The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (ie, State Museum in Dutch) is a national art museum in the city of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Located in the Museumplein – a public square that is similarly home to the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum – it has a vast collection of paintings of the Gouden Eeuw, the Dutch Golden Age (1584-1702).
The museum’s collection has a permanent exhibition of around 8000 objects, including paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, porcelain, furniture, jewelry, weapons, and others. The more than 30,000 square meters of the surface make it the largest museum in the Netherlands and one of the most visited in the country.
In this complete guide, you’ll be able to find must-see works of art, information regarding opening hours and ticket prices, as well as the best tips and suggestions about the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
So, do you want to know more about the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: Best Tips For Visiting In 2024? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
- What to See at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
- "Self-Portrait", by Vincent Van Gogh (1st Floor, Room 1.18)
- "De Nachtwacht", by Rembrandt van Rijn (2nd Floor, The Night Watch Gallery)
- "Marten and Oopjen", by Rembrandt van Rijn (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
- "Het Melkmeisje", by Johannes Vermeer (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
- "Brieflezende vrouw", by Johannes Vermeer (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
- Dollhouses (2nd Floor, Room 2.20)
- Delftware (2nd Floor, Room 2.22)
- Practical Guide to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
- More Posts about the Netherlands
- More Posts about Museum Guides
- What Photography Gear Do I Use?
Brief History of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam was founded on November 19th, 1798 in The Hague, to display the Prime Minister’s collection, similar to the Louvre Museum. Eight years later, King Louis I ordered his transfer to the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. In fact, the museum brought together the works that were owned by the capital, with Rembrandt van Rijn’s “De Nachtwacht” standing out.
In 1885, the museum was finally moved to its current building, which took about nine years to complete. The project was in charge of Petrus Cuypers, who created other monuments, such as the Amsterdam Centraal train station and De Haar Castle.
The construction brings together Gothic and Renaissance elements and decorative details referring to the History of Art in the Netherlands. Just to illustrate, “De Nachtwacht” has had its own gallery – richly ornamented – since 1906! A must-visit is also the Great Hall (full of stained glass and mosaics) and the Gallery of Honor, the stage for the most emblematic works of the museum.
This central structure underwent a renovation of the lighting and the exhibition space, which started in late 2003. After a decade of work, which included the restoration of many pieces on display, the “new” Rijksmuseum Amsterdam reopened on April 13th, 2013. This change also resulted in an Asian Pavilion, with objects from China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, from 2000 BC to 2000 AC.
What to See at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has been considered a rijksmonument since 1970, that is, a national heritage site. With four floors and around eighty rooms, the cultural collection is on display perfectly framed in its international context.
The Dutch art collection at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam consists of more than 800 years of the country’s history. The most prestigious painters of the Dutch Golden Age were Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Rembrandt van Rijn, in addition to the pupils of the latter.
“Self-Portrait”, by Vincent Van Gogh (1st Floor, Room 1.18)
When I visited the city of Amsterdam, the lack of time forced me to plan in advance my visits to museums, monuments, and other places of interest. With only one day to visit the capital, I had to decide whether to spend the morning at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam or the Van Gogh Museum.
I love Van Gogh’s work and had already seen part of it at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Therefore, I opted for a complete experience of the Netherlands’ art and history at its national museum. Still, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has several works by Vincent Van Gogh in a large room on the first floor.
This “Self-portrait” from 1887 – one of the several he painted – is heavily influenced by the French Impressionism of Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin. It represents, above all, the time when Van Gogh lived in Paris and completely transformed his style. Legend says that the painter created many self-portraits so he wouldn’t have to pay for live models!
“De Nachtwacht”, by Rembrandt van Rijn (2nd Floor, The Night Watch Gallery)
“The Night Watch” is undoubtedly Rembrandt’s largest and most famous masterpiece, occupying the center of his own gallery, on the museum’s second floor. This monumental painting from 1642 depicts a group of city guards, preparing for their formation. Through light, Rembrandt points out, in a brilliant way, specific details of the work, such as the Captain’s gestures or the little girl in the background.
Interestingly, the original name of the painting is “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq” and the expression “Nachtwacht” only appeared in 1797, when the scene was presumed to take place at night.
Currently, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is carrying out a research and conservation process in front of visitors, called Operation Night Watch.
Rembrandt van Rijn is, in fact, one of the most glorified artists in Amsterdam, with a historic square with his name. The Rembrandtplein features a statue of the painter from 1876 and made by Louis Royer, as well as a representation with bronze figures of “De Nachtwacht”, created by Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov in 2006.
“Marten and Oopjen”, by Rembrandt van Rijn (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
The portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit result from a 160 million euros joint acquisition by the Netherlands and France, made in early 2016. Since then, the two paintings have alternated their stay between the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (in the large Gallery of Honor) and the Louvre Museum, being always displayed side by side.
Marten Soolmans was the son of a wealthy Flemish immigrant and heir to a sugar refinery in Amsterdam. On the other hand, Oopjen Coppit was the firstborn of a wealthy family in the same city. As their marriage symbolized an important family (and monetary) alliance, Rembrandt was chosen to immortalize the occasion in 1634.
At that time, it was unusual to paint people outside royalty, which gave Rembrandt a new career opportunity: creating portraits for Amsterdam‘s upper class. In addition, the couple “Marten and Oopjen” is the only example represented by the Dutch painter at full scale, standing, and full body, with numerous elements and details that interconnect the paintings to the same environment and occasion.
“Het Melkmeisje”, by Johannes Vermeer (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
This is the only painting by Vermeer that depicts a domestic worker and, consequently, one of his best-known works. The scene represents a daily activity – a theme that fascinated the artist – more specifically, a young woman serving the milk. The action, apparently mundane, is captured brilliantly thanks to the contrast between the flow of milk and the stability of the rest of the image.
I have to confess that I didn’t expect the painting to be so small, although it’s impossible to ignore the way Johannes Vermeer reproduces the games of light and shadow, not only in the Milkmaid but also on the surface of the objects.
Today, “The Milkmaid” is one of the best-known brands of yogurts and artisanal desserts marketed by Nestlé.
Johannes Vermeer was one of the most important painters of the Dutch Golden Age, for the brilliant and realistic use of light in his paintings, not to mention the use of ultramarine blue, a pigment obtained from the lapis lazuli gemstone, very rare at that time. “The Milkmaid” doesn’t have an exact date, but it is thought to have been painted around 1660.
“Brieflezende vrouw”, by Johannes Vermeer (2nd Floor, Gallery of Honor)
“Woman Reading a Letter” was the first painting by Johannes Vermeer acquired by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in 1885.
The painting is thought to be from 1663, due to the similarities with other works of the same time, in the composition and use of the female figure and her pose: “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” (1657-59), “Woman Holding a Balance” (1662-63) and “Woman with a Pearl Necklace” (1664).
The central element of the painting is the woman dressed in blue, reading a letter. Although it’s not possible to read the content of the letter, Vermeer offers us a map of the County of Holland – today North Holland and South Holland – and of the West Friesland (a region of North Holland). Despite everything, the colors of the elements become secondary to his characteristic blue.
The way in which the artist registered the effects of light on the woman’s skin and the shadows on the wall would influence the impressionist painters of the second half of the 19th century. In fact, Johannes Vermeer was one of the first painters in the History of Art to understand that the shadow always reflects the color of the surrounding objects and to materialize this phenomenon.
Dollhouses (2nd Floor, Room 2.20)
Among the most eccentric pieces in its collection, the museum has three old dollhouses, preserved by collectors of Dutch art. Very popular in the 17th century, these dollhouses were, however, a kind of extravagant hobby for the wealthy ladies of Amsterdam and not just children’s toys.
The models were created with wooden and glass furniture, porcelain tableware, silver objects, and textiles, where everything was built strictly to scale. Designed as cabinets or cupboards, the houses were usually adorned with large wooden doors, serving at the same time as decorative furniture. Many of them were as or more expensive than the city dwellings!
This one in the photo belonged to Petronella Dubois and has eight divisions, which are summarized in an attic, laundry, children’s room, living room, reception room, wine cellar, kitchen, and dining room. By an anonymous author, it dated around 1676. At the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the three dollhouses are in a dimly lit room, in order to preserve their delicate materials.
Delftware (2nd Floor, Room 2.22)
With some examples in Room 0.7 on the ground floor, Delft’s large collection of crockery, ceramics, and porcelains is found mainly on the second floor. Inspired by Chinese creations, the Dutch started their own porcelain production in the early 17th century, exporting it on a large scale to all of Europe, between 1640 and 1740.
The potters idealized all kinds of objects and colored them in blue and white, with the flower pyramids being the most dazzling. These Bloempiramides had numerous ends for flowers and weighed more than 30 kilos!
They were very popular in Dutch courts, such as that of William II and Mary Stuart, a lover of floral arrangements and porcelain.
Nowadays, the so-called Delfts Blauw continues to be crafted in various parts of the Netherlands, with the city of Delft as the main production center. The objects are decorated with bucolic landscapes and country features, such as windmills, hunting scenes, or fishing boats. If you want to see one of these flower jars “in action”, stop by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Café in the end!
Practical Guide to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Like any other national museum located in a European capital, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is very popular among tourists, especially in the high season. Open 365 days a year, there are places like the Gallery of Honor or The Night Watch Gallery that become particularly crowded between 10 am and 3 pm – especially on weekends and holidays.
In my opinion, the ideal time is early in the morning, or right after 3 pm (the museum closes at 5 pm). I arrived at the museum before 9 am (the official opening time) and took – at least – two and a half hours to cover almost all of the rooms. After that, I still went for a walk around the souvenir shop and the coffee shop (both close at 6 pm).
For that reason, I want to leave you with three recommendations based on my slow visit, which will help you make the most of this magnificent monument and its works of art.
1. Use the Second Floor as a Reference
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam spreads over four large floors, identified from 0 to 3. However, the chronological progression of the museum’s collection doesn’t match the numerical order of the floors. Just to exemplify, to see the collection in a logical timeline, you need to start on the ground floor (1100-1600), proceed to the second floor (1600-1700), go down to the first floor (1700-1900), and finish in the third and last floor (1900-2000).
In short, it’s very easy to find your way around the museum in practice, taking as reference the second floor – which, in fact, is the third. Not only it’s the central section of the museum, concentrating on the Great Hall, the Gallery of Honor, and The Night Watch Gallery, but it also links the four corners of the museum – literally!
2. Enjoy the FREE guided tour!
Admission to the museum costs €19 per adult – young people aged 18 and under don’t pay – and I strongly advise you to buy tickets through the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam’s official online ticket office. However, you will be pleased to know that the museum offers guided tours through its smartphone app, available for download through the App Store or Google Play.
Take advantage of the free wifi, since there are several types of tours, integrating thematic tours or specific rooms/galleries tours and mentioning the highlights among artists, times, or types of works. The app is available in ten languages and you can use it while watching a particular work by entering its number on the screen.
3. There Are Many Transportation Options
When I visited the museum, I left the Amsterdam Centraal train station and went there on foot, since I wanted to take a stroll through the Dutch capital early in the morning (and before the crowds). Or, from the same place you can use the subway (line 52, Vijzelgracht station) or even the tram (lines 2 and 12, Rijksmuseum stop).
If you are in other areas of Amsterdam, don’t worry, as there are more options! From Amsterdam Schiphol Airport there is a direct bus (line 397, Rijksmuseum stop) and from Amsterdam Sloterdijk station there is a tram (line 19, Spiegelgracht stop). If you’re further south, from the Amsterdam Zuid train station, you can take a direct tram (line 5, Rijksmuseum stop).
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