Woman Reading a Letter

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663, painting, SK-C-251

In a quiet, private moment, a young woman stands, engrossed in reading a letter. It is morning, and she is still wearing her blue nightrobe. All the other colours are subordinate to its radiant lapis lazuli; yellow and red hardly make an appearance. Vermeer rendered the different effects of the cool…

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.

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 Pelican and other Birds near a…

Melchior d'Hondecoeter, c. 1680, painting, SK-A-175

Melchior d’Hondecoeter specialised in depicting birds. Here he painted a pelican, various ducks, a cassowary (left), a flamingo and an African crested crane. D’Hondecoeter was commissioned to paint the work by Stadholder William III and his wife Mary. It was intended for Het Loo palace, where…

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…

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 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…

The Sampling Officials of the…

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…

Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild…

Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1648, painting, SK-C-2

Civic guards were the city’s militia. They were volunteers. In Amsterdam, each district had its own company with its own headquarters. In the 17th century, larger and grander buildings were built. Group portraits of the members lined the walls. In 1648, Van der Helst immortalised this Amsterdam…