The Merry Family

Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1668, painting, SK-C-229

IYoung and old are having a wonderful time: mother and grandmother are singing, the children are playing music and smoking, and father raises his glass. The note on the mantelpiece comments poignantly: ‘as the old sing, so pipe the young’. Steen’s picture brings the saying to life and warns the…

Dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman

anonymous, c. 1686 - c. 1710, furniture, BK-NM-1010

The exterior of this dolls house is a work of art in its own right, with its mother-of-pearl and pewter veneer. The owners’ initials - Petronella Oortman and her husband Johannes Brandt, a cloth merchant in Amsterdam - are inlaid on both sides. Remarkably, all the domestic furnishings were made…

The Holy Kinship

Geertgen tot Sint Jans (workshop of), c. 1495, painting, SK-A-500

Christ’s family is gathered together in this fictional medieval church: the Holy Family, known in Dutch as the holy ‘maagschap’, an old word for kinship. Left, in a blue robe, the Virgin Mary is seated with Jesus, and alongside, her mother Anna. Behind are the two husbands: Joseph and Joachim.…

View of Houses in Delft, Known as…

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658, painting, SK-A-2860

An unusual painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre: a few houses and a couple of people in a quiet street. Vermeer gave the scene a palpable sense of tension and balance. The old walls, worn bricks and white plaster are almost tangible. What part of Delft this shows is no longer known.

Desk

Abraham Roentgen, c. 1758 - c. 1760, BK-16676

This desk has numerous secret compartments and drawers and even includes a fold-out prie-dieu. It was made for Johann Philipp von Walderdorff, archbishop and elector of Trier, and is decorated at the top with his portrait and heraldic arms. The desk is the most expensive showpiece ever made by…

Girl in a White Kimono

George Hendrik Breitner, 1894, painting, SK-A-3584

Inspired by Japanese prints, Breitner painted at least twelve versions of this girl in a white kimono around 1894. Each time, her pose is different and the kimono is a different colour. Here the embroidered white silk kimono with red trimmed sleeves and orange belt are what draw our attention. The…

The Sampling Officials of the…

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1662, painting, SK-C-6

Samplers checked the quality of dyed cloth. Here Rembrandt shows them at work, distracted for a moment and looking up. One syndic is about to sit, or stand, so not all the heads are at the same level. A clever trick which, with the confident brushwork and subtle use of light, make this one of the…

Portrait of a Member of the Van der…

Cornelis Troost, 1736, painting, SK-A-3948

The portrait conveys a sense of convivial hospitality, as if the man were inviting us into his home to enjoy his art and music. In a typically 18th-century way, the portrait has no sense of distance, of authority. It introduces us directly to the open personality of this enthusiastic young member of…

The Fête champêtre

Dirck Hals, 1627, painting, SK-A-1796

Dirck Hals mostly painted people enjoying themselves, yet often included a moral message. In this painting of an ostensibly frivolous party, the chained monkey in the foreground represents man living in sin and unable to free himself. It is an admonition to the viewer to avoid licentious behaviour.…

The Battle of Waterloo

Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824, painting, SK-A-1115

Emperor Napoleon met his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This painting – the largest at the Rijksmuseum – shows the moment when the tide turned: the British general Wellington hears that the Prussian army is approaching. Victory, and an end to twenty years of war, is at hand. The…