Exploring Holland from abroad: Dutch museums

Only a couple of weeks ago we were free to travel and to explore foreign countries, yet now – due to COVID-19 / the corona virus – most of us have returned home and are confined to a much more limited space. For this reason I have decided to write a series of blogs about exploring Holland from abroad, kicking off with virtual museums in Holland. After all, there are many possibilities to see the collections of Dutch museums online. (Even in better times!)

Travel advice during the COVID-19 or corona virus outbreak
At this moment the Netherlands is in an almost  complete lock down. Museums, restaurants, bars, everything is closed. Postpone your visit to a later date. I will keep you posted!

Are you confined to your home now? Did you perhaps have to cancel your trip to the Netherlands? Or have you come here anyway and did you find out that Dutch museums have been closed for the time being? Not all is lost! There are opportunities to visit virtual museums in Holland and to explore the collections of the Dutch museums online. Though of course this isn’t the same as seeing a painting for real, there is a huge advantage to discovering art from home: you don’t have to stand in line for a ticket, you don’t have to fight your way through a crowd to catch just a glimpse of a famous painting and it’s free! A few ideas.

1) Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum is I guess the most iconic museum of the Netherlands. It owns a huge amount of paintings, objects and works on paper, most of them by Dutch artists from the 17th and 18th centuries. Think of famous guys like Rembrandt as well as of artists unknown to most of us. The museum presents its collection on its own amazing website and cooperates in the Google Arts & Culture project.

This massive project by Google aims to make art and museums worldwide accessible to all. They even offer a possibility to take a virtual tour through the museum. Without any other visitors! So even to me – and I have visited the “real” museum several times – this was a new experience. No crowds around the famous paintings.

2) Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Another enormously popular museum in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum. It has become so popular that nowadays they work with time slots and pre-booked tickets to control the crowds a bit. I can tell you from experience though that this museum is sometimes busy beyond the reasonable and that it takes a lot of patience to be able to see your favorite artworks undisturbed.

So how amazing is it that they work with the Google Arts & Culture project too! Like the Rijksmuseum they offer the possibility to virtually walk through the museum and to zoom in on the different artworks.

3) Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

We’ll stick to Amsterdam for a final idea: a virtual visit to the Anne Frank house. I must admit that you do need to pay a real life visit to this place to fully experience the locked-up feeling of the cramped space where Anne and her family hid during the war. Still, I think their virtual tour is beautifully done, with a lot of options to zoom in on objects and with links to educational video’s in English.

4) Nijenhuis castle near Zwolle

We’re leaving Amsterdam and head towards Zwolle, the capital of Overijssel province. Zwolle houses the remarkable Fundatie Museum. This museum has a second location outside of town, in a castle! It’s called Nijenhuis castle. Don’t think of a classic castle, rather of a fortified mansion or manor house surrounded by a moat. This kind of castle is typical to the eastern regions of the Netherlands. Would you like to take a look inside such a castle? Then take the virtual tour!

5) Jewish virtual museum

The Jewish virtual museum is a project started by a private collector of judaica. Before World War II a lot of Jewish people lived in the Netherlands, many of them descendants of Jewish refugees coming from Spain and Portugal in the 17th century. There was a rich Jewish tradition in the Netherlands, highlighted by for example the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. That’s not accessible online though, so I was glad to find this interesting alternative! I must admit that their website is clearly still work in progress!

6) The Vermeer Project

Johannes Vermeer is one of the famous Dutch 17th century painters and well known for his depiction of light. His small collection of artwork has in the course of the centuries been spread all over the world and is now brought together again – virtually – by the Google Arts and Culture project.

The collection contains paintings from several Dutch museums such as Mauritshuis in The Hague and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, as well as paintings that have ended up in other countries. A lot of interesting information about these paintings has been added.

7) Zuiderzee museum, Enkhuizen

The Zuiderzee museum in Enkhuizen is an open air museum. It contains buildings from villages all around the former Zuiderzee in the Netherlands. The Zuiderzee was once a sea and is a huge artificial lake since the 1930’s, when a huge dike was built to prevent the coastal villages from devastating floods. See my previous blogs on Monnickendam and Elburg.

Though life in the coastal villages became much safer since then, it was also the end of an era as most of these villages depended heavily on salt water fishery. The Zuiderzee museum tries to preserve their heritage. As this is an open air museum you can walk through it virtually and admire the old houses from the fishing villages by means of the streetview functionality of Google Maps.

8) Voerman museum, Hattem

Sometimes tiny museums surprise me. While some of the bigger museums don’t make use of modern communication methods at all and have websites that are nothing more than a digital leaflet, a tiny museum such as the Voerman museum in Hattem – a tiny town in the east of Holland – offers a full virtual tour of their museum and collection. Praise to them!

Hattem is a small town along the river IJssel in the east of the Netherlands. A long time ago, in the late Middle Ages, Hattem was a trading town that was a member of the mighty Hanseatic League. At the time, this place must have been bustling with traders. Now it is a cute sleepy little town (even without COVID-19 quarantaine). The museum is housed in two historic town houses and its collection focuses on local history and art. The virtual tour is your chance to take a look inside this lovely little museum. Though the instructions are in Dutch you can easily follow the blue arrows and find your way through the building. (Tip: remove the little pop-up and click on the blue arrow in front of the entrance)

Other portals to Dutch museums

Other virtual museum collections in Holland: take a look at Museum TV for video’s about recent exhibitions in Dutch museums and galleries. Though most of the video’s are in Dutch, some have English subtitles. And of course you can spend entire days browsing the Google Arts & culture website. Check out all collections in the Netherlands.

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