Have you watched the ‘Night at the Museum’ movie? Well, if you’ll spend a night in the Rijksmuseum, you’ll also be accompanied by some fascinating characters. Dutch navy admirals, 17th-century children drinking, smoking a pipe and eating stroopwafels, a lady reading a love letter that obviously isn’t from her husband or a mother looking for lice in her daughter’s hair. Opened back in 1885, Rijksmuseum, the Dutch Royal Museum, was filled with controversies from the very beginning. Here are just some of them – 10 things you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum.
10 things you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum
I used to work as a guide in the Rijksmuseum for more than three years. And during my time there I learned about many interesting things about the Rijksmuseum. Here are just some of my unusual Rijksmuseum highlights.
⤷ Read more: Rijksmuseum Highlights
#1 – It has a road in it
Rijksmuseum is the only museum in the world with a road inside of it. It was built at the edge of the historical city centre of Amsterdam. So the building served as a historical gate into the city. The road was opened for motorised vehicles until 1931, but that wasn’t the best solution for exhibits and the building itself. The cars were banned, and nowadays it’s open for bicycles only.
You can still recognise the gates today. And even see one of the oldest traffic signs in the city, above the gates on the side of Museumplein. You’ll find the stone with a golden finger there, pointing to the right and the words ‘INRIJDEN’ written below it. Meaning, use the right side of the street.
#2 – Rijksmuseum was built on more than 8,000 wooden piles
The first solid ground in Amsterdam is some fifteen meters below the ground level. I didn’t write the ground level here by mistake? Since the majority of Amsterdam is below the sea level, the sea level isn’t really used as a measurement in the Netherlands.
However, because the soil in Amsterdam is swampy, many larger buildings in the city were built on the wooden piles. And Rijksmuseum is no exception! It was built on some 8,000 piles which are still supporting the building today. It’s definitely one of the exciting things about the Rijksmuseum not many people know about.
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#3 – One million objects in total, 8,000 on display
Although the Rijksmuseum was opened in 1885, its collection started to be gathered almost hundred years before that. Today, there are around one million objects in its collection. While ‘only’ some eight thousand of them are on display.
If you’d like to see all of them, you’ll probably need a week to see everything. And you’ll also need good walking shoes, because a total walking distance of the galleries is one and a half kilometres.
There are definitely some unusual Rijksmuseum exhibits among them, so keep on reading this ’10 things you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum’ post to see some of them.
#4 – Rijksmuseum is home to the largest art library in the Netherlands
You know that beautiful library you can peek into from the Rijksmuseum’s second floor?
It’s the most extensive art library in the country, and the best part is, it’s open to everyone. It’s absolutely one of the Rijksmuseum highlights! So, the next time you’ll be there and will be curious to learn more about that handsome guy from one of the group portraits, you know where to go!
⤷ Read more: Johannes Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum
#5 – It was closed for ten years… because of the flood
Did you know that one of the three ‘X’ in Amsterdam’s coat of arms marks all the troubles with floods the city went through?
Well, it was a huge issue back in history. But, it was also a massive problem for the Rijksmuseum in 2003. This is when the last renovation, planned to last only for a year, started.
However, when the construction workers began to dig the tunnel below the road I’ve mentioned before (take a look at #no. 1), water started to barge into the building. And soon, the museum was completely flooded with the water from the nearby canal.
Well, let’s just say they broke the budget and prolonged the restoration for nine more years. Hmmm… maybe this should be a number one thing you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum?
#6 – In the 1960s all the wall paintings were white-washed
A visit to the Rijksmuseum is a great history lesson with all the wall paintings showing the artists, rulers and the most important events from Dutch history. They are absolutely one of the most beautiful parts of its architecture.
However, the museum director from 1960s probably would disagree with that. He thought they were distracting visitors from the exhibits. He even claimed how they aren’t showing a humble Dutch spirit. And so, he’s decided to white-washed them.
Luckily they were well preserved below the layer of white paint and were brought back to life in 2013 during the last renovation.
⤷ Read more: A guide for the perfect museum visit
#7 – Rembrandt’s The Night Watch was originally larger than it is today
The star of the Rijksmuseum collection is, without a doubt, The Night Watch painted by Rembrandt. There are so many interesting stories related to that famous painting.
A few decades after it was made, The Night Watch was transferred to Amsterdam’s City Hall (today’s Royal Palace on the Dam Square). However, the wall on which they wanted to put it on was too small for the painting. So, instead just removing it and placing it to a more suitable wall, they decided to cut the picture a bit to fit it in. Because of that, we are missing two men in the left part of the painting, that were initially there.
There are, of course, many other interesting details on it. But, that should be a topic of a completely new post. Let me just tell you some of them: the name of the painting is completely wrong, Rembrandt included himself and his wife into this official group portrait, and there are many sexual connotations in it too.
⤷ Read more: Following the footsteps of Rembrandt in Amsterdam
#8 – Armour missing the leg
Have you noticed an armour missing the leg in one of the Rijksmuseum’s galleries?
Well, it definitely belongs to this list of 10 things you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum. It’s original owner, Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck, lost his leg (and sadly, his life, as well) in a Battle of Gibraltar in 1607. He was also the first Dutchman who got an official state funeral.
Because of all of that, his armour became one of the most unusual exhibits in the Rijksmuseum.
⤷ Read more: The best museums in Amsterdam
#9 – Winter Landscape
Numerous Dutch paintings from the Rijksmuseum are so busy with many things happening in them. Sometimes it’s almost hard to follow the story painted on them.
One of the Rijksmuseum most interesting paintings is Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape. There are so many funny details in it, you shouldn’t miss it during your visit to the Rijksmuseum. We have a public toilet with the hole in it through which you can see someone answering the nature’s call. There is a man fallen through the ice and people around him laughing to his misery.
On the opposite side of the painting, there is a scene which is not funny at all. You’ll see there a dog and crows dine on the carcass of an animal. This unusual Rijksmuseum highlight is a genuine 17th-century everyday life scene.
⤷ Read more: Still lifes at the Rijksmuseum
#10 – Stroopwafel on the painting from the 17th century
I left my favourite scene from the 17th century everyday life for the end. In Jan Steen’s The Feast of Saint Nicholas, you’ll find a basket with a stroopwafel in it.
As a massive fan of that Dutch sweet, this is definitely one of my favourite Golden Age paintings. It’s a true ode to tradition of the Netherlands that in many ways didn’t change much until today.
Rijksmuseum is filled with exciting exhibits and stories you can learn from them. If you’re going to visit that Dutch museum, be sure to check out these 10 things you didn’t know about the Rijksmuseum.
⤷ TIP: You can get your online Rijksmuseum ticket on a link here.
Watch my video below to learn more about the Rijksmuseum and some of its most interesting exhibits:
Cover photo by redcharlie on Unsplash