The Dutch Golden Age at the Rijksmuseum

Not surprisingly, the Rijksmuseum has an extensive collection of works of art from the Dutch Golden Age, that period during the the 17th century, when the Netherlands were a world power and this was reflected Dutch trade, prosperity and achievements in science and art. Besides the paintings displayed in the “Gallery of Honour”, the second floor of the museum has many examples of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture and other objects from the period.

I was particularly interested in the collection of genre paintings, especially those by two of my favourite Golden Age artists, Gabriel Metsu and Gerard ter Borch.

Metsu lived in Leiden until 1657, when he moved to Amsterdam, living in an alley on Prinsengracht. Most of his pictures are genre scenes but he also painted religious subjects portraits and still lives.  There were several works by him on display, including this domestic scene where a hunter is offering a bird he has shot to a young woman distracting her from her sewing.

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The Hunter’s Present (c1658-61) Gabriel Metsu

According to the Rijksmuseum website, during the 17th century ‘vogelen’ (literally ‘to bird’) had a particular meaning so his intentions may not be entirely honourable!

I particularly liked this painting of an elderly woman

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Old Woman Meditating (c1661-63) Gabriel Metsu

It has something of a photographic quality. Her face and hands are skilfully rendered and her expression suggests she is concentrating on the devotional text – or is she nodding off?

Gerard ter Borch was born in Zwolle and lived in Amsterdam and Haarlem later settling in in Deventer. His genre paintings often showed figures in domestic interiors making music, reading or writing letters, and drinking. I’d first come across his work at the “Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in January 2012.  I think he is particularly skilled at painting silks and satin, bringing out the sheen very effectively. His sister Gesina often modelled for him and I think she appears in both of these two paintings displayed at the Rijksmuseum.

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Gallant Conversation, known as “The Parental Admonition” (c1654) Gerard ter Borch

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Seated Girl in Peasant Costume (c1650-60) Gerard ter Borch

Finally, I’d seen the following picture before.

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Woman at her Toilet (c 1655 – 60) Jan Havicksz Steen

It had featured in the “Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Besides the paintings there was a variety of other objects from the “Golden Age” which painted a picture of life during that prosperous period – at least for the wealthier classes.

The collection included three dolls’ houses that provide a detailed view of how affluent houses were once furnished. The most famous was one that was owned by Petronella Oortman of Amsterdam. It was seeing this very house that had inspired Jessie Burton to write her novel The Minituarist which is set in Golden Age Amsterdam.

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The picture (from the Rijksmuseum website) doesn’t give a proper impression of the house which was at least 2 metres high. The website tells us that

In the 17th century, dolls’ houses were not toys; they were a hobby, the equivalent for women of the collection cabinets kept by men.

The wealth of the Golden Age was mainly accumulated through trade. The Netherlands was a major sea power (and rival to the emerging British Empire) with colonies overseas, particularly the Far East. There was a Gallery devoted to Dutch sea power on the second floor which included this magnificent model of a 17th Century warship, the William Rex

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There was also a gallery full of models of ships on the ground floor of the museum

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None as large as the William Rex, however.

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2 thoughts on “The Dutch Golden Age at the Rijksmuseum

    • I rather enjoyed the book and it was reading it that reignited my interest in visiting Amsterdam that led to our holiday there last year. But the identity of the minitarist and how she was able to create the minatures was perplexing and although not resolving a plot line can work I don’t think it worked in this case.

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