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Rijksmuseum
Circa 1878

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Rijksmuseum

A convergence of historical moments has been taking place in The Netherlands this month. The Dutch are in the midst of celebrating 200 years of the formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. April 30th is also a much beloved national holiday called Koninginnedag, or Queens Day. Always a huge party, this year's celebration will be especially poignant as it marks the day that Queen Beatrix formally abdicates the throne in favor of her oldest son, Prince Willem Alexander. The Queen's last official act took place a week ago Saturday and was a fitting end to her respected reign. With the turn of a symbolic key, she re-opened the Rijksmuseum after a long period of renovation and restoration.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is one of the great museums of the world and contains a proud reflection of the history of the Dutch people. Designed by the renowned architect Pierre Cuypers and opened in 1885, the museum was built in a combination of the Gothic and Renaissance styles. Originally the building boasted richly decorated galleries. As tastes changed with modernism, the beautifully painted walls and ceilings were whitewashed into Calvinistic simplicity.

In December of 2003, most of the museum closed for a monumental restoration. Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz were hired to oversee the design. Initially expected to take five years, the restoration ran into many frustrating delays and five years turned into a full decade at the cost 375 million euros. But by almost unaminous accounts the effort paid off spectacularly. Much of the museum has been painstakingly returned to its former splendor.

The most dramatic change to the building is its new entrance. Two courtyards were formerly divided by a bike and pedestrian path. This passageway was sunk below ground and the courtyards joined together to create a soaring atrium. Other important updates include LED lighting, nonreflective exhibit cases, and a very bold approach to the display of the objects themselves.

The Rijksmuseum followed the same traditional planning of most major museums. Their collection was divided into genres. One gallery displayed paintings, another ceramics and yet another glassware or furniture. This has been scrapped. Now the objects have been placed together in chronological time. Rembrandt's paintings now hang alongside furniture made by Herman Doomer, a cabinetmaker friend of his. Ceramics and silver objects from the same period are mixed in the gallery to give one a more full experience of the tastes and trends of the times.

Only one object out of the 8,000 on display remains in its original location, Rembrandt's masterpiece The Nightwatch. The enormous painting, the scale of which is jaw-dropping, still hangs at the end of the "Hall of Honor." This is only fitting as Cuypers essentially designed the entire building around this one quintessentially Dutch masterpiece.

Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Nightwatch at Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Below is an hour long video tour of the new museum and, if you are into this sort of thing, well worth a watch. I also urge you to visit the Rijksmuseum's new website. Here you will find unprecedented high-resolution photographs of the museum's treasures. The Rijksmuseum’s director, Wim Pijbes has a philosophy I wish more museum directors would share.

This collection is in the public domain; it’s the national collection. So if the painting belongs to everybody, why doesn’t the image of the painting belong to everybody? Why not share it? I’m fine. Since we have the original, I’m fine.


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April 21, 2013

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April 20, 2013


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April 20, 2013


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