Norse Legends – VI

Hold on to your Sleipnir Dr Spo the Viking stuff will come shortly in the meantime there’s more to the Rijksmuseum than saintly wooden statues. Here’s a few more things that caught my fancy.

Having seen perhaps the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum on our first visit – in juxtaposition with Franz Hal’s of the same name – it was interesting to see it at a greater distance and surround by the modern paraphernalia of restoration. Very helpful guides are in place to explain both the need for and the process of restoration. I had not realized the painting had been attacked several times and required extensive restoration in 1975.

Pierre Cuypers, the Rijksmuseum architect, designed this piano as a wedding gift for his second wife Antoinette. The gift reflected their deep Catholicism. The images on the piano case show two scenes from the story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music. It alludes the sacrifice Antoinette made in giving up her musical carrer for marriage. Rather oddly it took an extensive search to find out her name – the label certainly did not mention it and neither did most online biographies of Cuypers.

Two Mothers: When I first saw the title of this terra cotta by Frans Stracké I was a little puzzled and then I got it. As Laurent mentioned the labelling on the various pieces are great examples of what museum captions should be. I was fixated on the human and canine figures until my attention was drawn to the fisherwoman’s bad luck at fishing – she has only two fish in her pouch and her net is empty.

Painter Thérèse Schwartze was known for her portraits of Dutch royalty and the prosperous bourgeoise of Amsterdam society. With a touch of irony we know the name of the dog in this painting but not the French model who posed with him. It appears Schwartze started this painting in 1879 while a student in Paris and finished it five years later????

This rather foreboding figurehead graced the frigate Prins von Orange. Built in Rotterdam in 1828 the warship was armed with sixty canons.

And we end Willy’s tour with Intrigue – James Ensor’s rather grotesque if carnivalesque painting. His signature masked figures were an open challenge to bourgeois society of the time. Needless to say they did not meet with public approval.

I only wish I had more time to spend as I only saw two floors of two wings of this remarkable collection. Ah well the next time.

September 7th has a plethora of celebrations but I think I’ll forego World Beard Day and National Salami Day (oh grow up!) in favour of a favourite sport of Canadian drivers: Tailgating Day.

Norse Legends – V

Again nothing about the Valhalla of the Norsemen but a few photos of works that caught my fancy in that Valhalla of Museums: the Rijksmuseum.

On our last visit to Amsterdam in 2012 the Rijksmuseum was under massive renovation and only highlights of the permanent collection were on display. We managed to see many of the more famous works as well as one small but fascinating exhibition and talked about the day we would have access to the full collection.

But as often happens I became fixated on a few items particularly in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Galleries and particularly with the wood sculptures that once graced churches, monasteries, and convents in the Low Countries.

We tend to forget that until the late 16th century Catholicism dominated religion in Holland. Though the reforms of Luther had little impact on the Dutch many embraced the tenets of the Anabaptists and subsequently Calvin. As a result many of the churches, convents and chapels were stripped of their popish adornments.

The Altar of the Virgin of the chapel of the Confraternity of the Virgin at St Janskerk in ‘s Hetogenbosch was filled with lively figures and scenes from the life of the Virgin. Only a few fragments remain and they are arranged in their original order for the display. Adiaen van Wesel (c 1417-after 1490) created this highly original altar between 1475 and 1477. I find the Joseph and what is definitely an angel band particularly expressive.

Sometime between 1460 and 1480 an artist known as the Master of Joachim and Anna created this intimate scene between Mary’s parents for a large altar dedicated to the life of the Virgin. After years of being childless they greet the news of her pregnancy with a tender embrace.

Created for the predella or base of a large altar piece around 1520 three scenes show scenes from the life of Christ when he appears at a meal table: Christ Visiting Mary and Martha; The Last Supper; and the Supper at Emmaus. All speak to the celebration of Mass. The creator of these three scenes is unknown.

The diagonal planes of the figure that almost becomes as one with the rocks that surround him struck me as being almost out of place amongst the other works in the gallery in its modernity. But it was created in Brussels by the Master of Hakendover over 450 years ago. A repentant Peter, face contorted and hands clasp, recoils in contrition for denying Christ.

Many of the sculptures were stripped of their polychrome including the Repentance of St Peter above, and this statue of Saint Ursula and her Virgins. Hendrick Douverman carved the work around 1520 and St Ursula wears the fashion of a high born lady of the time, as do her companions. Legend says that she and her retinue of 11,000 virgins were murdered by the Huns – here six of her friends seek protect under her cloak. Obviously it didn’t work!

September 6th is Coffee Ice Cream Day and Read A Book Day – so I think I’ll find a nice cafe on one of the canals here order a gelato and try a few more chapters of John Julian Norwich on the Fall of Byzantium.

Thowback Thursday

The gift of a catalogue from the recent exhibition of Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons at the Frick reminded me of photographs I took at the Iglesia de los Santos Juanes in Valencia. It also reminded me of a smaller but equally fascinating exhibition that we saw at the Rijksmuseum in 2012. I’m working on something about Santos Juanes but in the meantime thought I’d throwback to Amsterdam six years ago.

Willy Or Won't He

On of the great joys of museum going is when a curator successfully leads you from one contrasting media to another.  I always remember stumbling out of the Green Vault at the Albertinium Museum in Dresden bedazzzled with the baroque splendor of its gems, gold and silver and being confronted by the stark Tim Burton-like sculptures of Thomas Reichstein and Andreas Feininger’s black and white photographs of a long past Amercia.  It was a strange juxtaposition of periods and medium and even stranger it worked.

Much the same effect was achieved with the Rijksmusuem’s mounting of a small exhibition to mark the publication of a catalogue of the complete works of the Dutch engraver Hendrik Goltzius (left in a self-portrait).  In the preceding room are two enormous works: the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection, Rembrandt’s The Militia Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (The…

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A Limited Collection – Part III

Anytime I come upon something like this display of 18th century ceramics in the Rijkmuseum my first reaction is something like “wow”; my second is “I wish Ron were here!”  As much as much as I did get a good deal of enjoyment from seeing the “limited” pieces on exhibit from the collection I know I would have have gain so much more with him beside me.  Ron is a recognized authority on Chinese Export porcelain and in demand for his talents as a speaker on ceramics in general and the booming trade between the various “East India” companies and China  during the 18th and 19th century in particular.  And he’s one of those lecturers who makes things come to life, the best sort of lecturer there is.  One of the first things I did when I got back to the apartment in Amsterdam was to send him a copy of this photo.  It would have been more fun to share it and the other wonders on display with him in person

As I mentioned religious objects were not as prominent in the art of Holland’s Golden Age but that did not mean that they were entirely absent.  Any upstanding householder would want to have something on display to both inspire devotion and signal the devoutness of their family.  This plate from the late 1600s was one of four by an anonymous artist depicting Biblical scenes (in this case The Entry into Jerusalem).  The broad white border acting as a frame clearly indicates it wasn’t meant for the family dinner table but to be hung on the wall for all to see, admire and perhaps even meditate upon.

This violin is also meant only to be decorative.  It could be assumed that any sound coming out of it would be less than mellow however it is one of the finest examples of the work being done at Delft at the beginning of the 18th century.  Again the painter and modeler are unknown but indications are that it was made between 1705-1710.   The front depicts a ballroom or dance hall in the city with couples elegantly dancing while others gossip or just look on.  Unfortunately the reverse was not on display but according to the Museum catalogue it shows how country folk in a tavern enjoy the dance as much as their city cousins.  I particularly love the antic – almost demonic – head on the scroll, it could almost be singing Dance Dance Dance Little Lady in manic glee as couples whirled around him.

More often than not the painters who worked in Delft – like the creators of the two previous pieces – were unknown however  Frederik van Frijtom was a free-lance painter who style was immediately recognizable.  He would often sign special pieces and his unique style make even unsigned works recognizable as his.  Unlike many of his fellows who painted over the glaze Frijtom did not use the sponge technique which depended on stencils for the initial design.  He hand painted scenes of his own creation on the base layer before the glazing was done.

And he painted on the white ground using a unique style – he set out his design with thin contour lines using various shades of blue. He then filled them in and built them up with thousands and thousands of tiny dots.  By varying the intensity of the blue he was able to add dimension and depth to his landscapes that were often lacking in that of his contemporaries.   His wall plaques were popular with the merchants (and their wives) throughout the Netherlands.  This large plaque (62cm x 105cm – 2’x3.5″) is a stunning example of the work Frijtom was known for and is a good indication of why he, unlike so many, was not to remain anonymous.

In the late 16th and 17th centuries a craze for tulips engulfed much of Europe and led to, as difficult as it may be to believe, a financial crises in Holland.  The tulip made its initial appearance from Turkey around 1593 and Holland was the main

centre of cultivation and distribution.  Tulips became so popular that at the peak of the craze people were trading their entire estates for one bulb.  But after the crash in 1634 the price of a bulb was no more than that of the common onion that they so closely resembled.  Meanwhile fortunes had been made on speculation then lost when the bubble burst and the depression that followed effected the Dutch economy for several years afterwards.  But during the boom (or bloom?) years tulips appeared in all the finest homes and if you were planning to have blooming gold in your home you needed a container worthy of these precious bulbs.  Tulip vases became – and stayed even after the crash – all the rage and this pair of six foot tall tulipieres (though created sometime after the crash had wreaked it financial havoc) would have displayed 36 individual blooms each.  As beautiful as these may have been gracing the entrance hall of a good burger’s home, investors of the time learned the hard lesson that it is better to stop and smell a flower than stake your fortune on one.

The Dutch East India Company had a lucrative trade with the Chinese and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the 17th century.  These pieces became popular for their workmanship and detail but were available only to the very wealthy.  At first the ceramic studios in Delft did little other than admire the imported items however when trading abruptly halt in 1620 with the end of the Ming Dynasty they began to make copies of Chinese pieces and adapt Chinese designs.

Though I know that Ron would have told me straight off that one was the import and the other the Delft “rip-off” I was hard pressed to tell the difference.  The notes in the gallery referred to the top piece as being of Chinese origin – a piece brought in as one of those many during the late part of the 1600s.  Not more was given in the way of information.

The bottom piece is from the de Ross factory founded by Arendt Cosijn in 1675 and dates from the period of the 1705-1720.  It is attributed to Dammas Hofdijck who also created that intriguing flask I posted about last week.  Though the dish gives the appearance of having been made in China the painting is fuller and the surface more lustrous than the Chinese original. The painter used a wider palette of colours including red and black, which given the techniques of the time were difficult to fire. 

Though the Delftware is the more colourful my own preference is to the original – perhaps because of its delicacy and muted colours. I may be reading too much into it but the Dutch version seems to cry out “look-at-me” in the spirit of an emerging wealthy merchant class.

08 July – 1822:  Chippewas turn over a huge tract of land in Ontario to the United Kingdom.

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A Limited Collection – Part II

On of the great joys of museum going is when a curator successfully leads you from one contrasting media to another.  I always remember stumbling out of the Green Vault at the Albertinium Museum in Dresden bedazzzled with the baroque splendor of its gems, gold and silver and being confronted by the stark Tim Burton-like sculptures of Thomas Reichstein and Andreas Feininger’s black and white photographs of a long past Amercia.  It was a strange juxtaposition of periods and medium and even stranger it worked.

Much the same effect was achieved with the Rijksmusuem’s mounting of a small exhibition to mark the publication of a catalogue of the complete works of the Dutch engraver Hendrik Goltzius (left in a self-portrait).  In the preceding room are two enormous works: the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection, Rembrandt’s The Militia Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (The Night Watch)  faced by The Company of Captain Reinier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw, Amsterdam painted in 1637 by Frans Hals.  Rather amusingly the crowds around the Rembrandt were thick (in more ways than one said he rather smarmily) and the cameras were clicking like mad while few people spent any time looking at or recording the Hals.  Yes the Rembrandt is the more dramatic and more justly famous but the Hals is as worthy of time spent for its details of dress and the smug arrogance of the posers or poseurs if you will.

Frans Hals’ treatment of a Militia Brigade has a static quality to it that is typical of its time – this was all to change when Rembrandt approached a like subject five years later.  Though not as popular as its Gallery companion the Hals is still a magnificent study in individual portraiture and no doubt pleased it sitters.

But I digress – in moving from the two huge canvases with their broad painterly strokes reflecting the development of Dutch art of the Golden Age to the small fine lines and cross hatching of the engraver’s art there was a pleasantly startling contrast that magnified the achievements of both art forms.  Not as bold perhaps as the experience at the Albertinium it still was a master stroke on the part of the Museum curators.

Golzius was the leading Dutch engraver of the Baroque age, he excelled at both creating his own painterly scenes and adapting the work of others.  Strangely a childhood accident left him with a deformed right hand (right, in an engraving by Golzius) that was perfect for holding the engraver’s burin.  It allowed him a control of the tool that expanded the effects which gave his engravings a depth and dimension that changed the art of the engraver for future artists.   He is credited with over 399 engravings and more than 500 of his  designs were used by other print makers.  He also adapted the work of other artists, most principally the Flemish painter Bartholomeus Spranger.

‘Eer boven Golt’ (Honour surpasses Gold)  the title is taken from Golzius’s motto, features only a fraction of the engravings in the collection at the Rijksmuseum.  As usual I was transfixed not by the major engravings (beautiful as they were) but by a set of pen and ink drawings, possibly based on works of Spranger, that Golzius did as preparatory work for four engravings depicting Old Testament defenders of Israel.   They are shown carrying the weapons they used to defeat their enemies and in the background the scenes of their heroic acts.  From these drawings Golzius engraved the plates which were then printed by Jacob Matham, Golzius’s step-son and one of the master printmakers of the time.



And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.
And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came, and drew nigh to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.
Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.

1 Samuel 17: 40-51


YAEL (JAEL) The Song of Deborah


Extolled above women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Extolled above women in the tent.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
She brought him cream in a lordly dish.
She stretched forth her hand to the nail,
Her right hand to the workman’s hammer,
And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,
She crashed through and transfixed his temples.
At her feet he curled himself, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he curled himself, he fell;
And where he curled himself, let it be, there he fell dead.

Judges 5:23-27


JUDITH – The Canticle of Judith


Begin ye to the Lord with timbrels, sing ye to the Lord with cymbals, tune unto him a new psalm, extol and call upon his name.
The Lord putteth an end to wars, the Lord is his name.
He hath set his camp in the midst of his people, to deliver us from the hand of all our enemies.
The Assyrians came out of the mountains from the north in the multitude of his strength: his multitude stopped up the torrents, and their horses covered the valleys.
He bragged that he would set my borders on fire, and kill my young men with the sword, to make my infants a prey, and my virgins captives.
But the almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman, and hath slain him.
For their mighty one did not fall by young men, neither did the sons of Titan strike him, nor tall giants oppose themselves to him, but Judith the daughter of Merari weakened him with the beauty of her face.
For she put off her the garments of widowhood, and put on her the garments of joy, to give joy to the children of Israel.
She anointed her face with ointment, and bound up her locks with a crown, she took a new robe to deceive him.
Her sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty made his soul her captive, with a sword she cut off his head.
The Persians quaked at her constancy, and the Medes at her boldness.
Then the camp of the Assyrians howled, when my lowly ones appeared, parched with thirst.
The sons of the damsels have pierced them through, and they have killed them like children fleeing away: they perished in battle before the face of the Lord my God.
Let us sing a hymn to the Lord, let us sing a new hymn to our God.

The Book of Judith 16: 2-15




Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi.
And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us.
Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.
And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.
And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.
And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi.

Judges 15: 9-17


Though the engravings are nothing less than masterpieces for some reason I find the pen and ink drawings, though lacking in detail and dimension, the more interesting and for me satisfying.

30 June – 1886: The first transcontinental train trip across Canada departs from Montreal. It arrives in Port Moody, British Columbia on July 4.


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