What is the relationship between the objects in the permanent display in the Rijksmuseum and colonial slavery? Which stories have not yet been highlighted?


The Rijksmuseum collection was put together by the wealthy class of the Netherlands, starting in the late Middle Ages. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the colonial period, the Netherlands maintained close contact with nations outside Europe, relations that were characterised by oppression. Power and prosperity were prominent themes in the permanent display, demonstrating that the Netherlands had become one of the leading powers on the world stage. The fact that that was achieved by the state legalisation of enslaving people in the conquered territories was banished to the background.


By now a growing proportion of the Dutch population has an affinity with the experiences of people in slavery. The Rijksmuseum, as the museum of all Dutch people, is preparing to present a more complete picture of the Dutch past. One important part of that is therefore to investigate the objects in the permanent display. Given the nature of the collection it is very likely that those objects will be connected with the slavery system, but what precisely are those connections? This research will contribute to a clearer understanding of the hidden stories in the permanent display and will chart where subsequent investigations should look for aspects that are still missing.


The first findings of the research will be made known under the heading Rijksmuseum & Slavery for a year from June 2021 to 28 February on extra museum labels throughout the museum. This will be accompanied by a booklet with more information on the project and labels.


Valika Smeulders PhD
Head of the History Department

Maria Holtrop
Curator of History

Doreen van den Boogaart
Former Junior Curator of History

Wieneke 't Hoen
Senior staff Education


Slavery. The temporary exhibition (June – August 2021) will explore the lives of ten people who lived at the time of Dutch colonial slavery.


This project is supported by Fonds de Zuidroute/ Rijksmuseum Fonds.