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…

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.

The Milkmaid

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660, painting, SK-A-2344

A maid concentrates keenly as she pours milk from a jug. It is a quiet, tranquil scene. The only movement is the flow of milk. Vermeer turned a simple composition of a prosaic subject into an intense work of art. It is in the rendering of light that Vermeer truly excelled, painting tiny dots for…

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…

Still Life with a Gilt Cup

Willem Claesz. Heda, 1635, painting, SK-A-4830

In forty years, Willem Heda only ever painted still lifes. His paintings differ from the still lifes of his contemporaries: the colours are gentler, cooler and more harmonious. The bright yellow lemon peel is the only colour accent. In this work, Heda shows his skill in rendering different…

Isaac and Rebecca, Known as ‘The…

Rembrandt 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.

The Wardens of the Amsterdam…

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…

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…

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…

Portrait of a Couple, Probably…

Frans Hals, c. 1622, painting, SK-A-133

The fabulously wealthy Haarlem merchant and his wife commissioned their friend Frans Hals to paint their portrait in an unusual way. Seventeenth-century couples rarely appear together in a single painting, especially in such a nonchalant pose. Hals included all kinds of symbols of love in the…