Rijksmuseum Offers An Extensive Virtual Art Experience For Enthusiasts

Art lovers can view the world’s most beloved Dutch masterpieces by simply going online.

Recently, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam digitized 709,000 artworks in their impressive collection and made them available to the public to view for free. Paintings by Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Dyck are just some of the priceless treasures in the museum’s easy to explore online collection.

Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (1660) is one of the museum’s most famous masterpieces. In this canvas, Vermeer, known for his masterful way with light and color, took an everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting.

Founded in The Hague in 1798 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808, the Rijksmuseum is a Dutch museum dedicated to arts and history. The museum has on display 8000 objects of art and history from their total collection of one million objects from the years 1200 to 2000. It is the largest museum in The Netherlands and one of the most visited museums in the country with record numbers of over two million visitors a year.

The current main building of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and first opened in 1885. | Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Rijksmuseum has been progressively digitizing its extensive collection over the last twenty years; they have finally made hundreds of thousands of their treasures available to view and download in high resolution for free from their website. With no certainty as to when museums will re-open due to the current pandemic, museums such as Rijksmuseum have made it their mission to make art accessible and to provide cultural services like educational videos, online lectures, and virtual tours to the public. Here are five things to discover when you visit the Rijksmuseum website.

1. The Stories Behind Every Important Work of Art

Find out why The Night Watch is so famous. Learn what x-ray scans reveal in Vermeer’s paintings. Discover what Rembrandt’s masterpieces and Marvel movie posters have in common. These and many other fascinating topics are covered in the extensive STORIES section of the site. Not to be missed is One Hundred Masterpieces wherein visitors can “sit back and enjoy the revealing stories behind the museum’s highlights.” If you stop the video for a moment, “you can take a closer look at the works themselves down to the smallest details.”

This self-portrait by beloved Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is one of thousands of artworks on the site that are explained in captions or video essays. To wit: “Vincent moved to Paris in 1886, after hearing from his brother Theo about the new, colorful style of French painting. Wasting no time, he tried it out in several self-portraits. He did this mostly to avoid having to pay for a model. Using rhythmic brushstrokes in striking colors, he portrayed himself here as a fashionably dressed Parisian.”

2. The Rijksmuseum Unlocked Series

Rijksmuseum Unlocked falls under the STORIES section and is a series of video essays that unravels all the stories and secrets of the museum. The videos in the ART category focus on the subject matter of the paintings. Flowers In Dutch Art, Portraits of Fathers and Sons, and Holy Cow: The Role of Cows In Dutch Art are just some of the offerings available. In the PEOPLE section, the video essays shine a light on works featuring people; among the several topics tackled here are The Art of Laughing, Family Ties, and Hugs. Other categories in this series include SECRETS (Hidden Places: The Secret Spots of The Rijksmuseum) and HISTORY (Female Leadership). Also included in this series is a charming stop-animation short film called Van Gogh & Rembrandt: A Rijksmuseum Story.

Floral Still Life by Hans Bollinger (1639) is one of the paintings discussed by the museum’s Head of Decorative Arts Femke Diercks in the four-minute video essay “Flowers In Dutch Art.”

3. The Gallery of Honour Video Tour

Visitors can go on a fascinating 21-minute guided tour of the Gallery of Honour which is the heart of the museum and home to some of the most famous masterpieces in the collection. Learn more about Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid from one of the museum’s tour guides in this interesting and informative tour. (Tip: Switch on the English captions when following this tour.)

One of the most famous paintings in the museum’s Gallery of Honour is Rembrandt Van Rijn’s The Night Watch (1642), the celebrated artist’s largest and most famous canvas.

4. INSPIRED BY: Videos That Teach Artists How To Create Like The Masters

In this video series, artists can learn how to paint landscapes, botanicals, self-portraits, and other works. Some of the tutorials include How To Draw Like Rembrandt, How To Create A Still Life, and How To Create A Renaissance Painting Like Fra Angelico, among many others. This series can be found in the CREATIVE section of STORIES.

In the video tutorial How To Create An Impressionist Painting Like Breitner, artist Lisanne Van Heuvel explains the techniques used to produce a work similar to that of Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner’s Girl In A White Kimono (1894).

5. The Magnificent Collection of Sculpture, Furniture, Jewelry, Metalwork, and Other Objects

The Rijksmuseum is not just home to thousands of paintings, illustrations, and sketches, but also a vast array of extraordinary objects. Among the seemingly countless items in the collection are various works of sculpture, ornately carved pieces of furniture, luxurious 19th Century court costumes, precious period and modern jewelry, magnificent metal and glass works, and curiosities like the opulently-decorated dollhouse pictured below.

Dollhouse of Petronella Oortman (c. 1686-1710). All the contents of this realistic dollhouse have been made of authentic materials and the proportions are exactly correct. The cabinet is made from tortoiseshell decorated with pewter inlays and was made by a cabinetmaker from France.

Aside from making their collection free for viewing, The Rijksmuseum has also made most of the works which are in the public domain downloadable in high resolution. The images are so clear and sharp that users can turn a single detail into a screensaver, shirt, phone case or whatever their imagination can think of.  Visitors who register with a free account can also create their own collections and post them for others to see in the site’s Rijks Studio. There are currently over 550,000 exciting collections to browse.

Visitors to the museum’s website can download high-res images that are in the public domain and integrate them into their daily lives (screensavers, prints, et.al.) Pictured above is Tulip and A Poppy attributed to Willem Van Leen (1763-1885).

With so much to discover and be inspired by, one could easily spend hour after hour going through every offering of this amazing online collection.

READ RELATED 5 Reasons To Visit The National Gallery Website

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