If you have been to Amsterdam during the past ten years, you may well have been disappointed to find the doors of the city's most visited museum closed. Originally designed by famous architect Pierre Cuypers and built in 1885, the Rijksmuseum (National Museum) was in scaffolding for an entire decade due to renovations that started in 2004 and were finalised in April 2013.
When we visited Amsterdam in October 2013, we were lucky to have picked a magnificent autumn day with blue skies. Despite our pre-paid online tickets we still encountered a long queue on this busy Saturday. But friendly volunteers were at hand to give information and point visitors in the right direction. To our surprise the queue dissolved quite quickly and we ended up only having to wait for 20 minutes. Once inside, our jackets and belongings were safely stored in the (free) cloakroom facilities.
The Rijksmuseum, which houses around one million objects, is a veritable treasure trove with a fabulous variety of art works. The collection not only displays paintings but also contains ceramics, furniture and woodwork.
Even the building itself is a work of art. Looking up at the ceiling you will discover stencilled panels, statues, friezes, mosaics, gold leaf lettering, gargoyles and curled reliefs on tops of pillars.
The decorative stencilling features intricate leaf patterns which were all done by hand. It is no surprise the renovations took ten years to complete. The special range of paints (Sikkens RIJKS Colors), specifically developed for this venture to match the original colours used by Pierre Cuypers, were supplied by paint and coatings producer Akzo Nobel.
The most famous work of art in the Rijksmuseum is, of course, the Night Watch. The painting on display is not the complete original painting. In the early eighteenth century a good 50cm was cut off the left hand side to accommodate its location between two doors in the city hall where it once adorned the walls. The Night Watch was a most unusual painting for its time, with militiamen marching rather than posing side by side and the use of light to illuminate faces and other significant details. Rembrandt also included a non-existent drummer, some children and a dog to add interest to the painting.
Although most of Van Gogh's paintings are exhibited in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, one of his many self-portraits can be found here.
One of the most fascinating examples of ceramic art on display is a Nazi chess set. This extraordinary and strangely disconcerting work of art depicts chess pieces as soldiers and weapons. The border of the set lists all the countries attacked by Germany in 1939 and 1940. A present from SS Commander Heinrich Himmler to the leader of the Dutch National Socialist Party (who collaborated with the Germans in World War II), this art work conveys the ultimate glorification of the German Reich.