Blue Macaw

Meissener Porzellan Manufaktur, 1731, BK-17496

German scientists discovered the ingredients of Chinese porcelain in the 18th century. Elector August the Strong was such a fan of this hard, translucent white material that he filled his Japanese Palace in Dresden with porcelain objects. In the 1730s, he had a series of large birds and animals…

Clock and gunpowder horn

anonymous, c. 1590 - c. 1596, mechanical clock, NG-NM-7687

In 1596, Willem Barentsz, Jacob van Heemskerck and fifteen others spent the winter in an improvised shelter on the island of Nova Zembla off the north coast of Russia. Confined to their hut in the middle of the Polar winter, the men had no sense of night or day. A clock on the wall told the time,…

Portrait of Jacob Cornelisz van…

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (workshop of), c. 1533, painting, SK-A-1405

Self portraits signal a growing awareness among artists of their own role. This work was long thought to be the earliest self portrait of an artist in the Northern Netherlands. Jacob Cornelisz is looking directly at the viewer; behind him on a piece of paper is the date, 1533, and the artist’s…

River Landscape with Riders

Aelbert Cuyp, 1653 - 1657, painting, SK-A-4118

Travellers are resting their horses in a sun-soaked river landscape. To judge from their orange shawls, they seem to be Dutch army officers. Cuyp saw these steep hills when he travelled along the River Rhine between Nijmegen and Cleves. It was probably the sketches he drew there that formed the…

A Mother Delousing her Child’s…

Pieter de Hooch, c. 1658 - c. 1660, painting, SK-C-149

A mother is inspecting her child’s hair for lice. They are in a sober Dutch interior, with Delft blue tiles and a bedstead. The chair on the right is a children’s toilet, with a built-in chamber pot. Through the door we see the back room, and catch a glimpse of the garden. These views into the…

Still Life with Cheese

Floris Claesz. van Dijck, c. 1615, painting, SK-A-4821

Food is arranged here on a costly damask tablecloth: fruit, bread, cheese. In the 17th century, this kind of painting was known as a ‘breakfast’. Vivid colours contrast with each other. Each item is carefully placed. And by viewing the table from a high angle, Van Dijck ensured that no object was…

Self-portrait

Vincent van Gogh, 1887, painting, SK-A-3262

After he heard his brother Theo describe the new colourful style of French art, Vincent decided in 1886 to move to Paris. He soon began experimenting with the new idiom in a series of self portraits. This was mainly to spare the expense of using models. Here he painted himself as a debonnaire…

William I, Prince of Oranje

Adriaen Thomasz. Key, c. 1579, painting, SK-A-3148

Of all the nobles in the Low Countries to join the revolt against the Spanish crown, the foremost was William of Orange (1533-1584). Raised at the court of Charles V, he was a consummate diplomat: hence his nickname, the Silent. He emerged as the leader of the insurrection against Spain. In 1580,…

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…

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters

Hendrick Avercamp, c. 1608, painting, SK-A-1718

Hendrick Avercamp turned the winter landscape into a subject in its own right. A typical feature of his early work is the high horizon. This enabled Avercamp to focus on the dozens of figures on the ice. He showed all kinds of uncouth details in this bird’s-eye view, including couples making love…