Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age: What Not to Miss

by Danielle Carter

featured image: Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman, 1656

If you can’t get enough of Dutch Golden Age art at the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage Amsterdam is a wonderful additional option to expand your knowledge with the exhibition: Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age.

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image: Elvert Ezinga

From late 2014 through to the end of this year, the Hermitage Amsterdam, in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and the Amsterdam Museum, is hosting an array of portraits from the Dutch Golden Age, including some of the oldest civic militia portraits from the period. A Squad of Civic Guards (1529) by Dirck Jacobsz. is the oldest in the gallery and features civic guards who appear far different from the likes of the men in Rembrandt’s (1642) The Night Watch, which is displayed in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. These older civic militia portraits reveal the typical way of painting civic militia portraits. The men are lined up in efficient rows in a manner that equally displays all of their faces. Furthermore, seeing these civic militia portraits grouped together in a hall more accurately recreates the way they would have been hung at the time. During the Dutch Golden Age, there were 20 districts in Amsterdam, each with its own civic militia. The Night Watch, along with at least seven other civic militia portraits, would have hung across from and next to one another in the Arquebusier’s headquarters; thus, viewing these portraits together at the Hermitage Amsterdam is almost a glimpse of what it would have been like to view these paintings back in the 17th century.

Highlighted in this exhibition are thirty so-called “brothers and sisters” of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. These additional thirty paintings help to give more context to the importance of group portraiture during the Dutch Golden Age, especially as these portraits were not limited to civic militia portraiture and that their function was often to display wealth and justify status in a society that largely lacked royalty and aristocracy as a means of establishing hierarchy. One example of these paintings is The Governors of the Binnengasthuis (1617-1618) by Cornelis van der Voort, which is the first portrait of a group of governors of a charitable institution. Such a painting can be compared with Rembrandt’s The Syndics, which can also be seen in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. As with Rembrandt’s painting, Van der Voort positions his figures around a table in order to demonstrate their administrative skills, which were important for the governors of these guilds and organisations. During this time, nearly everyone (except for the very poor) belonged to some sort of organisation or guild, but some were hierarchically more esteemed than others, demonstrating the wealth and status of its governors or board members. The surgeon’s guild was at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of guilds and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman (1656), not to be confused with his famous The Anatomy Lesson (1632) at the Mauritshuis, depicts the Surgeon’s Guild in Amsterdam performing its annual autopsy.

However, unlike the paintings displayed at the Rijksmuseum, many of the group portraits now featured at the Hermitage Amsterdam emphasise the importance of charity and social welfare during the Dutch Golden Age, both as a means of structuring society as well as a means of supporting the Netherlands economically. In other words, as with civic militia portraits, getting oneself painted as the governor of a charitable institution was a way of expressing one’s status and wealth in society. The people depicted in The Governors of the Binnengasthuis, for example, paid approximately 318 guilders each, which is equivalent to nearly 4500 euros in today’s currency. Obviously, these people had to be quite wealthy to have themselves included in these paintings, which would often then be hung in public places to further parade the subjects’ wealth.

The significance of these charitable institutions during the Dutch Golden Age also indicates the relatively high level of social welfare in the Netherlands compared with its European counterparts at the time. These social welfare institutions, such as hospitals for lepers or orphanages for children of victims of the plague, were often seen as economically responsible: social unrest was deemed as negative for the economy.

The Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age at the Hermitage Amsterdam is structured in such a way that allows visitors to follow the narratives of four residents of Amsterdam at the time, revealing the struggles of these people in attaining power and status in a time of social and financial mobility that was nearly impossible in other societies dominated by royalty and aristocracy. The entire exhibition is worth consideration, but the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman and the hall of group portraits (mostly featuring governors of social welfare institutions) are unmissable in this exhibition.

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located at Amstel 51, it is open daily from 10.00-17.00, with a ticket price of 15 euros for adults and 5 euros for children aged 6 to 16 (children under 6 are permitted free admission). For a custom private tour of the exhibition, please contact us.

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The Lucas van Leyden Altarpiece in the Rijksmuseum

Danielle Carter

Images courtesy of Olivier Middendorp

Presentation in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum is taken very seriously.  Only the most famous of Dutch artists are displayed here, often with their names adorning the arches and capitals of the hall when the museum was built in 1885, and again during its subsequent renovation from 2003 to 2013. Thus, each time a new piece is hosted in the Gallery of Honour, it is a notable event.

This year alone, Anish Kapoor’s works were hosted in the Gallery of Honour, opposite Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride and The Syndics; and a newly acquired wedding portrait by Rembrandt, known affectionately as Maarten en Oopjen, was displayed adjacent to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch before its planned restoration. Since August, the Gallery of Honour has also hosted The Last Judgement (1526-1527). For the next two years the Rijksmuseum will be home to this altarpiece by Lucas van Leyden (1491-1533). The work has rarely been seen outside of Leiden, where it typically resides at the Museum de Lakenhal, which begins major renovation and expansion this year.

It is, however, not only an honour for this altarpiece to be shown in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour, but an honour for the Rijksmuseum to be permitted to show such a piece at all. According to the Rijksmuseum’s director, Taco Dibbits, The Last Judgement ‘is the most important surviving altarpiece in the Netherlands.’ With its nearly exclusive exhibition in its hometown of Leiden, the fact that this altarpiece has been selected to be exhibited in Amsterdam is quite notable.

Lucas van Leyden is an important piece in the puzzle during the Netherlands’ transition from Medieval to Northern Renaissance motifs and styles. He was the apprentice of Cornelis Engebrechtsz, among the first significant painters from Leiden, who is mostly known for his devotional imagery; he was in conta

Lucas van Leyden, Het Laatste Oordeel. In de Eregallerij van het Rijksmuseum. Foto: Olivier Middendorp

Lucas van Leyden, The Last Judgement. Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum. Photo: Olivier Middendorp

ct with artists such as the famous German printmaker, Albrecht Dürer, who influenced van Leyden with his modelling of figures and his compositions; and he drew his inspiration for anatomically correct depictions of human bodies from Italian Renaissance artists such as Raphael. Van Leyden was also a pioneer in crafting narrative in his artworks, which is also evident in The Last Judgement, in which he depicts believers and sinners with angels or demons ushering them towards heaven or hell upon their death.

The Last Judgement is typically viewed as Lucas van Leyden’s most important and impressive work. Van Leyden gained prominence during the Northern Renaissance as a talented printmaker and engraver; however, he painted the triptych, The Last Judgement—one of the three altarpieces that he painted— near the end of his life and career (he died at the young of 39 from tuberculosis) and it has since gained much art historical clout. Another of van Leyden’s altarpieces, The Dance around the Golden Calf  (ca. 1530), is part of the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection and can be seen in the rooms on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, precursors to the Dutch Golden Age artists whose works are typically displayed in the Gallery of Honour.

The Last Judgement was commissioned by the Catholic Church of St. Peter in Leiden in the 1520s. Due to the conflict between the Netherlands and the Spanish Kingdom, however, which was initiated largely due to Spain’s imposition of the Inquisition in the Dutch provinces, Iconoclasm endangered The Last Judgement and many other Catholic works in churches and elsewhere throughout the country. After years of suppressed Protestantism and Judaism, the Dutch lashed out against Catholicism as they gained their independence from the Spanish, often damaging or removing religious images, in general, but Catholic images specifically. In order to save The Last Judgement, the city authorities of Leiden captured the altarpiece and it has since been in the hands of the municipality. Since 1874, the altarpiece has been on display at the Museum de Lakenhal, in cooperation with the municipal collections.

For many tourists to the Netherlands, the scope of Dutch history and art history is relatively limited to the likes of Amsterdam or perhaps Haarlem and The Hague. The exhibition of this Leiden masterpiece provides a unique opportunity for Amsterdam’s visitors to have a sneak peek at masterworks from other areas of the Netherlands; notably, Leiden, which is also the hometown and birthplace of Rembrandt, who owned a complete set of van Leyden’s prints and likely saw this van Leyden altarpiece in his youth.

In the last 450 years, The Last Judgement has only left Leiden twice—during World War II, it was hidden in Limburg; and it was exhibited once at the Rijksmuseum in 1958, punctuating this historic moment in which it is displayed at the Rijksmuseum.

You can see The Last Judgement in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour from 23 August 2016 until 23 August 2018. To book a private tour of the museum with one of our expert guides, please click here.

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Museum Opening: Museum Voorlinden

We sent our very own Danielle Carter to the opening of a brand new museum of modern and contemporary art in Wassenaar; the Museum Voorlinden. Here’s her thoughts:

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Photo courtesy of Danielle Carter

Wassenaar is mostly known across the Netherlands as the classy town that houses the royal family. Now a chic, new neighbour is now garnering additional attention for this little town that sits between Leiden and the Hague: the Museum Voorlinden, which opened its doors to the public yesterday on the 11th of September.

The Museum Voorlinden is nestled among cosy suburban houses, puddles of lavender and dandelions, and a sprawling green oasis. The modern and contemporary art collection is the new project of Wim Pijbes, the former director (2008-2016) of the Rijksmuseum, which Pijbes famously guided through its arduous renovation. After an admirable tenure at the state-owned and -funded public Dutch Golden Age-centric museum, this switch to a privately-owned modern and contemporary art museum is surely a new challenge for the director, whose campaigns at the Rijksmuseum also included opening the museum further to the public with efforts such as uploading the collection online.

Like many modern and contemporary art museums, the Museum Voorlinden embraces plain white walls and minimal contextual information; however, the Museum Voorlinden encourages a narrative in the way that the museum is organised, fosters a flow to the museum visit through the museum guidebook, which directs the visitors through the spaces in an ordered sequence and pairs together artworks that seem to have conversations with one another. This was particularly evident with Sherrie Levine’s (2011) Monochromes After Seurat: 7-12 and Andy Warhol’s (1986) Camouflage and, perhaps more overtly so, with Magritte’s (1931) La Malédiction and Marcel Broodthaers’ (1966) La Malédiction de Magritte. The army green hues in Levine’s Monochromes seem to directly echo Warhol’s Camouflage, which stands across from Levine’s work in the exhibition hall like a mirror, giving the entire room a feeling of wholeness and completeness. In a similar fashion, Magritte’s and Broodthaer’s works face one another from opposite walls, almost as if Broodthaer’s sculpture were greeting its original inspiration.  

Roni Horn (1955), Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar [foto: Antoine van Kaam]

Roni Horn (1955), Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar [foto: Antoine van Kaam]

Overall, the Museum Voorlinden is an excellent option for a short day trip from Amsterdam for lovers of modern and contemporary art, as well as those looking for a small quiet getaway from the city. The Museum Voorlinden is approximately one and a half hours distance from Amsterdam’s city centre. To reach it, take the train from Amsterdam Central Station to Den Haag Centraal and bus 43 from platform G. After 8 stops, get off the bus at Wittenburgerweg and you will have a quaint fifteen to twenty minute stroll down the Zijdeweg and Buurtweg to reach the museum. The entrance to the museum is slightly less pedestrian-friendly than Amsterdam (cars, bikes, and pedestrians all share the path leading to the museum—and there are many more cars here than in Amsterdam), so be aware.

You can purchase a ticket online or at the museum in person. Tickets are 15 euros each for adults (please note that the Museumkaart is not valid) and you can choose to book your ticket for the morning (10.00-13.00) or the afternoon (13.00-17.00).  You can also find more information about the sculpture garden at the Clingenbosch estate—and book a tour—on the Museum Voorlinden website.

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Tuinontwerp door Piet Oudolf Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar

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The Significance of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen

Danielle CarterWe are delighted to welcome Danielle Carter, owner of Tangible Education and museum educator for Thinking Museum, to write for us. You can learn more about Danielle’s research, educational and practical experience here.

 

There have been numerous images of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen (1634) splashed across billboards and walls throughout Amsterdam for the past few months. Some solely featured Marten’s extravagant shoe. Some featured Oopjen’s coy half-smile and smouldering eyes. However, it’s hard to really understand the significance of these portraits without more context. This is where we, at Thinking Museum, can assist: the importance of Marten and Oopjen from the museological, historical, and art historical perspective.

From a museological standpoint, the display and acquisition of these paintings is what counts. These paintings have only been shown once in public—in 1956 in the Rijksmuseum for Rembrandt’s 350th birthday. Other than that, they have remained in private hands over the past three and a half centuries—unseen by the public eye. Thus the fact that we have the special opportunity to see these paintings is quite amazing in itself. Furthermore, these paintings were revealed in the Rijksmuseum shortly before Rembrandt’s 410th birthday (on July 14th of this year), a serendipitous arrangement that has given me goosebumps several times. The paintings will go into restoration for a year starting in October, so they will soon be out of the public eye once more.

Additionally, these paintings were—to say the least—pricey. Paintings by Rembrandt are hard to come by and a situation in which one (or two!) comes onto the market is very rare. Even more importantly, however, is that the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre partnered to purchase these paintings. This is unheard of in the museum world thus far, but seems to be a solution to a prevalent issue in the contemporary art world; the fact that private collectors are able to outbid public museums and artworks are thus swept into private collections rather than preserved for the public eye. Technically speaking, the Louvre purchased Oopjen and the Rijksmuseum purchased Marten, but the two museums have agreed that the two paintings will remain together forever. The two paintings are married just as the couple once was.

Historically speaking, these paintings indicate a large amount about the Dutch Golden Ages. During this time, the Netherlands was waging war with the Spanish crown to gain its independence, after which it would establish a republic (rather than a monarchy). During the Dutch Golden Ages, royalty are typically the only ones who have full-length portraits painted; Rembrandt has painted these two “civilians” in this manner, symbolising the status of the wealthy in the Netherlands as well as the (lack of) status of the aristocracy. Oopjen herself was the heir of her long-established Amsterdam merchant family’s fortune in trading gunpowder and grain, whereas Marten was the son of an Antwerp merchant who fled from the cruel Spanish regime enforcing the Inquisition at that time. Again, societal structure was much more based on affluence rather than aristocratic title, lending Rembrandt the authority to paint Marten and Oopjen in this manner that would typically be preserved for royalty.

Finally, for the art history lovers out there, there are many reasons to gawk at these portraits. Rembrandt was relatively new on the scene in Amsterdam at the time that he painted these portraits. They were painted during the same period that he painted The Anatomy Lesson, which is often regarded as the painting that initiated his fame as well as his status as the most prominent portrait painter in Amsterdam. However, because Marten and Oopjen were truly part of the elite, it is very plausible that these wedding portraits launched Rembrandt’s notoriety among the highest and wealthiest of circles in the Netherlands, skyrocketing his reputation—when he was just 28 years old.

Furthermore, these portraits are the first—and only—full-length, life-sized pendant portraits that Rembrandt ever painted. And he painted every single detail of them, rather than having one of his apprentices help with the fabric or background (as he often did with other paintings). These paintings are also relatively typical of Rembrandt’s style early on in his career in Amsterdam. Although the Night Watch (1642) is definitely his most famous painting, his technique and style becomes much more loose by that time, making the juxtaposition of these masterpieces in the Gallery of Honour that much more remarkable.

Make sure you get a chance to marvel at these two portraits at the Rijksmuseum before 02 October!

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Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

Slow-Down1Much has been written about the power of different forms of visual expression – art works, objects, artefacts – to inspire, provoke curiosity and interest. It is generally accepted that looking at objects stimulates critical thinking through comparing and contrasting, identifying and classifying, describing and summarising and son on. Indeed, museums are using objects and art increasingly to help individuals learn what Philip Yenawine, museum educator and VTS founder, calls ‘viewing-skills’. This often happens quite naturally, although all too often the process is unstructured and messy.

IMG_3018Looking is central to the museum experience as visitors are presented with an array of objects all requesting their understanding or approximation thereof. However, good observation does not always take place. How long does the average visitor spend looking at an object or art work? When I ask this question in our training workshops, the answers generally vary from 5 – 30 seconds and most people agree that the natural tendency is to have a quick look, make a quick interpretation or judgement, look at the wall text or object information and move on.

However, in order to truly understand an object or art work, time needs to be spent quietly observing and thinking. Some objects do not inspire an immediate sense of connection until they have been properly and thoroughly observed. Shari Tishman explains that looking at something slowly and carefully is essentially a rewarding process:

‘The more you look, the more you see; the more you see, the more interesting the object becomes’.

In ‘The Intelligent Eye: Learning to Think by Look at Art’, David Perkins states that looking at works of art or objects requires firstly long and thoughtful looking to understand its truth and beauty. Secondly, thoughtful looking at art or objects helps to develop better thinking. Perkins goes on to suggest that art provides a natural context especially well-suited to developing thinking skills:

‘Looking at art invites, rewards and encourages a thoughtful disposition, because works of art demand thoughtful attention to discover what they have to show and say.’

I am not alone in thinking that we need to slow down in the museum. Peter Clothier runs one hour/one painting sessions and has written a book on the subject. James Elkins has written about how long it takes to look at a Mondriaan. And Phil Terry started Slow Art Day after spending hours at The Jewish Museum viewing only Hans Hoffman’s Fantasia and Pollock’sConvergence. Now in it’s 4th year, there are now 147 venues (and counting) taking part around the world. This year I decided to volunteer with Slow Art Day and work to encourage more Dutch museums to sign up. This is Slow Art Day in a nutshell:

‘One day each year – April 12 in 2014 – people all over the world visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. That’s it. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing.’

Time is very important in the museum environment. By slowing down and viewing fewer objects in a more controlled and careful way, less really is more. The slow exploration of objects allows visitors to become absorbed, to scrutinise and investigate and to find out and construct meaning.

If you would like more information about or are interested in signing up for Slow Art Day, please contact me by email.

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More than a Strategy: Building a Culture of Thinking

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I was recently talking to a fellow museum docent about how they were given a 10 minute training on how to use thinking routines (from Visible Thinking) in another museum. A few routines were enthusiastically explained to them and they were told that these routines could be inserted ‘ad-hoc’ into tours to inject a little more participation and conversation. Whilst this may provide a quick-fix for those moments when you want to enliven a tour, this is not how thinking routines are intended to be used nor how I personally envisage their use or potential for use in the museum.

When we give in-depth training to museum educators and docents, we stress that the use of thinking routines is more than a strategy to use as and when required in the museum. Before selecting a routine to use with a work of art or an object, it is first important to establish the type of thinking that you would like to elicit from the participants and then to choose the correct thinking routine for that task. This allows different types of routines to be used around the museum and to specifically focus on certain types of thinking with different objects.

Thinking routines provide a structure for making meaning and give participants an introduction to the process of thinking slowly and carefully about art and objects. What separates thinking routines from other thinking skills programmes and routines is the way that these routines enculturate a disposition to think. That is, when used regularly and as part of the learning fabric of the environment, these routines help to develop what Ron Ritchhart calls a ‘culture of thinking‘.

We believe that to fully immerse yourself in using this method in the museum, attention needs to be paid not only to the routines themselves but also to documentation, the language of thinking and group work.

1. Documentation
4446069876_8340b115a1_z Documentation of the learning journey is an integral part of Visible Thinking, literally making the thinking visible. This can take many forms – such as the use of charts of tables, mind maps or lists, audio or videotape and photographs. Sometimes the museum teacher will write down the thoughts of the participants, whilst at other times, the participants themselves write down their thoughts (on a post-it, in a journal etc). This can also take the form of a visual display (a thinking or wonder wall) which shows the process of learning rather than the end-product. In the museum you can carry around a portable whiteboard, use post-its or video the conversation as it is taking place.
With school groups, we often give the documentation to the teacher at the end of the session to enable further discussion back in the classroom based on what has already taken place in the museum.

2. Language of Thinking
imagesThe language of thinking can be simply defined as words that describe and evoke thinking. The aim is to develop and encourage a rich language of thinking; where one hears words like reason, conclude, opinion rather than think, guess and feel as using these precise words actually helps people to think better.
The use of thinking routines alters the way that museum educators and docents interact with their groups; attention is paid to modelling the language of thinking and to encouraging its use within the group (‘I see you made a connection there’ ‘What theories can we come up with?’).Regular and repeated use of thinking routines has been shown to help build this language of thinking, encourage the use of conditional language (‘might’ ‘could’ etc) and help people to externalise their thoughts more clearly (for more information, see here) In our training sessions, we devote time to working with educators and docents to develop and use this precise language of thinking and in the art of using non-judgemental feedback with groups.

3. Group work
images-2 As, according to Ron Ritchhart, learning is chiefly a social and collaborative endeavour, it makes sense to use thinking routines in spaces where visitors get together to learn, namely in a museum environment. When museums fully incorporate thinking routines into their organisations, they are taking full advantage of the benefits of group work where ideas are explored through group discussion and dialogue.
The process of using thinking routines extends the conversation as everyone feels at ease offering thoughts to the discussion. As all comments are received non-judgementally by the museum docent or educator, a more balanced discussion takes place where everyone feels they can take part. The process of using a routine also teaches participants to respect and listen to other’s opinions. Everyone profits from the ‘distributed intelligence’ of the group as individuals are able to use and build upon other’s experience and interpretations. This way of working, where a group reasons together out loud, puts forward new ideas, responds to and builds on the ideas of others and generates further questions is known variously as collaborative learning, a community of enquiry, ‘collegiality’ as it is termed by Arthur Costa, and also a ‘culture of thinking‘ in Visible Thinking. Ritchhart defines this as a culture where thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted, not just in one department but across the whole organisation. It is this ‘culture of thinking’ that distinguishes this approach from other methods.

Using thinking routines is not just a new way of working or quick fix for those quiet moments on a group tour; it is about embracing an entirely new culture of thinking and learning in the museum. Emphasis is placed on how the group interprets a select group of objects through open-ended questions facilitating lengthy discussion. Value is placed on gaining new perspectives and knowledge from the students themselves. The aim is to be inclusive and include everyone in the discussion regardless of age, ability of background. Ultimately the goal is to foster and encourage a community of learners that all feel happy, willing and able to contribute to the discussion taking place.

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Take our Poll: Are you interested in a one day Visible Thinking workshop?

We would love to run a one day Introduction to Visible Thinking workshop in Amsterdam next Spring. The workshop would be designed for educators working in a variety of settings  who are new to Visible Thinking and are interested in applying it in their work.

The morning would consist of an introduction to the art of facilitating discussions using thinking routines and an overview of a number of these routines and how they can be applied. The afternoon would take place in the a museum practising the new methods.

Please do take part in the poll below to let us know whether you are interested! If you would like more information on the proposed day, please drop me a line here and sign up for our newsletter too!

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