Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scarlet Johanson doesn't live here anymore

Our second day here we spent part of the afternoon at the Rijksmuseum, enjoying paintings of the Dutch golden age. We had time either for this museum or the Van Gogh Museum, and it didn't take much discussion for Rembrandt to win out. In my experience, anything painted after about 1850 looks no better in person than it does on a mug or a poster.

The Rijksmuseum features paintings and decorative arts from Netherland's Golden Age. According to the tour books, the 16th-Century Dutch, being both Protestant and rich, had paintings commissioned not of religious subjects so much as of themselves and scenes of ordinary life. The still lifes are amazing. Here's one by Willem Claesz Heda. Look at how the different surfaces reflect each other.

For more detail, check out the Rijksmuseum website. Warning: Glistening renderings of oysters, cheese, bread and various dead game will work up an appetite, so have a snack first.

Sometimes when visiting a museum, it's hard to figure out why a particular painting or sculpture became so famous. Some people (OK, Americans) visit the Louvre, for example, just to see the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa and then leave. Why is the Venus de Milo so popular as opposed to the sculpture right next to her? What is it about the Mona Lisa?

This is not the case with Dutch art. After an hour in the Rijksmuseum, it's easy to see why Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer is the most recognized face of the era.

She's a knockout. Every other woman looked about like this:

Gal with a Unibrow is not going to inspire a novel or a movie starring Scarlet Johanson.

Surprise! Girl with a Pearl Earring is not actually at the Rijksmuseum. It's hanging in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, as the sign in the gift shop helpfully informs you (although you can buy a postcard.)

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