A Rijksmuseum for the New Millennium

by Lesley Peterson

Opening today after a 10-year, $500-million renovation, is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Speaking to international press at an invitation-only preview earlier this month, General Director Wim Pijbes announced “a new era” for the national museum, considered one of the top 10 museums in the world.

Lead architect for the Rijksmuseum’s transformation was Antonio Ortiz of Seville-based firm Cruz y Ortiz. The 19th-century neo-gothic building on Amsterdam’s Museumplein had been much altered over the years, resulting in a building Ortiz found “dark, dim, sad [and] labyrinthical.” Following the original design by 19th-century architect Pierre Cuypers as closely as possible, Ortiz and his team returned rooms to their original dimensions, restored decoration and brought all technological aspects to the latest standards.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

Modern elements—a spectacular new glass-covered Atrium and two optical ‘starry sky’ ceiling paintings by British artist Richard Wright—complement the Rijksmuseum’s historic architecture while introducing a sense of light and space. A new Asian Pavilion, freshly landscaped gardens, new public areas, a café and a shop will enhance visitor experience.

Presentation of the Rijksmuseum’s vast collection is also new. French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte designed the interior galleries using lighting, contemporary showcases and a unifying grey colour scheme to highlight objects. Visitors can follow a chronological journey through 800 years of Dutch art and history in 80 rooms.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

More than 30 rooms are dedicated to Holland’s Golden Age, a period in the 17th century when the republic led the world in trade, military might, science and the arts. The Rijksmuseum’s heart is the magnificent Gallery of Honour, which houses priceless paintings by Vermeer, Hals, Ruysdael and other Dutch Masters. Glowing like a beacon in the original space dedicated to it by Cuypers is Rembrandt’s iconic Night Watch (1642).

The Rijksmuseum received one million annual visitors even during renovation when only a handful of works were on display. The number of annual visitors is expected to reach two million in the near future. The revolutionary Rijks Studio site has 133, 000 digital images available free, without copyright restriction, making the Rijksmuseum not just a museum for the new millennium but for the entire world.

A flashmob recreates Rembrandt’s Night Watch (Rijksmuseum) at a mall in Holland: