The bodhisattva Manjushri

anonymous, c. 800 - c. 900, figure, AK-MAK-240

In China, Manjushri is venerated as one of the first advocates of Buddhism. On Java he appears as a young man wearing straps of jewellery across his chest. This Manjushri is probably gesturing the turning of the wheel of wisdom: this symbolises the start of the Buddhist cycle of learning and the…

Guanyin

anonymous, c. 1100 - c. 1200, figure, AK-MAK-84

The Buddhist deity Guanyin, who rescues people in need, is shown here meditating, seated on a rock. According to legend, he was once discovered in this position, meditating on the moon’s reflection in the water - in Buddhism a symbol of illusion and transience. His pose and facial expression embody…

The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede

Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael, c. 1668 - c. 1670, painting, SK-C-211

Viewed from a low perspective, the mill contrasts majestically against the dark sky. The buildings further in the distance are the castle and St Maarten’s church at Wijk bij Duurstede, a major city in the Golden Age. The river in the foreground is the Lek. This is the epitome of a Dutch landscape:…

Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and…

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, c. 1665 - c. 1669, painting, SK-C-216

It seems that Rembrandt painted his subjects as the biblical couple, Isaac and Rebecca. Its popular name, the Jewish Bride, is a later invention. The portrait is painted with an extraordinarily free hand, as in the sleeve, where the paint is especially thick and shaped to reflect the light.

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 Sampling Officials of the…

Rembrandt Harmensz. 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…

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.…

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…

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…

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…