The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam Has Digitized 709,000 Works of Art, Including Famous Works by Rembrandt and Vermeer

Art may seem inessen­tial to those who make the big deci­sions in times of cri­sis. But it has nev­er seemed more nec­es­sary to artists work­ing in the time of COVID. So it was 360 years ago when Rem­brandt paint­ed a por­trait of his son, Titus, in a monk’s robe in 1660. Eight years lat­er, Titus was dead from plague, which had only a few years ear­li­er killed Hen­drick­je Stof­fels, Rembrandt’s for­mer house­keep­er and sec­ond wife, who helped raise Titus, Rembrandt’s only child to sur­vive into adult­hood.

These unimag­in­able loss­es “con­tributed to the tragedy and anguish we see in Rembrandt’s late self-por­traits,” writes The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones. Dur­ing the plague, Rem­brandt also used his work as social cri­tique.

His paint­ing The Rat-Poi­son Ped­dler, shows, “in a sense,” the Min­neapo­lis Insti­tute of Art’s Tom Rassieur tells the Star Tri­bune, “the guy who pur­ports to be helping—the exterminator—is prob­a­bly doing as much to spread the dis­ease as any­one else. That relates to [crit­i­cism] of our lead­er­ship today.” In his last years, Rem­brandt paint­ed self-por­traits of his iso­la­tion and grief that still res­onate with our iso­la­tion and grief today.

Else­where in the Nether­lands, Rembrandt’s con­tem­po­rary Jan Ver­meer “was no stranger to the kind of social­ly iso­lat­ed world we now find our­selves in,” Breeze Bar­ring­ton writes at CNN. “His home­town of Delft was strick­en with plague sev­er­al times in the artist’s life­time. In 1635 and 1636 over 2,000 peo­ple died, and in the mid-1650s and mid-1660s hun­dreds more.” The qual­i­ties we most asso­ciate with Vermeer’s work, the soli­tude and atten­tive pres­ence, were devel­oped dur­ing time spent in iso­la­tion. 

“In this time of forced iso­la­tion,” says Friso Lam­mertse, cura­tor of 17th-cen­tu­ry Dutch paint­ing at the Rijksmu­se­um in Ams­ter­dam, Vermeer’s work “can point us at the fact that extreme beau­ty can be found just in our room.” The Rijksmu­se­um hasn’t just rec­om­mend­ed art in our cur­rent state of alone­ness, but the muse­um has also dou­bled its col­lec­tion of free, high res­o­lu­tion works online, by Rem­brandt, Ver­meer, and a host of oth­er artists who used art to cope with loss and lone­li­ness dur­ing the plagues of their times. The muse­um now offers 709,622 dig­i­tized images in total.

The muse­um has promised to “bring the muse­um to you,” and they have deliv­ered not only with their exten­sive dig­i­tal col­lec­tion, free for down­load­ing, shar­ing and edit­ing with a free Rijksmu­se­um account, but also with infor­ma­tive series on their web­site. Art is essen­tial in the best and worst of times, and espe­cial­ly now, when it shows us how to look close­ly at our­selves, our loved ones, and our sur­round­ings, and treat life with more care and atten­tion. Enter the Rijksmu­se­um online col­lec­tions here

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 361,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces by Rem­brandt Includ­ed!

The Largest & Most Detailed Pho­to­graph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Is Now Online: Zoom In & See Every Brush Stroke

See the Com­plete Works of Ver­meer in Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty: Google Makes Them Avail­able on Your Smart­phone

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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