Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk…

Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1649, painting, SK-C-217

Once a Catholic church, St Odulphus’s passed into Protestant hands at the start of the Dutch Revolt against Spain. The artist shows a service taking place. Worshippers are listening to the preacher on the right in the pulpit. Sermons are the main feature of a Protestant service. Saenredam came…

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…

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…

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…

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 Sick Child

Gabriël Metsu, c. 1664 - c. 1666, painting, SK-A-3059

A worried mother looks at her young daughter, slumped listlessly on her lap. Metsu chose an unusual subject, since depictions of poorly children are rare in 17th-century art. Perhaps he intended the mother to personify charity, Caritas. Then the picture of the Crucifixion on the wall would be a…

The Seven Works of Mercy

Master of Alkmaar, 1504, painting, SK-A-2815

A town in Holland is the setting for a narrative strip showing how a good Christian should help the needy. In almost all the scenes, Christ appears among the onlookers. The scenes give a sense of town life around 1500. This is one of the many art works severely damaged when Protestants cleansed…

Portraits of Giuliano and Francesco…

Piero di Cosimo, 1482 - 1485, painting, SK-C-1368

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…

Seated Cupid

Étienne-Maurice Falconet, 1757, BK-1963-101

This famous statue already had many nicknames in the 18th century. Perhaps the best known is l’amour menaçant - menacing love. The menace is mainly in the love god’s expression, while his gesture makes us complicit, through silence. The statue was carved for Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV…

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…