Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ah, Peter

Today's main excursion was a visit to the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, until just before I arrived here, this museum had held the Van Gogh Museum's collection during the restoration of that building.  Unfortunately for me, the collection is now in transit back to its home, so I will not get to view the Van Gogh paintings this trip.  Still, the Hermitage is currently showing an exhibit on Peter the Great, with materials on loan from its mothership, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Overall, the exhibit was a little bit disappointing, but possibly in large part because I had my mind set to view more great art.  Still, I enjoyed it and learned quite a few interesting things about a man I had studied when I was a child.  (St. Petersburg, Florida, where I grew up, is the sister city of Peter the Great's St. Petersburg, so the interest was a natural one.) 

For example, Peter created a club, The All-Joking, All-Drunken Synod, and he issued a decree with rules for it.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

When Peter partied, he partied hard. 

I also had never internalized how tall he was:  nearly six feet seven inches tall.  Seeing a cloak made to his size was illuminating. 

Peter was deeply into medicine of all sorts.  He traveled with an extensive medicine cabinet.

And his own portable latrine, for apparently he suffered from frequent intestinal distress (and hemmorhoids). 

Peter kept with him a large set of personal medical instruments, some of which, along with a very cool medical pop-up book, you can see here.

In the left rear are a tooth extractor and a bone saw.  Front left is a cauterizer.  To the right are the duck-billed anal speculum and a trepanning drill.  If you complained of ailments and Peter heard you, he was apt to come after you and insist on treating you himself.  As the exhibit noted, people in his circle were particularly afraid of his tooth pliers and would never complain of a toothache. 

Who could blame them?

Over time, Peter assembled, in large part with the help of agents out shopping for him but also from gifts from friends, his own kunstkammer.  It included these medical exhibits:  the wet-preserved partial arm and partial head of a child, and the dry-preserved foot of a child.

Peter's interests were vast and varied. 

He loved to work at lathes, such as this beauty of his.

Friedrich-Christian Weber, an envoy from Hanover in St. Petersburg, wrote, 
"Usually he is in the Secret Council from three to four in the morning.  Then he visits the shipyard, directs the works and contributes in person, for he knows the profession, from the tiniest details to the grandest line.  Around nine or ten o'clock he relaxes by working on a lathe, where he makes the most magnificent things."  
Among the art in his collection were many pieces from the Orient.  I particularly liked this one, which an artist carved from the roots of a tree to tell the stories of the eight immortal figures of Buddhism. 

The gem of the collection, though, was this Rembrandt, David's Farewell to Jonathan, which was absolutely stunning in person. 

Out on the street, a sofa had appeared next to the canal, and a party was growing around it.  (Sorry about the finger in the shot.)

A drawbridge!

A chance encounter with a small garden behind a locked fence.

The cast of Rembrandt's Night Watch as statues standing in front of a statue of the man himself in the square that bears his name. 

Wandering is wonderful fun here. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rembrandt's house

Today's featured attraction was the Rembrandt House Museum, the building in which he lived from 1639 to 1658.  From what I've read there and elsewhere, Rembrandt was as good with money as many other artists and writers:  he paid an outrageous sum for a house he really couldn't afford, ultimately failed to pay off his mortgage, and after almost twenty years in it, he went bankrupt.  His creditors did what those sorts of folks always do:  sold the house and auctioned his possessions. 

The lesson for us all is simple:  no matter how great an artist or writer or whatever else you may be, if you get in trouble financially, your creditors will ultimately catch up to you.

On the way to the house, I saw in rapid succession two signs whose juxtaposition amused me.  The first was this crossing sign on a perfectly lovely but deserted street.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

The second appeared in a restaurant.

I love when life presents these little moments of contrast.

The house was quite interesting.  Its exhibits made tangible the reality of the artist's life.  The people who built the museum were able to reconstruct the house so accurately because when the creditors took it back, they systematically inventoried every item in every room, by room, often noting where objects were in the room.  Add information from Rembrandt's own drawings, and you have enough data to do a pretty good job on the place.

It opened with this exhibit of items that renovators found in 1997 in a cess pit and then dated from the time Rembrandt lived here.

One of the earthenware pots contained lots of lead white, and the other held chalk and glue. Things broke, he threw them out.  Perfectly natural and in no way a surprise, but still neat to see in person.

The large kitchen featured a tall fireplace on one side and a prep counter on the other.

On the wall with the door was a large cabinet that housed, among other things, the maid's box bed.

As you may be able to tell, it was small, so I have to hope she was, too.  It was also probably the best bed in the house for much of the year, because the fireplace, which they kept burning all the time, would have made it the warmest place to sleep. 

The entrance hall was basically a gallery, where Rembrandt sold his work and that of other artists as well.

Hey, while you're waiting, want to buy anything? 

He was always hustling, something else that hasn't changed for modern artists. Guests would move from this waiting room into Rembrandt's anteroom, where he would entertain them and, he hoped, sell them something.  It also contained more paintings for sale, as well as a guest box bed (he slept upstairs, though maybe he also rested here).

I wish I could show you shots without other visitors in them, but the place was crowded the whole time I was there.  I also apologize to all the folks whose images I'm putting here, though I don't think these pictures will invade their privacy much, if at all, because I have no clue who any of them are.

Another way in which Rembrandt was very much like most artists and writers I've known is that he kept art all around him.  His living room/bedroom was full of paintings.

He and his wife, Saskia, slept in an almost double-bed-sized box bed along the wall with the door.

Rembrandt didn't just live and paint in this house; he also worked on his etchings and printed them, here.  In a room off the anteroom, he had a press, a drying line, and a workbench.

The soul of the building, though, was on its top floor:  the studio where he painted.  With windows covering most of one wall, he had great northern light for most of the day.

On shelves around the room he kept some reference materials, but most of it was open space for posing models and painting.

The most fascinating room was what the exhibit signs called his "Art Cabinet," but which we could also term his reference library or even his own personal kunstkammer.  He kept not only his art books here--volumes with at one point over 8,000 drawings and prints by many artists--but also a huge collection of oddities, items he found inspirational or useful in his work.

In addition to brain coral, lizards, armor, and many other items, the room held not one but two stuffed armadillos.  I'd love to do an anthology based around the items in this room; it would be fascinating--and sell about six copies.

The museum also features an extensive collection of Rembrandt's prints, along with several of the original plates.  You can find the prints in plenty of books, so I won't spend much time on them here.  I did, though, find fascinating a few of the presentations, such as this version of Jesus on the cross

and this one, which Rembrandt made years later by revisiting the same plate and reworking it extensively.

Getting to see both the etching and the original plate was also a treat, as in this duo about Potiphar's wife, who failed at seducing Joseph but kept his coat for later blackmail use.

I could go on and on, but it's late here, so I'm stopping and encouraging you to check out Rembrandt's prints if you are not already familiar with them.

Out on the streets, a wandering path took me by the lovely Old Church, among many other places.

Ducks and swans make homes and nests on bits of wood tied to the sides of the canals.

One bit of sad news is that in preparation for reopening the Van Gogh museum on May 1, when I will already be back in Paris, about a week ago they started moving the collection out of the Hermitage.  So, though I will get to see the Hermitage, I will not make my second visit to the Van Gogh museum this trip.  This results from my lack of planning and research, so I accept it as one of the downsides of an approach I have generally enjoyed.  Still, I wish I'd been able to catch that collection.

Tomorrow, more art!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hitting the streets

If the weather forecasts are reliable, today is going to be the nicest day of my stay in Amsterdam, so I decided to spend the day walking the streets and getting a sense of the city.  I wandered all over the place, including through the famous "Nine streets" boutique shopping area.

This city loves its hot dogs.  Stands selling them are everywhere.  On the canal bridge nearest the hotel, two vendors sit opposite one another in fierce competition.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Fries are also big here.  People walk the street eating them from cones.  Toppings range from ketchup to mustard to curry to combinations better left unwritten.  This chain seemed particularly popular; I encountered three of them during my walk.

Bicycles are everywhere, as are cars.  Traffic is intense, with bicycles, cars, trams, buses, scooters, and pedestrians all vying for space and the right to move forward.  Here some parked bikes give you a sense of just how many are in use.

The crown on the building in the above shot is due to Tuesday being Queen's Day, a national holiday celebrating the Queen--and a particularly important one this year, because the next day the Queen will step down in favor of her son, who will become the King. 

The combination of so many hot dog stands, fry vendors all over the place, and intense traffic made me realize that I arrived at this city unprepared.  What I really needed is my motorized Hot Dog Throne of Doom.  If I had that sucker, I could cruise the streets in hot-dog-armored splendor, at speed, while stuffing my yap full of cheese-covered fries.  I could even add a fry cone holder to the hot dog.

If only I'd thought of that earlier.  Ah, well.

Back in the real world, this statue, the National Monument, sits in Dam Square as a tribute to those who died in World War II and subsequent armed conflicts. 

Across the square from it sits the Royal Palace, a lovely building. 

On another side of the square is the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), which like the palace was getting decked out for the upcoming holiday.

Parking on the canal is common here, so having a small car certainly makes sense.  Some cars, though, are just too damn small.  Cases in point:

Graffiti doesn't run rampant here, but some appears in interesting places.  I liked this one.

Hey, Sarah and Ben, a camera store focused heavily on lomography.

And, Ben, a shop that sold primarily bow-ties.

Note the cat sleeping in the window.  Ya gotta love shop cats. 

I loved the mellow attitude the owner put above this door. 

Or maybe it was an existentially correct attitude, such as Dave's.  No way to know for sure, though in a city with marijuana bars--blasts of smoke hit you as you walk down the street, I'm betting on mellow.

The day was indeed perfect for wandering, the sky lovely and clear, the temperature in the high 60s.


Did I mention hot dogs?  I had no clue you could buy them 33 to the can.

An automat!

This theater was lovely. 

Dinner was at an Indian restaurant that proved to be a very good choice.  The food was quite tasty, and I encountered something delicious I've never seen before:  cheese naan.  The server said it wasn't really Indian food but that "you can get it everywhere."

Well, I can't, and now I want to know why.  Cheese naan is awesome!

Tomorrow, forecasts call for rain, and I have no clue yet what I will do.  That's just the way I like it. 


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