the Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam’s Louvre pt 2

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, you can find the first part to this post here.
We basically left off with the Netherlands at war with the Spanish and many of the artists fleeing to the North from what is now Belgium, bringing their styles and skills with them. Initially, this was a form known as mannerism, which focused on the raw beauty of the subject, in an idealised setting. However, in Italy, Caravaggio was starting to make his mark, with a much more realistic feel to his paintings, a more down to Earth, grittier style. As such, this began to filter north to start influencing the Dutch, resulting in a change in style and a movement away from Mannerism.
This is a life-sized replica of the tomb of William I of Orange, who was assassinated in 1584. The style is very lifelike and has been done in a way to make him appear as if he is asleep as opposed to actually being dead. Notice how he has been dressed in his nightclothes, complete with his sleeping cap. Also notice how the dog is lying, asleep, at his feet.
One night in 1566 a group of religious fundamentalists stormed the churches of the Netherlands and systematically destroyed all of the religious arts, holding an extreme view of the no idols section of the Ten Commandments. This painting, by Druck van Delen called ‘Iconoclasm in a church’ is one of the very few paintings to capture this night. Notice how a man stands on a ladder, draping a noose around the head of a saint, preparing to pull the statue down, while another statue lies broken on the floor.
We are now beginning to see the emergence of the modern Dutch republic, though after the Napoleonic wars a monarchy was once again established. However, the Netherlands successfully navigated the tumultuous seas as a republic for over two hundred years (something that England did not manage to do). The main figure in this guerilla war was William of Orange, the one pictured above. However, once the dust of this violent and turbulent period of Dutch history settled, a great power was about to emerge.
Thus we enter the golden age of the Dutch empire. From here trade with the continents began to emerge, bringing all forms of riches back to the low lands. Colonies across the world were established, and Dutch sailors such as Abel Tasman, would also go as for as to chart the northern coast of Australia, or Dirk Hartog would also travel along the same route. They even knew the Western Coast of the continent, as they encountered the Quokka’s of Rottnest Island, and would sail north to the port of Batavia.
Once free of the shackles of the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch were able to begin to master the seas. However, at first, their fleet was little more than a rag-tag collection of merchantmen, and it was only after a disastrous war with the English that they realised they needed to professionalise their navy. As such the maritime provinces began to build a fleet that not only would protect the merchant vessels, but also provide defence at home. Successful campaigns against the British, Spanish, and even the Swedish lead the Dutch to boast one of the worlds most capable fleets.
This painting by Willem van de Velde is called ‘Dutch Ships in a Calm’. The ships are preparing to depart, and a sloop containing dignitaries are passing between the ships. This painting, in a catalogue in 1778 was described as being an exceptional work. It is also reflective of the nature of Dutch maritime culture, and also gives the viewer an impression of the Dutch fleet.
Strange as it may seem, but there was a time when the Dutch and the English weren’t really the best of friends. Then again, back in the 17th Century, and for quite a while afterwards, there just didn’t seem to be enough room in the North Sea, or even in all of the world’s oceans, for there to be more than one naval superpower. However, this was years before the sun never set on the British Empire.
In this painting, by Willem Shellinks, depicts a battle that the English lost. In June 1667 the Dutch attacked the English fleet that was docked upriver at Chattam and completely destroyed it. Here we see the English troops attempting to provide reinforcements, but it was too late – the fleet had been destroyed and the Dutch had escaped. Such paintings no doubt were reminders of the Dutch victories over their enemies.
The above painting, by Ferdinand Bol, is called Titus beheads his son. This painting hung in the Admiralty of Amsterdam and depicts the scene where the Consul Titus Manilus Torquatis ordered his son to be executed. Basically, the son was one of those rebellious kids that disrespected his father, Then again, it went a bit further than that because the reason he was beheaded was due to insubordination. This painting was a reminder to the Admiralty of the penalty for insubordination, namely because obeying orders is the key to maintaining a strong military force. Then again, competent commanders are also very important, and the problem is that when the commander is an idiot, then it doesn’t matter how loyal the troops are.

Citizens in Power

In 1659, the Stadtholder, or mayor, William II died and five of the seven provinces decided that it would be a good idea not to elect a replacement. Well, that brought on a golden age of direct democracy in the Netherlands, and not surprisingly, it was also a time of economic expansion. However, despite there being a much more liberal, and free, society, there always will be people that will rise to the fore. This happened in Athens, in Rome, and even in the modern Democracies of today. Back in the Netherlands, this particular person was Johan de Witt.
Mind you, the conservative forces really don’t like change, namely because it tends to undermine their authority, and erodes their wealth. Back then the conservative forces were the nobility, despite the fact that the Netherlands was a republic. While this experiment in direct democracy seemed to be working quite well, this came to a sudden end in 1672. Basically, the conservative forces from the surrounding lands attacked the free provinces, arrested and imprisoned de Witt, and installed William III of Orange in the position of Stadtholder.
Dam Square is probably the centre of Amsterdam, and these days the Royal Palace and the Grote Kirke are located there, as well as the occasional amusement park or at least one was located there when I was in Amsterdam one Easter. Anyway, back in the 17th Century, this building, which is now where Queen Beatrix lives (though she did abdicate in 2013, and the monarch is now King Willem-Alexander), was actually the town hall – there was no King in the Netherlands. This painting was painted by Gerrit Berckheyde and shows us the style, and the grandiose nature, of the town hall. In a way it was a symbol not only of democracy at work but also the wealth of Amsterdam. Adding to its mercantile nature, we see merchants with their wares, as well as a crowd of people milling out the front.
The above item was designed by Hertog von Laun and is known as a Table Orrery. In a way, it is sort of like the Antikythera device (which at the time was still sitting at the bottom of the Mediterranean). The purpose of this device was to demonstrate the position of the sun, moon, planets, and the Earth in relation to each other. Initially, von Laun would use it in his lectures, but it was relatively unknown, that is until Professor Jan Hendrik van Swinden discovered the device, and not only wrote numerous articles about it but would also demonstrate it during scientific meetings.
The above is actually a printed plate or the reproduction from one. These were like the poor man’s painting, namely because multiple prints could be created, which meant that the prices for them would be substantially lower. This one is called ‘The Arsenal of Amsterdam’ by Peter van Ryne. Mind you, these days, when you hear the word Arsenal you either think on an English Premiership League team or a place where weapons are stored. However, this was no doubt named after the Arsenale in Venice, which was not only where the ships were stored, but also constructed and repaired. The way the ships were constructed in the Arsenale made Venice a naval powerhouse in the Mediterranean. No doubt, the process was transferred over to the Netherlands to turn them into a similar power.

Neoclassicism in the Netherlands

Neoclassicism is a style where the artists and architects looked back to the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome and attempt to copy their style. This was a movement that arose in the mid-eighteenth century, and in part, we still see buildings from that style still around today. Huge buildings will marble columns are indicative of this style, though of course the skills of the ancients had been called upon as far back as the Renaissance, with sculptures such as Michelangelo’s David.
Along with the styles and the buildings, many of these projects were accompanied by detailed drawings and was even applied to devices that simply did not exist back then. The Neoclassicist movement actually spread rather quickly, as opposed to other movements, since many of the styles arrived in the Netherlands during the 1760s. Then again, this is also reflective of the changing times, and how the world was quickly becoming ever more connected.
The above painting, by Jacques Ignatius de Roore, depicts one of the lesser-known Biblical stories. Then again, this is evident of the changing times. Previously it was generally a lot of Madonna and Childs, with a number of other well-known stories. However, the artists were now exploring things that were a little more obscure, and also attempting to challenge us through their art.
The above story occurs after the death of King Solomon. Upon his death, the people of Israel pleaded with the king Rehoboam to ease their burden. However, the king refused and made them work harder, so the Northern ten kingdoms revolted from the south. The king of the north, Jeroboam, to prevent the southerners from undermining his power, established temples and altars in the North. This was in direct violation of God’s law. However, while he attempted to distance himself from the south, there were still a number of priests who refused to forsake God. In this painting, Jeroboam attempts to prevent a sacrifice to God, but when he attempted to intervene, his hand was withered.
This painting depicts the story of the Rape of Europa, an ancient Greek myth that appeared in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Interestingly, a lot of these mythological stories come from Ovid, who seems to be the go-to guy for this stuff (despite there being earlier accounts that we possess, such as the Library of Greek Mythology). In this story, Zeus disguises himself as a cow and has his way with poor Europa, who, not surprisingly, is punished by Hera. In part, this is a pastoral scene, with Europa’s handmaidens around her, and with Europa placing garlands on the bull (no doubt not knowing that it is actually Zeus). Note in the corner we have Cupid stringing his bow, no doubt preparing to fire the arrow that will forever change Europa’s life. Oh, this painting is by Nikolas Verkolje.

The Netherlands Overseas

We have already looked at the Netherlands and her colonies across the world. In a way, the Netherland’s colonies were much like those of the Portuguese, that is trading outposts established at strategic locations. Sure, they also controlled whole swaths of territory, but unlike the British, who were more interested in colonisation, or the Spanish, who were more interested in conquest, the Dutch were interested in trade, and in a way sought to claim monopolies over certain products, such as the spices from the East Indies. Yet the Dutch were still a colonial empire,


The above painting is by Luca Carlevarlis, and is entitled ‘The Entry of the French Ambassador into Venice’. During this period we are beginning to see a decline in Venetian power, where it was being transformed from a naval superpower into a quaint city swarming with tourists. Paintings such as the above were actually very popular, if only due to the magical nature of the city. Here we have a French ambassador arriving, with all of the pomp and ceremony, at the docks before the Doge’s Palace. In a way, looking at this painting, and remembering Venice, it seems that in some cases the place has changed a lot, but in other cases, it has not.


Court Art

The 18th century was actually relatively peaceful, considering the turmoil that had engulfed post-Reformation Europe. During this time there were two main courts in Europe – Versailles and Vienna. During times of peace, rulers tend to be much more lavish in their lifestyle and will spend huge amounts of money on building their palaces and decorating them. This was the case during this time and was no doubt a boon for many of the artists scattered across the land. Not only did we have these major courts, but there were also many smaller courts scattered throughout Europe, both ecclesiastical and secular. Mind you, despite the increase in demand, the nobles tended to be pretty particular in what they liked, and as such were forced to continue to explore and innovate, if only to continue to catch the attention of those who could pay, and pay well, for their work.
Yet Europe wasn’t the only place where the artists could practice their trade. The Ottoman court provided a gateway between the East and the West, and the Dutch had had diplomatic relations with them since 1612 and had a permanent embassy there. Mind you, gone were the days when the Ottomans held a monopoly over the spice trade from the East, but they were still no doubt a very wealthy, and rather tolerant, society. This also provided a boon to the artists as they had another outlet in which to export their works, but also to practice and learn new techniques as well.
The above painting, by Francesco Trevisani, is entitled ‘The Martyrdom of the Seven Sons’ and was commissioned by a Cardinal from the French Court. The story is about Saint Felicity, who was forced to watch the murder of her seven sons before she then had her head removed. In a way, this is reflective of many of the previous styles of religious art, and notice how we also have an opening to heaven in the top left-hand corner. This hails back to the story of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, who cried out that he saw heaven open up before him, as he was being stoned to death. One should also note here that Trevaisani has painted himself into this painting, not once, but twice.


18th Century

Well, by this time the Dutch Empire was starting to fade into obscurity, however, the wealth it had garnered was still around, which meant that there was still a lot of opportunities for the Dutch artists to make some money, and many of the merchants continued to surround themselves with the works of the European greats. Then again, the 18th Century doesn’t really seem to be one of those periods where there are many works of arts or artists, that really stand out above those of the great masters. As for the Netherlands, well, they still had a rather extensive trading empire and continued to hold colonies in the East and the West Indies – with Indonesia being a Dutch possession right up until the 20th century, and a number of Carribean Islands still in Dutch possession even to today.
Mind you, this was the period of the Enlightenment, a period where the absolute power of the monarchs was starting to be questioned. Sure, this was not necessarily the case in the Netherlands, which was still a republic, however, things were beginning to change, particularly in France. Of course, we know what ended up happening in that regards.
Well, it seems that I have jumped from the 18th Century back to the 15th Century, but that probably has something to do with the way we made our way around the Rijksmuseum, namely going from the upper level, all the way down to the subbasement where all of the older medieval art was located, such as this one (though this is not strictly medieval, probably more Renaissance). The story of this painting, called the Martyrdom of St Lucy, involves the fiancee of a Roman Emperor, who happened to break off the engagement due to her becoming a Christian. Well, the problem with breaking off an engagement with the emperor of Rome is that they don’t take it all that well. Okay, not many people take such things all that well, it is just that Roman Emperor’s tend to be able to do something about it, as is the case here – he burnt her at the state.
This is actually a rather interesting painting from the 15th Century, entitled ‘A Landscape from the Conquest of America’ by Jan Jansz Mostaert. The image depicts the Spanish soldiers conquering the American continent, though it has certainly been done using the traditional European landscape. In fact, the scene feels more at home in Europe and the continent across the Atlantic. However, Mostaert did throw in a couple of animals to attempt to give this place a much more exotic feel. In fact, the painting itself, even though feels as if it should be European, has colours that put give it a much more otherworldly feel about it. Notice also the swarms of Native Americans, as well as the fortress on the top of the rock outcropping.
This final painting I will look at is by Jan Sanders van Hemmesen and is called ‘The Allegory of Nature as the Mother of Art’. This time this painting is a 16th-century painting, and we can see the image of a woman sprinkling breastmilk upon a musician. In fact, the two individuals represent two abstract concepts, with the woman being nature and the man, who is holding a violin, is art. In a way, it is suggesting that the artistic in us is inspired by nature, and this is particularly the case with a lot of the artworks that we look at. In a way, art is a means of capturing the beauty of nature, a beauty that can remain long after the scene becomes a distant memory.


Creative Commons License


the Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam’s Louvre pt 2 by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net


One thought on “the Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam’s Louvre pt 2

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