Understanding Amsterdam – a visit to the Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam.  It is hard to distil any city to its essence, more so when it has more than one story to tell, when there is more than one truth.  To some, Amsterdam is a twee tourist destination of clogs and tulips and windmills.  To some a beacon of liberal tolerance.  To some an enabler of hedonistic darkness.  To some a crucible of creative expression.  To some a living monument to the spoils of colonialism and exploitation.

There is a place where you can go to attempt to untangle the threads, to unwind the skein and trail it through the labyrinthine alleyways, across bridges and along canals, to reveal the beating heart of the Minotaur.  The Rijksmuseum, found at Museumstraat 1, and open daily from 9 until 5, has told Amsterdam’s story for more than 125 years.  Closed in 2004 for major renovations, it reopened in April 2013 to expectations that had been building for almost a decade.  A lot to live up to but the Rijksmuseum delivers.

Entry is via an central archway, a tunnel cut directly through the building, and then down, out of the shadows and gloom in to a light filled atrium.  From here, pick a doorway and plunge in to the maze of exhibition spaces and galleries beyond.

The collection is extensive and includes artefacts from all periods of Dutch history, from home and overseas.

It is eclectic and well curated with good lighting, intelligent grouping, enough information to digest without detracting from the presence of the pieces, the beauty, variety and richness of which can speak for themselves.  Seeing these diverse objects, all equally treasured, all housed under one roof, all connected to the story of the Netherlands, is a reminder that history is complex and that a whole is formed of many parts, not all of which are positive.  Each make their mark and none can be ignored.  Sometimes, the Rijksmuseum tells us, it is enough to simply stand back and absorb.  We should not always be so desperate to define.


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