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The Chase of Rembrandt’s Chiaroscuro and Vermeer’s Light

Enter : 16:52
Out : 18.00
Date : July 15, 2007
Place : Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I firmly believe that it is madness to spend an hour running on treadmill because I simply feel like a hamster inside a cage. I also firmly believe it is impossible to see a museum in an hour. You learn nothing in one hour. In Rijks, I learn I made a wrong personal statement. You can learn a lot in an hour.

With my untrained stamina in the field of fast-pace walk, sandwich stop and posing in front of touristy gigantic red “IAMSTERDAM” sign (couldn’t help it. I’m a sucker for cool kitsch), I made it to Rijks. A very nice guard, an Indian sikh, inside the booth took my museumkaart and kindly asked me about my origin. When I said Bali, he beamed up to me and threw an ear-to-ear smile, “I’ve been there”. At that moment, I was utmostly proud of my heritage, of my island, my country. So he launched into three minutes monologue on how he loves Bali and felt most welcomed there. He also introduced me into his buddy next booth (whom was his brother) and informed me about the Indian lady who checked my bag in the entrance. “She’s my sister-in-law”, he said, deserved to be proud. I would call that a positive nepotism. I put my hand together and said namaste. I had a good hunch that I would have a good time inside.

Rijks was under–renovation at that moment, which perhaps benefited me since I didn’t have to walk aroud the huge building to see the highlights. So after a careful study of the map, I walked in quick-step (not the dance) around the ground floor where they exhibited treasures from the Golden Age of 17th century Netherland*, such as doll house (with detailed fresco on the dining room wall where petit porcelain polly pocket dolls sit to have tea, drinked from white-and-blue delft porcelain), gold tablewares, delftwares and many more.

I climbed a staircase and arrived in gallery of Frans Hals (who?) and at last entered the world of a maestro named Rembrandt van Rijn. He was Elvis for Dutch painting scene, since they both are famous with only the forename. In the first gallery was paintings by Rembrandt and his students and after that a room for late works of him. I think what I find profoundly beautiful in his dark mood canvases is the light. It seems like giving glimmer of hope and spotlighting the very essence of his painting. He also uses alegories and symbolism which I sadly don’t understand much.

Next room was Vermeer. My memory of him, of what I have of him, would always be a long haired Colin Firth. Blast! I wish I hadn’t seen the movie. I am still mesmerized by his work, even in a shape of small postcard glued in wall beside me. I don’t have the right words for his paintings except beautiful. More than just a figure of woman doing mundane, daily task. More than interior of 17th century Dutch houses with light flooding through opened window. It was graceful, intimate and understanding. At that point, I was imagining Colin Firth gaze at me behind his easel with that romantic dark eyes. Sigh.

And there it was. Nachtwacht. It took my breath away, for its vastness and liveliness. It seemed everyone in the museum gather in that room. I savored every details. Beam of light on each figure’s face. Richness of detail in a man’s attire, subtle gold. And the only lady in the painting, her whole being is glowing tenderly yet with fright on her child-like face. I wish I could stand closer. I wish I was alone in that room, far, far, from watchful eyes of a sitting guard in the corner. I felt an ardent desire to touch it, to feel the light with my fingers. One can only see clearly with the heart, what is essential is invisible to the eye, said Le Petit Prince to me once. I saw Rembrandt’s “Nachtwacht” with my heart.

My heavy foot walked sluggishly to the shop. Staring almost tearfully at glossy illustrated books on the shelf, wishing with all my heart that at that moment, I have all the money in the world and turned away. I stole few precious minutes back in the ground floor before a curteous voice boomed through speaker, asking us to leave. How I hate that voice!

I sat on a wooden bench near the gate. Staring idly into the green of carefully kept garden, into a vain stone lady and brick walled façade. I checked on my map, trying to find some place, any place where I can rest my tired feet and fill my empty stomach. I climbed up into a tram passing by and let myself lost in Amsterdam.

It was exhausting to read map sometimes and so I gazed out the glass window as well as the people sitting around me. I felt glimpse of sun rays creeping into the tram, rested upon their tired faces. People who might just finished another day at work. People who were so lucky to live and gaze at those beautiful house everyday and anytime could walk into Rijksmuseum. They can catch Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro and Vermeer’s light anytime, everytime.

Vondelpark, said a feminine computerized voice. Instinctively, I stepped down there. I wonder why.

*Around the same time when J.P. Coen en his entourage arrived in Java, chucked the ruling monarchy with bloody war, imported slaves from all around the world to planted spices, put them on board and sold them in every major European countries for the next three-and-a-half centuries. Oh and it is called colonialization.

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