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Hobbemastraat 21

Amsterdam

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Rijksmuseum

'The central volume of the building more closely resembles a slice of bread than a museum’, noted King Willem III on seeing the design for the late nineteenth century Rijksmuseum. It was hardly a compliment for the spiritual father of the building, architect Cuypers. But even the King of the Netherlands had to accept that Cuypers’ design had won the competition for the Rijksmuseum in 1875, with a design that gave no hint as to the building’s function.

The Rijksmuseum is built as a national exhibition building to display the work of sixteenth and seventeenth century Dutch masters. Given the high status of the project, it is hardly surprising that the building is the subject of widespread debate. There is criticism of the historicising shapes that feature in Cuyper’s design. The presentation drawings feature renaissance-style arches, neo-Gothic windows and medieval towers. One critic writing in the architectural journal ‘De Opmerker ‘decries this medley of styles as out of step with contemporary life.

However, admirers of the building offer a very different perspective. The commissioning body feels that the design celebrates a government that is a staunch proponent of culture. With its rich palette of styles the building articulates an image of Dutch civilisation that spans more than simply the Golden Age. The Rijksmuseum transcends its function as museum: it is a temple or palace for Holland’s grand national artistic tradition.

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