A lot has changed since the 17th century when the Netherlands basked in glory as the world’s economic powerhouse (in fact, Amsterdam was home to the world’s first stock exchange). What has withstood the tests of time, however, is its enduring influence on the global art scene, from Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer to Amsterdam’s quirky street art and architecture. The city dazzles with plentiful doses of liberal expression. You don’t need to be an art connoisseur to appreciate the vibrations of beauty, but here’s what you need to know for an artful exploration of Amsterdam.
Ranked as the Top 10 Must-See Museums globally, my visit to the Dutch national museum for the arts and history was a keenly anticipated affair. And I was duly impressed before I even laid eyes on a single masterpiece. The Rijksmuseum architecture itself is quite a drawcard. Designed by the esteemed Dutch architect Petrus J. H. Cuypers, the museum is undeniably a defining characteristic of Amsterdam’s skyline.
Re-opened in 2013 after major refurbishment, the museum’s atrium boasts a contemporary contrast to the neo-Renaissance style external façade. Under the sun’s early morning rays I stood here, beholding the colossal rose brickwork as a statement art piece.
From a total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200-2000, The Night Watch (Rembrandt, 1642) stands as an emblem of Dutch artistic identity and is to the Rijksmuseum what Mona Lisa is to the Louvre, or the Sistine Chapel to the Vatican Museums. Anchoring the end of the Hall of Fame on Level 2, I was guided to it instinctively by the throng of locals and tourists alike. Other notable works are displayed here, underpinning the Dutch Golden Age.
At the end of the 3-hour exploration I stumbled upon the Rijksmuseum Research Library, and what a way to conclude one of the most edifying experiences in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s Street Gems
From Rijksmuseum to Amsterdam Central Station (with the latter incidentally designed by the very same architect Cuypers), I was treated to wall art with a difference. When we think of pedestrian underpasses, too often do we think of dark, unloved and crime-ridden public eyesores. Not so for the underpass connecting Amsterdam Central Station to the ferry terminals to the north. Stretching 110m, I chanced upon the delightful underpass on my way to Amsterdam North. Created by Dutch graphic designer Irma Boom, the Cuyperspassage, as it is known, is adorned with a curvaceous Delft Blue tile mural depicting an adaptation of a famous 17th century seascape painting.
Occupying the site of the former Amsterdam Post Office near Dam Square, the Magna Plaza Shopping Centre is of great significance to the people of Amsterdam. The Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance style structure is part of the Top 100 Dutch heritage sites and has been tastefully restored by the Swedes as a luxury shopping mall.
There is never a dull moment wandering the streets of Amsterdam. The city is rich in all kinds of street artistic movement that defines its internationally renowned liberality. There is so much that tickles the senses; so many forms of expression that manage to find their outlet in one of the most scenic urban landscapes of the world.