Seeing Rembrandt’s Night Watch masterpiece up close and in person is a big deal. For an art lover, gazing at this 12 x 14 ft visual spectacle is a life-changing experience. Even if this is your first exposure to Rembrandt, you will still be moved by the magnificent work. Now it’s possible to just buy a ticket to the Rijksmuseum yourself and wander in to take a look at this work of art (that’s exactly what I did a year ago). I stood with the hordes of other tourists and envied those in small groups standing closer to the painting and being told so much more about it than I could possibly glean from the provided handout. Then I found Context Travel.
More Than A Handout
I wanted those stories about the history – When it was finished in 1642, the original painting was much larger. The canvas was cut in 1715 to make it fit between two columns in the Amsterdam City Hall. The extra artwork containing two additional characters was thrown away. (Gasp!).
On my earlier visit, I tried to eavesdrop on the scholars explaining to their special group why this painting was erroneously called the Night Watch. In fact, it’s not really a night scene at all. Because of the build-up of centuries of smoke, soot, and layers of darkening varnish which were finally removed in the 1940s, we are now able to see the 34 figures lit brilliantly by the strokes of Rembrandt. This time our visit to the Rijksmuseum was much different. We weren’t alone to wonder about the world of Rembrandt and other 17th century Dutch Masters. On this visit we were with Context Travel Amsterdam, accompanied by a scholar of our own to show us the world of the Dutch Masters of the Rijksmuseum. It changed our perspective completely.
Intellectually Curious Travelers
A visit to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is a special event. For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It would be a shame to miss so much of what’s there just because you don’t have someone to guide you through. Context Travel Amsterdam isn’t a typical tour. Your guide is a MA or PhD level scholar with an obvious passion for their subject and the world around them. Context Travel prides itself for appealing to the “intellectually curious traveler” and what better place to be curious than the Rijksmuseum?
Questioning about the colors in The Milkmaid, I quickly learned about Vermeer’s palette and his preference for the costly natural ultramarine blue, made of crushed lapis lazuli, frequently imported from Afghanistan through Venice. Our scholar guide Alette had all the answers to even our most basic questions.
Did you know there is a secret passageway under the Night Watch where the floor opens on steel plates to allow the painting to be safely taken away in case of fire or natural disaster? We’ve seen it!
I learned that in the 17th century painters use cultural cues in their portraits that not everyone is privy to the meaning. Such as the scandalous note that a shoe off the foot of woman implies it wasn’t only her shoe that might be filled. Note – There seemed to be many women painted in the 1600s with one shoe on and one shoe off. Or when the curtains of a bedchamber are closed, it is assumed the woman is a virgin. Open bedchamber curtains and a shoe off now have a completely different meaning. We started noticing things we’d never noticed before.
I won’t give away all the secrets, because when you visit with Context Travel Amsterdam I want you to enjoy your tour just as much. Our time with Context Travel Amsterdam for the Dutch Masters of the Rijksmuseum was complimentary and certainly gave our visit much more depth than we could have imagined doing it on our own.
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam or any one of the 38 cities (and counting) where Context Travel Tours are operating, please consider taking them along in your itinerary. The in-depth experience and personable guidance will be more than worth it. Make the most of your vacation and prepare to have your perspective changed.