Despite its huge popularity, the fabulous exhibition “From Asia to Amsterdam; luxury in Holland’s Golden Age” at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is set to close January 17th 2016. It sprawls through several rooms of the museum’s so-called Philips-wing and still draws crowds. You can either visit it specifically, or after viewing the museum’s permanent collection.
The displayed items are indeed luxury ones, but also illustrate how art and tastes from the East and West influenced each other during the Dutch Golden Age. It is not just about the VOC and its settlements or trade routes. At least one room exhibits examples of Portuguese and Japanese art and imagery influencing each other.
The first room does show a large painting depicting the successful return of VOC ships of their second expedition to the East. Amsterdam harbour is full of smaller and larger vessels celebrating the safe – and prosperous – arrival of the ships. Sailing vessels were primitively equipped and maps untrustworthy or blank; so it is easy to imagine the relieve of investors, traders, wives and children.
A case in the same room shows a saucer with VOC logo. An early example of tableware made to order in China. In front of it is a small but costly ship. A master silver-smith produced this expensive container to hold precious spices brought by such ships from the distant East.
The next room contains more Chinese porcelain which inspired Delft Blue – which started as a cheap imitation complete with Chinese imagery. Chinese jugs are displayed, to which were added golden lids and handles in Europe to turn them into beer flasks. Similar East-West items can be admired in Willem Kalf’s still-lives lining the wall.
Other rooms not only display saucers, cups, bowls; but also fabulous furniture, clothes, jewellery, and more. One of the last rooms contains a complete wall of Japanese Lacquer ware. Its middle-section displays miniature Chinese and Delft porcelain. The English text explains this side of a so-called Asian Cabinet – a special room to show off Asian items – was once part of a The Hague home.
Each room of this impressive exhibition contains stunning works. One impressive piece – though not the only one in this particular room – is a cradle made by one or more craftsmen from the Coromandel Coast. Such items were not only created for export to Europe. Cherished pieces were taken along when families moved from one place or country to the next one, or back to Europe. Craftsmen copied and combined, creating fusions of various styles and images throughout Asia and Europe.
Another room contains a chest displaying scenes from the Tale of Genji which was made in Japan and owned by Mazarin. Another chest made to order in Asia, displays the crests of Louis XIV. There are pieces once owned by members of the Orange-Nassau House, like pieces showing the intertwined initials of William and Mary.
There are beautiful embroidered or printed Indian bedspreads on show, combining traditional Indian and European images. Elsewhere, there are fragments of cloth produced in India and other Asian countries alongside cheaper European imitations. There is at least one large saucer which was made in China, sent all the way to Southern America to receive a golden rim, then dispatched to be sold in Europe.
Now priceless Indian miniatures were incorporated as part of ceiling decoration in European palaces and period homes of the rich. But Rembrandt once also owned and copied such miniatures. His copies hang along real Indian examples.
At the start of the exhibition there are small brochures available in several languages with information. The same information can be read on shields in Dutch and English throughout the exhibition. Guided tours are available and a visit to this exhibition can only be strongly recommended.