Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Art of the Rijksmuseum:



On countless occasions over the past few weeks, I've made it a point to stop by the Rijksmusuem in order to increase my familiarity with its collection–but also to learn the names of those who created all of those wonderful works. I'm educating my eyes and my mind. Knowing the image of Mona Lisa is one thing; knowing who actually painted it is quite another. And so my lunches and mid-days have been spent trekking across the expansive Museumplein, toward the Rijksmuseum. I find that the approach from the southern-sited Concertgebouw is more conducive to the invoking of wonder, as opposed to approaching the museum from its opposite edge, which faces the the center of Amsterdam. What the museum does very well, after entry, is ushering its users up and into its 'Gallery of Honour', as it's called; more or less where Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' is displayed, alongside the other most treasured gems from the collection. Most–if not all–of the paintings within this particular gallery emanate from the Dutch Golden Age. Yet it's the museum's other spaces, its less visited galleries, which I'm now taking the time to explore. After spending countless hours within this so named 'Gallery of Honour'–absorbing its genre, portrait, and architectural paintings–its the many other facets of the Netherlands' art that now captures my attention; the artists and the output of the Amsterdam Impressionists, and the schools of Utrecht and The Hague, for instance. So much exalted is the Netherlands' glorious past (which spans, roughly, 1615 to 1702) that that which comes after or before it, is more often communicated as an afterthought as opposed to integral to the whole. Though this is not quite the case. What happened within the world of Dutch art before and after its own Golden Age?; don't worry about it, is what at first seems to be the general attitude of the Rijksmuseum. But what I'm learning about the museum is that such an attitude is anything but propagated–and it's only after strolling past Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid' about 30 times that I'm finally able to realize that. Due to the museum's paths of circulation, it's all too easy to enter, and skip over the art of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, as well as that of the years before 1615 (and there are many). But, going back that far, before the Netherlands declared its independence from Spain in 1581, would guide museum visitors to Netherlandish art, rather than Dutch art. And that's because Netherlandish art is the art of the Low Countries when they still were the Low Countries; that is, when the Netherlands and Belgium and Luxembourg were all still one big happy family, first as the Burgundian Netherlands, and then as the Hapsburg Netherlands, before the Dutch Republic was finally born, in 1581. With all of its twists and turns, Dutch history and its timeline can indeed be very confusing. One line of thought that makes it much easier to master, is remembering that Netherlandish art is where the output of Jan van Eyck is situated. He's the guy, it's said, who ushered in the era of oil as opposed to tempera–paints, that is. But for now, my focus is still Dutch art, and not Netherlandish, just yet…