A not-very-special special and a digital gem

March 20th, 2009

The Rijksmuseum has developed a webspecial to flank their temporary exhibition of Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance normally housed at the NGA.  It briefly investigates 3 aspects of Vermeer’s painting with comparative details of the Milkmaid (Rijksmuseum), Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (Rijksmuseum) and the Woman Holding a Balance (NGA). This special is nothing special, mind you, even though it might  interest those who tip their  toes into the water for the first time.

Lest one be disappointed at a missed chance (the code and text of the project must not have required more than a few hours to put together) visitors should remember that the Rijksmuseum offers a great deal when compared with other museums which house Vermeer paintings, especially, if you know where to dig. The quality digital scans of the museums’s holdings plus the depth of collection information can be daunting. Compare for example, the digital scans of the two Vermeers in the London National Gallery which cannot be downloaded by the viewer and bear unsightly watermarks capable of souring even the staunchest Vermeer devotee.

No doubt, the best part of this special are the downloadable images readily accessible on the press release page. In particular, the hi-resolution image Woman Holding a Balance is so accurate in color and exposition that it easily betters any printed image I have ever seen, a digital gem of sorts. The shot of the exhibition installation with the Milkmaid, Woman Holding a Balance and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter is moving (see  image above photo: Jeroen Swolfs) if one recalls the time the Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance were hung together in Amsterdam in 1696 (see the post on the exhibition below).

Following the Rijksmuseum’s policy, the downloads are free for everyone and require no sworn oaths or bureaucratic sign-ups. Their heart is in the right place.


press release and images of the paintings on display:

One Response to “A not-very-special special and a digital gem”

  1. ARech

    I traveled from Germany to Amsterdam only to take the unique chance (for a common European) to see the ‘Woman Holding a Balance’, after a 200 years absence from Amsterdam re-united with its ‘sister-paintings’ ‘The Milkmaid’ and the ‘Woman in Blue Reading a Letter’, and in close companionship to their ‘relatives’, the ‘Love Letter’ and the ‘Little Street’ – a truly unique reunification. I will never forget the moment I finally stand, exhausted after a troublesome journey, in front of this highly magnificent painting, whose quietness and self-content serenity comforted and calmed me in a way only such a Vermeer can do.

    In some breaks of viewing I watched a bit the many visitors. But, to my great surprise, the great majority of them spent only or a few seconds at last in front of this outstanding masterpiece, although it is greatly and expensively announced and welcomed as ‘Our Guest from Washington’, with a special lecture by Arthur K. Wheelock, curator of the National Gallery Washington, and several special concerts and tours around its 3-months stay in Amsterdam. I frequently make this observation of only a glimpse to masterpieces on a normal visit in museums (and I know I am not alone with this observation). But in this special case I would have expected that visitors would pay more attention and appreciation for this very special guest.

    Do people have lost the ability of viewing? Do they have lost the ability to recognize a masterpiece, even that of the outstanding quality of ‘Woman Holding a Balance’, although they have gone to a museum, waited in lines and spend money certainly with the intention to view the paintings?
    Why they are apparently not aware of this unique chance they unconsciously throw away?

    I know that our habit of viewing has, unfortunately, changed within a time overloaded with thousands of fast-changing images and impressions a minute. But that so many people don’t really see such a marvelous masterpiece and make full use of a chance they probably will never get again in their life, despite of all announcement and thousands of flyers all around, that is really astonishing and difficult to understand for me.


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