How small they were, those suits of armor. How diminutive were the heroes that defended the realm and bore that metallic outer layer upon their arms and chests. Marching, marching — doing what was expected of them.
I was surprised when I stood quite close to several of the exhibits and realized that the men who wore those metal suits were, in many cases, quite a bit smaller of frame and shorter of stature than most contemporary 20th or 21st century women. And these tiny men fought quite furious battles on land and sea to conquer lands or defend their homes. They were certainly smaller than I am and I’m not a very big person at 5 and 1/2 feet tall.
Perhaps it was the gloomy palette of the winter day outside and the icy-gusty rain, but between the paintings and exhibits of military life or the life aboard a sailing ship in both the Rijksmuseum yesterday afternoon and the Amsterdam Historisch Museum today, I experienced a strong sense of sadness for those lives that may have had intense boredom or bodily discomfort layered into their daily existence. I actually shuddered at one particularly vivid picture of two ships, side by side, engaged in a fiery, bloody battle. None of it seemed remotely stirring or the least bit grand or glamorous.
Our afternoon at the Rijksmuseum was quite pleasant in spite of the mid-winter crowds and it was marvelous to revisit the work of Rembrandt after two decades, see his evolution as a painter, and compare the work of his contemporaries.
For me personally, the most enjoyable parts of our visit to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum were the fine wooden carvings that were displayed on the exterior of buildings during the 15th through 17th centuries and the exhibits on daily life in Amsterdam. There were cross sections of model houses that showed how the citizens of this city lived in various eras and set-ups of entire period rooms.
Some of the exhibits were both difficult to view and eerily fascinating at the same time. We had walked through room after room, era after era until we reached the top floor of this large museum and we came upon an entire series of displays that illustrated what life was like for Amsterdam citizens during the 5 year long German occupation of World War II. It was compelling viewing and I have included a few photos below of propaganda posters that can be enlarged if you click on them.
This is a particularly comprehensive one-city-only historical museum that is housed in a splendidly large building. The exhibits are quite easy to understand, even if you don’t speak a word of Dutch! In fact, almost all of the museum has both Dutch and English captioning. A visit to this museum is a highly recommended way to spend several hours in Amsterdam.
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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