Portraits of Giuliano and Francesco…

Piero di Cosimo, 1482 - 1485, painting, SK-C-1367

This diptych shows a leading Florentine architect, Giuliano da Sangallo with his late father Francesco, also an architect and a musician. These are early examples of portraits in which the subject’s profession plays a key role. Here a pen and dividers suggest architecture, a melody in note form…

Mary Magdalene

Jan van Scorel, c. 1530, painting, SK-A-372

The woman is Mary Magdalen. A jar of ointment is her usual attribute, with which she is said to have tended Jesus’s feet. Van Scorel portrayed her as a seductive, lavishly dressed courtesan, a reference to her apparent origins as a prostitute. Her costume shows the influence of Italian painting on…

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…

Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661, painting, SK-A-4050

Here, Rembrandt is about 55. In this portrait he represents St Paul, the apostle, identified by his usual attributes: a manuscript and a sword, of which the hilt extends from under the cloak. The self portrait is typical of Rembrandt’s late style of painting: he used the paint structure in the…

The Singel Bridge at the…

George Hendrik Breitner, 1898, painting, SK-A-3580

Breitner often took photos when preparing a painting. Several preparatory photos for this painting are also known. The way the woman is walking directly towards us and the way the picture is cropped gives it a photographic feel. Originally, Breitner’s subject was a maid, but following the negative…

The Threatened Swan

Jan Asselijn, c. 1650, painting, SK-A-4

With its wings stretched and its neck poised, the swan protects her eggs against a dog swimming nearby. Showing the scene from a low angle emphasises the bird’s power. The inscriptions are a later addition and have a political message. They refer to the Dutch political leader Johan de Witt, who…

Self-portrait

Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1628, painting, SK-A-4691

Despite his lack of experience, the young Rembrandt was not afraid to experiment. In this early self portrait the light brushes past his right cheek. The rest of the face is cloaked in shadow. It takes a moment to realise that the artist is staring intently, directly at the viewer. Rembrandt used…

Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue

Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck, 1641, painting, SK-A-3064

What made this such a popular portrait? That it shows a pretty child dressed in her finest clothes? As was usual at the time, the girl actually has an adult appearance. Her facial expression is all that shows she is playing the role. Unfortunately, we no longer know who she was.

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.…

Floral Still Life

Hans Bollongier, 1639, painting, SK-A-799

While this ample bouquet appears quite natural, tulips, anemones, roses and carnations all have different seasons. Yet Bollongier combined them into a harmonious composition. This still life was painted following the financial collapse of 1637, when many lost their fortunes speculating in tulip…