Visiting The Rijksmuseum | 10 Must-See Collection Highlights

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If you should ever find yourself in Amsterdam, for a weekend getaway or for a longer stay, one of the must-sees is the Rijksmuseum. As the largest art museum in the Netherlands, it houses an illustrious collection of artefacts, sculptures and paintings from medieval times to the 21st century.

About The Rijksmuseum:

The Rijksmuseum currently houses 2000+ paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. It displays works by Ruisdael, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, as well as many others. The Night Watch by Rembrandt is, perhaps, the most famous piece in the collection; a status substantiated by the fact that it is mounted within its own room - the Night Watch Gallery.

However, the museum doesn't just lend itself to paintings from the Golden Age. The latest addition to the museum is the Philips Wing, solely dedicated to more modern art movements and styles - like photography exhibitions. A 20th century gallery in the Philips Wing includes numerous historical artefacts and objects. These include an FK 23 Bantam plan, sculptures, china and furniture. The Asian Pavilion, on the other hand, houses a wide variety of Asian ornaments and statues, such as an ancient Shiva Nataraja.

Shiva Nataraja Statue Rijksmuseum


10 Must-See Artworks At The Rijksmuseum:

So, what are the must-see paintings and artefacts at the Rijksmuseum? The most notable works of art are those from the Golden Age, which spanned from 1620 to around 1680. This collection of paintings by de Hooch, Steen, Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt is only rivalled by the Mauritshuis in The Hague (currently closed for restoration). Consider the following must-sees at the Rijksmuseum:

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1) Anthonius Mor - Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham (c 1560-65).

In this painting, Mor depicts the famed English merchant alongside his wife in a companion portrait. The brilliant realism in the painting seems to leap right off the gallery wall.

Anthonius Mor, Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham

Portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham. Photo Credit: @pbintheeu.


2) Hendrick Avercamp - Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters (c 1608).

Avercamp picked the baton up around 4 decades after the famous winter scenes by Bruegel. This painting is one of his earliest and most successful. It is also chock full of incident and character.

Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters. Photo Credit: @helen.artmastered.


3) Rembrandt - Early Self Portrait (1628).

Rembrandt was only 22 and already fascinated by deep contrasts between shade and light, and the ways in which subjects engage with viewers.

Rembrandt, Early Self Portrait, 1628

Rembrandt, Early Self Portrait. Photo Credit: @gazette_pierre.


4) Franz Hals - Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen (c 1622).

This painting, of course, is all about status and wealth - considering the sumptuously elegant house in the background. However, it serves as a wonderfully relaxed and expansive account of a young couple easy in their own skins.

Franz Hals, Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen

Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen. Photo Credit: @pieter_roelofs.


5) Rembrandt - The Night Watch (1642).

The Night Watch is Rembrandt's largest, most complex and perhaps best known painting. It serves as the centrepiece of the entire Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt, The Night Watch at Rijksmuseum

The Night Watch. Photo Credit: @mireilledijks.


6) Vermeer - The Milkmaid (c 1660).

This is the only depiction by Vermeer of life below stairs. It shows a bare room with milk, bread, a foot-warmer, and a basket. The maid in question is focused on a gently twisting stream of milk pouring from the highly detailed earthenware jug.

Vermeer, The Milkmaid

The Milkmaid. Photo Credit: @chasingcornishlight.


7) Pieter de Hooch - Interior with Women beside a Linen Cupboard (1663).

The Interior captures a brief moment in time with the sort of naturalistic clarity that de Hooch is most famous for. It's a scene of domestic harmony built around subtle contrasts - between sculpture and painting, work and play, adulthood and childhood, and exterior and interior worlds.

Pieter de Hooch, Interior with Women beside a Linen Cupboard

Interior with Women beside a Linen Cupboard. Photo Credit: @painters_paintings.


8) Jan Steen - The Merry Family (1668).

Steen’s famed scenes of alcohol-fuelled merriment (underpinned, of course, with subtle warnings about the dangers of profligacy) were as much part and parcel of the Dutch Golden Age as Rembrandt’s formal portraits and Vermeer’s dreamy girls.

Jan Steen, The Merry Family

The Merry Family. Photo Credit: @omercador.


9) Jan Willem Pieneman - The Battle of Waterloo (1824).

This epic, albeit somewhat sanitised, canvas depicts the turning point of the Battle of Waterloo. Specifically, it shows Wellington - bathed in a shaft of sunlight - being informed that the Prussians are on their way. The future king and hero of Waterloo, William II, lies in the foreground wounded on a stretcher.

Jan Willem Pieneman, The Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo. Photo Credit: @bad_sector.


10) Van Gogh - Self Portrait (1887).

Van Gogh painted this likeness in Paris after he was first exposed to Impressionism. In this seminal piece, his newfound interest in bold brushwork and vivid colours is clearly evident.

Van Gogh, Self Portrait

Van Gogh, Self Portrait. Photo Credit: @edsel_sarge.


Other Rijksmuseum Attractions:

The collection at the Rijksmuseum is not limited to paintings. In fact, most of the paintings at the museum are set within the context of other artefacts, arts, and crafts. These include brilliant trompe l’oeil inlays, luxury furniture, porcelain, Delftware, 3 extraordinary doll houses from the 17th century (for adults and not for children), and finds from a Dutch ship that was stranded on an island in Russia in 1596. The finds include the crew’s musical instruments, wooden buckets, tools, and shoes.

The core of the decorative artefacts collection is formed by the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities. Otherwise referred to as the 'Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden', it opened its doors to the public in 1816.

The Kabinet collates the collections of former stadholders, with Chinese art being a prominent feature. Many of the objects have epochal significance, such as a simple yet elegant pocket watch. The timepiece in question was made to commemorate the marriage of Mary Stuart and Stadholder William II in 1641. Its intricate decorations were painted in enamel by Henri Toutin, and depict various mythological scenes referring to this most famous of royal marriages.

Pocket Watch by Henri Toutin, 1641.

Pocket Watch by Henri Toutin, 1641.

As with all art museums, there's far more to discover than initially meets the eye. Look out for these must-see paintings and artefacts, and keep an open mind so as to truly immerse yourself in the treasures of the Dutch Golden Age.


Visiting The Rijksmuseum:

The Rijksmuseum building is set within extensive gardens, which also house numerous ornate sculptures and ancient artworks. Additionally, visitors are welcome to take the Rijksmuseum canal cruise hosted by the Blue Boat Company. This floating art history audio tour takes in key landmarks such the Rembrandthuis. It is charged at 33.50 Euros (€8.50 for children), a fee that also covers entrance to the museum.

Considering standard admission is charged at 17.50 Euros, it makes sense to go for the canal tour. For the museum's own multimedia tour, you will be required to pay an additional 5 Euros.

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Getting To The Rijksmuseum:

The best way to get to the museum is by tram. Take tram 2 or tram 5 from Central Station and get off at the Rijksmuseum stop. Alternatively, head over to Zuid Station and take tram 5.

If you plan on using the City Sightseeing Amsterdam bus tour service then the Rijksmuseum can be reached by hopping off at stop 9. Why not save a few Euros and book both together?

Note that the Rijksmuseum is located right at Museum Square. As such, a number of other popular attractions are within its immediate vicinity. These include the Concertgebouw and the Van Gogh Museum.