Sunday Morning at the Rijksmuseum

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After having visited Rembrandt’s house I thought I should go and have a look at some of his better known paintings, so a visit to the Rijksmuseum was in order. I was up early and after breakfast and checking out of my hotel, I took the tram into the city centre. The tram stopped directly outside the Rijksmuseum so I was there at about 9:30, half an hour after it opened. There were quite a few people around even at that early hour on a Sunday, but I didn’t have to queue for a ticket so I decided to make my way up to the “Gallery of Honour” on the second floor where the most well known paintings from the museum’s collection are on show before the hordes arrived.

The early start was definitely the right idea as I was able to get a good view of the paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer and spend some time contemplating. Only half an hour later that was much more difficult, particularly when the tour groups started arriving resulting in large groups gathering round the most well known works while the tour guide proceeded to discuss the paining. This made it very difficult to get a look in.

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Everyone wanted to see the Night Watch, or The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenhurch, to give it it’s original name,  which is the centrepiece of the Nightwatch Room. My favourite of the Rembrandt paintings on display, however, was The Jewish Bride

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Vincent Van Gogh is reported to have said

‘I should be happy to give ten years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.’

Well, I don’t think I’d go quite that far but I certainly spent quite a few minutes contemplating it, returning a couple of times for another look before it became obscured by the tour groups.

The Rijksmuseum website describes the painting

Two contemporaries had themselves portrayed by Rembrandt in historicizing costumes as characters from the Bible. The couple’s tender embrace is at the centre of this poignant painting: the man’s loving gesture is returned with a gentle caress. The figures and their poses agree with the study (No 67), only the figure of King Abimelech spying on them is missing. We, the viewers, assume his role as witnesses of their clandestine love.

However, not everyone agrees

most art historians believe that the couple represent Isaac and Rebecca. Another, more neutral explanation is that the man is declaring his love to his wife. In that case the subject of the painting would be the virtue of marriage. (Rembrandt House website)

Yet another interpretation is that the painting depicts

a Jewish father hanging a necklace around his daughter’s neck on her wedding day (Jewish Press Website)

I thought tht Rembrandt had certainly captured the man’s affection for his bride (if that is what she is) I also liked the way he had applied the paint. Looking close up it was possible to see that Rembrandt had applied the paint very roughly. The paint on the man’s sleeve is so thick that it seems as though Rembrandt used a palette knife to put it on. (Rembrandt House website)

Rembrandt produced more than 300 paintings. The Rijksmuseum, not surprisingly, have a number of them. I can’t say that I like them all. Sometimes the subject matter doesn’t appeal and sometimes they’re just too dark. Of the other of his works on display I liked three paintings that were hung in the same corner as The Jewish Bride.

One of these was The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, known as ‘The Syndics’,

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The individuals portrayed (all but the servant at the back would have paid to be included in the painting) have a real, lived in look about them. They’re not idealised. The older men have wrinkles. And I like the way they look out – it seems that they are looking directly out at the viewer, making you feel part of the scene.

The other two works hanging nearby were portraits. One of his son Titus dressed as a Franciscan Friar

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His downcast eyes lend him an air of quiet introspection. His serene, pale face stands out clearly against a backdrop of green and brown vegetation.Solitary retreat into nature for prayer and reflection was of great importance to Saint Francis and his order. (Rijksmuseum website)

Finally  the only self-portrait where Rembrandt portrays himself as a biblical figure – in this case Saint Paul

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Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul

There was a lot more to see in the museum, including 4 paintings by Vermeer in the Gallery of Honour, a few yards from the Rembrandts. I think I’ll save them for another post.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Morning at the Rijksmuseum

  1. Pingback: Sunday Morning at the Rijksmuseum — Down by the Dougie | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  2. Yes. The crowds put me off going. But I’d like to see the Rembrandts. Did you watch the documentary film about The Night Watch, years ago? I can’t find it though I’m sure I saw it on Lovefilm. That’s not much use to you, is it?!

    • So the next time you go to Amsterdam you’ll be visiting Rembrandt’s house and the Rijksmuseum to see his masterpieces !
      If my experience is anything to go by, get there early and go straight up to the 2nd floor. It opens at 9 and I reckon there was about an hour before the hordes descend. It’s the tour groups that are particulalry the problem and they didn’t seem to start arriving until 10ish. I went on a Sunday, of course so I don’t know whether it would be the same on other days.
      I haven’t seen the documentary you refer to. Do you mean the episode from the Life of a Masterpiece series? If so, theres a copy of the entire series available on DVD on Amazon for £15. I might be tempted to get a box set.
      Simon Schama’s documentary on the Late Rembrandt was on BBC 2 last night after Jools Holland so quite late. I didn’t stay up but recorded it so will probably watch it tomorrow.

      • Wish I could remember the film title. I’ll look again another time. Not back to TV/schedules yet. But maybe a note for iPlayer session next week, thanks. I can do 9am on my own but depends whether I am or not next time, but thanks for the tip.

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