There are many museums and galleries in Amsterdam as you would expect from a significant European capital. The whole city is a museum in many ways, of the Dutch “Golden Age” of the 17th century, when the Dutch led the way in trading and exploring the world to bring back riches and spices from the east before Britain got into full trade and colonising mode from the 18th century onwards. Evidence of the wealth is all around in the sheer extent of the houses still standing from that period and the canal system cast like a spider’s web over the city. A country’s past is so often documented in its art and Holland is no exception. The Rijksmuseum houses some of the most representative work from cities heyday.
I don’t know what I was expecting from the Rijksmuseum. I didn’t really have any particular notion other than it was not a modern building but we were totally bowled over by what we found which was a magnificent building, originally built in 1885, in what could only be described as “Arts & Crafts” style, that had only recently been completely renovated (∗ see below) in extraordinary detail and thoroughness. In fact the building had been almost derelict and the national art collection housed elsewhere until the work was begun in 2004 and finished as recently as 2013.
Those of you who have read my earlier posts on the Welsh castles of the Earl of Bute will immediately recognise the style although the Dutch seem to have been a little more restrained. (See the galleries of Castle Coch and Cardiff Castle here.) The building is constructed as a square with what would have been a large courtyard in its centre.
This has now been covered over with a modern roof and a beautiful central space created for the entrance, shop, café, cloakroom and so on. This is something that modern architecture does very well with modern materials when integrating with old buildings. There are many examples of successful additions such as this. In any event the building itself is as much part of the reason to visit as the content and the content is so vast that we didn’t even attempt to encompass it all. We decided to limit ourselves to one floor, that covering the Golden Age of the 17th century. You can see more of the interior of that floor in the gallery on the right of this post.
Another interesting feature of the museum is the old library that is still in use today. Visitors may walk in the library – not disturbing the numerous people actually using it as a library and place of study – and view it from the gallery as shown below.
Finally, for those who have yet to visit Amsterdam the museum is in what is known as the Museum Quarter – probably for the benefit of tourists mainly – at the centre of which is a large grassed space that fills with both tourists and locals enjoying the air and sun that is flanked by the Rijksmuseum the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum.
∗ Anyone interested in Arts and Crafts should follow this link and explore the museums own documentation of the renovation.