Netherlands' Rijksmuseum opens to the public

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2013 7:16 AM
Netherlands' Rijksmuseum opens to the public

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Amid brass bands and a daytime fireworks display, the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix on Saturday officially reopened the Rijksmuseum, the country's national museum, after a 10-year, 375 million euro ($480 million) renovation.

The museum houses the largest collection of treasures from the Netherlands' cultural history, including works painted by Dutch masters Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn in the country's 17th-century Golden Age. Then the Netherlands was a major naval power and Amsterdam was one of the world's most influential and wealthy cities.

The renovation by Spanish architectural firm Cruz y Ortiz sought to bring light into the courtyards at the center of the 1885 brick structure, which resembles a fairytale castle. Meanwhile the museum's displays were completely redone to modern standards, with cultural items displayed alongside artwork from the same period — and sometimes even directly related to the art or artist.

For instance, one room houses paintings portraying the June 1667 Raid on the Medway, a naval battle in which the Dutch defeated the English. The room centers on an intricate model of a ship from the period more than two meters (yards) long. It displays an actual sword and goblet once owned by the victorious Dutch Adm. Michiel de Ruyter.

And above one doorway hangs the actual metal stern-piece from the English flagship HMS Royal Charles, which features a lion and a unicorn. De Ruyter's forces towed the ship away during the battle, and then took it back to the Netherlands.

Only one of the 8,000 works in the Rijksmuseum's collection returns to its original display position: Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," widely considered his greatest masterpiece. It sits at the end of the museum's main gothic-style Gallery of Honor, acting as the symbolic altarpiece of a secular church.

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That enormous canvas — 4.35 meters wide and 3.79 meters high (14.86 x 12.43 feet) — portrays a company of Amsterdam volunteer militiamen, rather than a religious work.

In honor of the opening by Queen Beatrix, who is the head of the Netherlands' ruling House of Orange, the museum has been outfitted with a large orange carpet leading to its new entrance. At an opening ceremony broadcast live on national television, museum Director Wim Pijbes handed the queen a ceremonial key to the museum.

Then the museum was opened to the public. It will remain open until midnight, free of charge. Tickets will normally cost 15 euros ($19).

The museum expects to welcome thousands of visitors Saturday, and up to 2 million visitors per year now that it is open again.