Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, in the old city center, consists of a complex of interconnected buildings, the oldest part being the remains of the medieval Convent of St. Agnes. The first collected pieces were put on permanent display to the public back in 1838 – making this the oldest municipal museum in the Netherlands. Over the 185 years of its history, the museum has grown from a small historical museum to one of the ten largest art centers in the Netherlands. The collection comprises some 60,000 objects, divided into the following subject areas: Old Masters, modern and contemporary art, fashion and applied arts, the Bruna Collection, and items focusing on the history of Utrecht. The Rietveld Schröder House (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Nijntje Museum also belong to the Centraal Museum.
Utrecht played a significant part – indeed, a leading role, given the prominence of Jan van Scorel – in the development of painting in the sixteenth century. Until the Reformation, it was the most important city in the Netherlands. As a cradle of artistic development and as a center where several styles and themes originated, the city also played a pioneering role in the seventeenth century. Utrecht painters made an important contribution to the history of art, influencing masters including Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen.
The Centraal Museum’s collection of Old Master paintings is the most important collection of work by Utrecht masters in the world. It includes superb works by many artists including Jan van Scorel, the Utrecht Mannerist painter Joachim Wtewael, Abraham Bloemaert, the Utrecht Caravaggisti Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Brugghen, and Gerard van Honthorst. Rome was never far away – certainly not for the Caravaggisti, but also not for the Italianate painters of idealized landscapes, such as Cornelis van Poelenburch, the Both brothers, and Jan Baptist Weenix. Other highlights include the doll’s house of Petronella de la Court (1670-90) and the magnificent silver pieces by the Van Vianen brothers.
Liesbeth Helmus, Senior Curator of Old Masters (May 2023)