Travellers Tales- Rijksmuseum
Like any big ticking box of tourism this iconic gallery means different things . To my neighbour Ron it’s all about the cycle route which goes through its middle and therefore divorces the two wings in a rather annoying way. To my ex room mate, ceramist Marshall Coleman the museum’s patronising and simplifying attitude reduces its impact. But to the world it is one of the big beasts of art. And at £12 a pop why not? We were warned that there would be queues hours long but in we waltzed.
Rembrandt and Vermeer? The Golden Age? Its got to be the Rikjsmuseum. And there they stand in front of Rembrandt’s Night Watchmen. Like groupies hanging round the stage door, clutching their notes which explain why some faces are highlighted and some not, elsewhere in the town there is a statue of this bourgeoisie ensemble. Typically while the big stars attract their bunches of often gormless fans, elsewhere other grand masterpieces stand unloved and ignored. It was ever thus.
My good lady enjoyed the museum’s grand Victorian architecture, the lay out and hanging of the pictures-not too many, not too crowded in any of its acres of space. She also particularly enjoyed its classic library which has shades of the British Museum’s old Reading Room.
My favourite picture was Vermeer’s Milkmaid. Subtle, delightful and with a very personal depth. I loved it so much I bought a plastic lego type model of the good lady for the Musee Festing. One of the effects of the Rikjs is a new name for my ephemera collection. Two of the world most impressive dolls houses are on show. From now on my collection will be called Poppenhuis van Thompson.
However an abiding memory for this sailor is the massive royal coat of arms taken from the Royal Navy flagship the Royal Charles in 1667. There are many pictures around the gallery celebrating the brief period in the 17th century when Holland ruled the waves(New Zealand, New Amsterdam etc). Even today every other snack is cinnamon flavoured, a reminder of the Dutch empire in the East Indies.
UK galleries are full of the march and of a victorious Britannia. But this battle trophy in Amsterdam reminded me of a church in San Telmo, Buenos Aires. Here two captured union flags fly miserably as a reminder of the failed invasions of 1806 and 7. Another reminder of Holland’s world supremacy was our stay in Galle , Sri Lanka. Here the fort, the merchant houses and the church are all of classic 17th century Dutch design and were well used by their eventual British and now indigenous owners.
All a far cry from tourism rampant in London and Amsterdam where echoes of previous supremacies are just part of the jigsaw which attract the Chinese and American tourists who must scratch their heads and wonder, how did these hedonists selling souvenirs and cream teas ,not only sail round the world but conquer it.