CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Old Masters of Amsterdam

Exhibition: 6 March - 9 August 2009

Museum information

Old Masters of Amsterdam tells the fascinating story of the formation and growth of the rich collection of paintings owned by the city of Amsterdam. The leading art historian Arthur Wheelock wrote of the museum
that it has “a fascinating collection, containing all sorts of paintings not
to be found elsewhere.”

The exhibition

The visitor wanders in and suddenly steps into a great militia hall, the place where the civic guard gathered for meetings, parties and to impress invited friends and guests. On the wall are the large canvases on which are depicted generations of militia: proud and self-assured, the pillars of civic society. On the table is the chain of the ‘king of the guild’ and the drinking horn: richly decorated symbols that are also depicted on the paintings on the wall.

After the militia hall we enter the regents’ chamber of the leper asylum. The allegories on the ceiling and the paintings on the wall stress the solemn dignity of the regents and their feeling of responsibility for their fellow citizens in need. Regardless of their original location – militia hall, leper asylum, guild rooms of the commissioners of the harbors or the surgeons’ guild – the paintings invariably evoke the distinguished work of the sitters and their importance to the city.

With the fall of the Republic in 1795 and the following restructuring of
civic life, the paintings broke adrift. They were moved, sold, moved again
and sold again. Audiovisual presentations show the diverging routes the paintings travelled before they reached the museum walls. A reconstructed office in the city hall in its location around 1900 in the ‘Prinsenhof’ (now the Grand Hotel), we see how paintings acted as decoration amongst the desks, coat and hat stands and old coal and gas heaters. In that period, the paintings were severed from their original situation, and had not yet reached the fitting destination they enjoy at present, as proud displays of the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Some of the highlights from the city collection on show are historical heritage of the city of Amsterdam, while others were acquired by grants, legacies and purchases.

Works in the exhibition

Many famous painters are represented with their best works. As personalities and as creators of images, they mirror the history of the city. We make the acquaintance of prosperous Amsterdam citizens in self-commissioned portraits; important historical events as documented on panel or canvas; and topographical works showing the growth and metamorphosis of Amsterdam. Some of the highlights in the exhibition are The Gouden Leeuw on the IJ by Amsterdam by Willem van de Velde, Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson of Dr. Jan
and The Dam by Jan van der Heijden. Some of the paintings were restored especially for this exhibition, such as Pickenoy’s Osteology lesson of Dr. Sebastiaen Egbertsz, Jacob Franszn and his family in the surgeon’s practice by Egbert van Heemskerck and The regentesses of the city orphanage by Jacob Backer. he latest acquisition of the museum, Ruisdael’s magnificent View of Amsterdam, will also be on display. The historical location of the museum, which is housed in the former city orphanage, with the restored regents’ chamber, is an implicit part of the exhibition. It will contribute significantly to the historical sensation that we hope will be enjoyed by all visitors.

Publication (appears 6 March 2009)

Glorious Amsterdam: the Old Masters of the city of Amsterdam

Norbert Middelkoop and Tom van der Molen

112 pp., 28.5 cm. x 22.5 cm., hardcover
Bussum (Thoth) and Amsterdam (Amsterdams Historisch Museum) 2009
ISBN-13: 978-90-6868-497-1 (English)
ISBN-13: 978-90-6868-496-4 (Dutch)

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