Tag Archives: Amsterdam Museum

Revisiting an Old Friend in Amsterdam

In the Amsterdam History Museum the last time I was there, I came upon a particularly lovely painting of a man with a cow.  It is a fragment left from a much larger painting, now lost.  There’s a benevolent looking man, bending toward a cow that looks equally benevolent. Man and animal are painted with exquisite detail. If anything, the animal is painted in clearer focus. The animal gazes outward toward the viewer, with calm intelligence. The man is intent on something below and beyond the frame: very likely a baby sleeping in a manger.  The scene is one of overwhelming tenderness and reverence.

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The painting, about 3 by 4 feet, is identified as a fragment of a much larger piece, forever lost. The original work was part of a large altarpiece; the artist is unknown. The altarpiece was broken up during religious rioting in the 16th century.  Even peaceful, tolerant Holland did not escape the religious strife that tore through all of Europe in past centuries.

Some museums allow photos; some do not.  I am always grateful when I can take a quick photo of a piece of art that speaks to me.  I never intend to sell my photo, enlarge it, or frame it.  I’d buy a print if I wanted something to hang on a wall. Instead, my photo preserves a travel memory: an encounter with a piece of art that made me slow down during a long day of sightseeing. It’s a memory of time I took out of fast-moving everyday life to ponder the timeless moments of beauty and peace that great art creates.

I’m off to Amsterdam again.  I’ll be seeking out this painting, as an old friend.

More Dogs in Dutch Art

DogLookUpWhat do we really value about our dogs? Blind adoration is the most important thing, if we dog lovers are honest.  Sure, we’d like to see obedience, intelligence, cute tricks, and barking only when fire breaks out or someone is actually breaking into the house.  But that look of pure unconditional love trumps everything else. I imagine that even rich merchants in the Dutch Golden Age had their moments of doubt and insecurity, moments when they needed that adoring upward gaze.

As I wandered the art galleries of Amsterdam, I snapped photos of dogs. They were everywhere, in the Rijksmuseum and in the Amsterdam Museum (which is really the history museum, but the word “history” was recently removed, apparently because it was thought to scare some people away).

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Somehow, the dogs featured in paintings serve to make the people depicted seem more real, more like us.

iPhone9-23-13 363Each animal is an individual character, as lovingly painted as any man, woman or child.

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Each long-ago dog had a name, a favorite place to sleep, a way of looking happy or sad.

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We might have trouble imagining the lives of humans from past centuries, but we have no trouble recognizing these dogs. And that adoring upward look still speaks to us, centuries after dog and master are gone. For me, the loving relationship between people and their pets is a kind of window into the past.

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Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!