Tag Archives: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

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!

Like Father, Like Son? Not So Much.


In Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, I noticed a lot of people pausing in front of a particular portrait, depicting a fat young man named Gerard Andriesz Bicker in 1639.  Dressed in fine silks, velvet and lace, he looks particularly satisfied with himself.  If Gerard had posted this portrait on match.com, I suppose he would have expected a lot of takers.  People in the museum pause, read the caption, and then move to the adjoining portrait, of young Gerard’s father.


The father, Andries, was the mayor of Amsterdam at the time.  He appears as a stern, hardworking burgher, dressed in severe black.  He wears the stiffly starched and pleated collar so popular among the elite at the time.  These collars took about 18 yards of fabric to make and had to be painstakingly hand-pleated.  They held a person’s head high and made it impossible to lean back and relax.  One can only imagine what opinion Andries had of his spoiled-looking son.  The son’s caption notes dryly that young Gerard did not attain offices as high as those of his father.  No kidding.

Both portraits were painted by Bartholomeus van der Heist, 1613-1670.  He was Rembrandt’s chief rival in the contest to get the most lucrative portrait painting jobs among Amsterdam’s rich and famous. Apparently young Gerard was pleased with his portrait.  His father must have been pleased enough with both portraits, too.  After all, he paid for them.

Join me next time as I explore the art and history of Europe!