After all, the Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of his works in the world. The Cleveland Museum of Art has outstanding Van Gogh paintings, and so does the Louvre. But this museum was created by Van Gogh’s sister-in-law and nephew and provides a loving description of his life with examples of many of Van Gogh’s 900 paintings (not always the originals). Vincent only lived to be 37 but he created a hell of a lot of art in that time: 1,000 drawings, 150 water colors, 10 graphic works, 9 lithographs.
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum was more about spending some time with Vincent in a beautiful museum than it was about seeing a good restrospective of his art. I saw an extraordinary retrospective exhibit of his art at the Toledo Museum of Art 30 years ago – I really liked seeing Van Gogh’s progress as an artist and also it was interesting to see his descent into mental illness. The Van Gogh Museum of art is, instead, curated to share the happier parts of Van Gogh’s life. As Van Gogh wrote, “To do good work, one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”
Here are a few of the paintings I loved seeing in person at the Van Gogh Museum. In the entryway, was a whole collection of VanGogh’s self portraits. It was interesting to see how he painted himself as he aged.
The intense colors and angry brush strokes create a pastoral scene of violence. Sumptuous to look at, but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there when he was painting this. What was happening in that field 125 years ago?
I do absolutely love this painting which Vincent gave to his brother as a gift; it hung over his brother and sister-in-law’s bed. This photo does not do justice as the actual painting is horizontal, not square, and very large. But the blue is dreamily gorgeous and the sensuously twining branches are extraordinary.
I love seeing how the painter lived in this portrait of his bedroom. One of the things I love best about art is that not only do you witness technique, but you also get to see the artist’s interpretation of the world. Everyone knows what a bedroom looks like, but Vincent made this room his own, complete with quirky persepctive.
The museum, itself, is worth visiting even if you aren’t a fan of Van Gogh. It is light and airy and fun to move around. From time to time the navigation was confusing but friendly guards were happy to help out. However, you know how you might visit a new friend and their house is gorgeous but not at all what you expected because it’s nothing like their personality? That’s the feeling I got with this building. The paintings seemed like they (the paintings) were just visiting.
Dutch Resistance Museum
The Dutch Resistance Museum has been named the best historical museum in the Netherlands. I was impressed with the resilience and the quiet fight conducted by the Dutch during WWII. In thousands of ways – from compromising bridges to hiding Jews, the Dutch people resisted during their five year occupation by the Nazis. This museum focuses not just on the thousands of people murdered by the Nazis but also on the hardships endured by the people of the Netherlands from hunger to cold to the conscription of citizens to feed the Nazi war machine. The museum also looks at what freedom meant when the “Allies came calling” (their words, not mine).
Dutch Resistance Museum – Amsterdam
The Dutch Resistance Museum took on current political prisoners and steps that need to be taken to support those who are incarcerated for their beliefs or their heritage. In a special education area, the Museum posted: “Even today, 70 years after World War Two, people are still imprisoned because of their opinions or because they oppose the powers that be. Frequently, this also serves to intimidate the rest of the population.” Dutch students wrote biographies of three such prisoners from Saudi Arabia, China and Eritrea. The following photo is a picture of a box stuffed with wishes for these political prisoners.
Anne Frank House
It was fascinating to visit the Anne Frank house – I was inspired by her book when I first read it as a young teen and I continue to count it among my most interesting reads. Every single page brings to mind, “this is a life,” and people matter. This little statue stands near the Anne Frank house, as does the headstone.
The Westerkerk is very near to Anne Frank’s house – she writes in her diary that hearing the churchbells helped her to keep track of time.
On August 10, 1943, Anne wrote: We’ve all been a little confused this past week because our dearly beloved Westertoren bells have been carted off to be melted down for the war, so we have no idea of the exact time, either night or day. I still have hopes that they’ll come up with a substitute, made of tin or copper or some such thing, to remind the neighborhood of the clock. (Source: Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida)
I was surprised at the size of the Anne Frank house – I always imagined a tiny area the size of my own attic. It was actually quite large with several rooms, running water, and a beautiful Delft bathroom. I was also surprised to learn that the Frank family did get to roam around the very large building after hours. However, this does not begin to pardon those who stole their freedom and their lives. And it also does not acknowledge the incredible sacrifice of those who hid the family and friends. The tour was emotional and humanized the story of the holocaust.
No photos (or bags or backpacks) were allowed in the house so I freely borrowed some from the internet. Thank you to the Anne Frank organization and to IaminAmsterdam.com for the photos.
We left our luggage at a drop off place (Dutch: bagagekluizen) . We paid a few euro and left the luggage for several hours. It was a bit random — we had to look for the attendant when we returned for our luggage — but it only took a few moments to find him running from down the street to meet us.
The Hermitage Amsterdam
The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam is branch of the more famous museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. For more than 300 years, this building was used to house the elderly as the Amstelhof but it was thoroughly modernized as an art museum in 2007. There is an excellent permanent exhibit of the Golden Age of the Netherlands but we had already seen nearly the same thing at the Rijksmuseum.
Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam
The real reason for our visit the Hermitage was to view a visiting exhibit of Napoleon. Photography was forbidden which was disappointing because many of the artifacts were beautiful. More interesting, the Hermitage had recreated whole rooms filled with the treasures of the Napoleonic era for the temporary exhibit.
The following is an image of the exhibit borrowed from the New York Times. The New York Times website also includes an excellent story about the exhibit with additional photographs.
This history of the museum building as a nursing home is really interesting. You can read the whole story at Amstelhof. “Old age” for women in Amsterdam in 1681 started at 50.
Before the Holocaust, if you stumbled on a cobble stone, people would say, “There must be a Jew buried here.” Today nearly 50,000 small memorials have replaced cobblestones throughout Europe to represent the places where Jewish families lived before they disappeared. The artist Stolpersteine inspired this emotional tribute of stumblestones. Later on in our journeys, I also discovered stumblestones in other cities once occupied by Nazis. As I discover my photos, I will post them in my blog. Meanwhile, from the blog posted by the HollandHockman’s, this photo illustrates my point:
I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke pot. So I didn’t see the need to visit a coffeeshop while in Amsterdam. That’s why the answer to my question is, “No, I did not.” Coffeeshops can only have about one pound of hash on hand at any one time and there are rules against export. But Amsterdam seems to turn their eyes away when it comes to weed. I’ve never smelled so much pot on the street except at a rock concert. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere is so chill.
The Rijksmuseum has the best collection anywhere of the Dutch Masters — Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Steen — in a spectacular setting. We didn’t have time to examine hundreds of items at every museum and art gallery we visited, so I made lists of what I really wanted to see, visited the stand-outs, and enjoyed the items I came across on the way to my destination. You can read about my experience in my Rijksmuseum blog.
Here’s what I didn’t want to miss at the Rijksmuseum:
Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride
Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild
Hals, The Meagre Company
Vermeer, A Street in Delft
Rembrandt, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
Vermeer, The Milkmaid
Rembrandt, The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (Nightwatch)
Random images of Amsterdam
Here’s a preview of an upcoming blog on The Hague:
Went to the very cool Escher Museum today and I was blown away by the …. chandeliers made by the Rotterdam artist Hans van Bentem. Every room sparkled and shined.