Today I walked amidst a millennium of Dutch historical artifacts at the Rijksmuseum.
Water is a very obviously reoccuring theme in the museum. Many of the artifacts give testimony to the Netherlands difficult relationship with water. There was a painting from the 1500s showing the effects of the St. Catherine’s Day flood that devastated Dordrecht. There were countless paintings of dikes, polders, and windmills. Walking through the museum was like seeing the history of the Netherlands in a chest and many of the items had to do with water.
The museum was just recently reopened after closing for a major renovation in 2004. The building could be more impressive than any single work of art in the building. In the basement, where the special collections of medieval artifacts, weapons, and ship models, the interior is designed dark and cavernous resembling drafty damp dungeons and evoking an essence of the middle ages. The lobby is a modern atrium that is exuberantly filled up with light that reflects off the marble surfaces. Outside are gardens, cafes, and sculptures. Here’s a drawing I did of a man investigating a Henry Moore statue.
I was biking along one of the canals, just cruising, when I came upon this.
The first thing that caught my eye was the dumpy boat with the windsurf boards. As I investigated the building in the background, I recognized the words on the top floor, Felix Meritis. Only a few hours earlier I had seen a few group portraits of members of the Felix Meritis, an old social club for Amsterdam’s upper middle class. Back in the late 18th century, when there was still nobility in the Netherlands the Netherlands was no longer a global power, but it was still a rich country from maritme trade and wealth was distributed quite evenly. Members of the upper middle class would join this group, which translates to mean ‘happy by merit’ to talk about art, science, international trade and so on.
After I made the connection between the painting and this building, I rode my bike to the next canal bridge, parked my bike at front and pushed on the big wooden door. It slid heavily open into a reception area. It turns out, since the social group was dissolved, the building has been renovated and is now used for gatherings and private functions. There was a woman there who took me up onto the roof and gave me a brief tour. It was pretty special!
For the rest of the day I continued to bike around, explore, eat a burrito, take some photographs, and made this drawing:
I also found an awesome bookstore and subsequently discovered a great book on the urban history of Amsterdam. I have a lot of questions about the development of the canals so hopefully I’ll be able to dig through it for some answers.
Here is a drawing of the North Holland sea-dike. The primary coastal defense along the North West beach of North Holland where there are no naturally existing sand dunes to protect the low-lying fields from storm surges.