Weekend in Amsterdam – The Night Watch Room in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch

The Hall leading to Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch

The adventurous life of Rembrandts’ Night Watch

It might be the most expensive painting in the world. And one with an adventurous past.

In 1715, a curator decided to trim the paining in all four sides, so it fit the opening between two pillars. Trimmed not a few inches, but two people taken out of the composition.

On January 13th, 1911, a shoemaker’s knife slashed it in a couple of places. Six decades later, an unemployed teacher attached it with a bread knife. Another two decades later, a man pulled out an acid pump, and before the security guards managed to stop him, sprayed acid on it.

Trimmed, slashed, cut, acid sprayed – what else can go wrong?

You’ll think that, with such checkered past, one will put it under a big glass, and keep everyone a few feet away, as with Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

The Night Watch

Not really – you can walk to about two feet from it. Not that you want to – in order to take it on, you need to stay far – it is a 12 x 14 feet painting.

The entire Rijks has a homey feeling – it’s 80 halls take only 1,5 km to walk through, and see it’s 8,000 pieces in display. You can get close to any painting.

Still, there are about 300 paintings attributed to Rembrandt in the world, and only 14 in private collections (the last two, fairly small, sold for over 30 million dollars each).

If I can get so close to the painting, others can too. Just in October 2012, three thugs walked into Kunsthal Museum, in Rotterdam, not far from here, and stole seven paintings – Picasso, Monet and Matisse -evaluated at 200 million dollars. The quote from one of the thieves “I could not believe you could enter as easily as that” .

It was my thought as well. The guard in the Tower of London almost confiscated my camera, and threw me out, just for daring to take a picture of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

 The Rijksmuseum – the art and history of Amsterdam, is fresh from the renovation

Museum atrium, flooded with natural light from the five-storey-high glass ceiling

Museum atrium, flooded with natural light from the five-story-high glass ceiling

The museum is loocated in Museum Plein, and a short walk from close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw.  Tram 5 will take you here in about 20 minutes from the Central Station.

Rembrand and Vermeer are the highlights of the museum painting – if in a hurry, make sure you hit the first floor, dedicated to the Golden Age of painting in Amsterdam.

The museum reopened just last year, after a Spanish architecture firm created the beautiful underground lobby, filled with light.  There is a brand new entrance hall in the shape of a voluminous atrium, flooded with natural light from the five-story-high glass ceiling.

It gets 2.2 million visitors a year. For comparison, Louvre gets 9.3 million visitors, and British Museum 6.7 million. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg gets 2.8 million.

With the renovation, Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch, returns to its original position, at the end of the The hall for the Night Watch,built in 1906.

The Museum has an outstanding Cafe – highly recommend a break in between the 4-5 hours it takes to see the 80 rooms.

We rented multimedia guides – really an iPod with an app loaded. A really well done app. The battery dies in about two hours, so be prepared to return to the reception area for an exchange. The exhibits have a number that you punch into the app, and you get a 2-3 minute audio history of the piece.

There are preset tours on the app – a short one is 45 minutes per floor, a longer, richer one is 90 minutes per floor.

The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer, Rijksmuseum

The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer, Rijksmuseum

One tip as you walk to the museum entrance – mind the bicycle path. The local Cyclist Union fought hard to keep the Underpass open, and the renovation had to take that into account. As everywhere in Amsterdam, but more here, watch out for the bikes.