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The Dutch, who were expert seafarers and skilled mapmakers, developed a far-flung colonial empire and achieved prosperity unparalleled in the 1600s. This economic Golden Age was matched by an explosion of creativity in art. Of the many great artists that rose to prominence in this period, Johannes (Jan) Vermeer (1632-1675), remains by far the most mysterious. Born in Delft, where he spent the entirety of his relatively short life, on his death he left behind a remarkably small oeuvre of about 35 paintings, which is perhaps the reason that history was so swift to forget him until his eventual ‘rediscovery’ in the 19th century. In the spring of 2023, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, in collaboration with the Mauritshuis in The Hague, will present the largest retrospective of Vermeer’s work to date, uniting masterpieces on loan from around the world. Perhaps most exciting is the new research both museums are currently undertaking, which will shed new light on Vermeer’s artistry, his compositional motivations and his creative processes. This tour is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk in the footsteps of one of history’s most enigmatic masters and examine the fullest assemblage ever achieved of Vermeer’s exquisite legacy.
Clare Ford-Wille is an independent art historian. She has led study tours to Europe and lectured on European art, architecture and sculpture for more than thirty years, primarily for the University of London, the National Gallery, the V&A and NADFAS. She has also contributed to several academic guides.
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Morning Eurostar from London St Pancras to Amsterdam. On arrival, transfer by private coach to Haarlem, our base for the duration of the tour. After some time to settle in to our 4-star hotel, walk around the nearby Grote Markt and then to the Frans Hals Museum, which will offer us the marvellous opportunity to examine the work of one of Vermeer’s best-known contemporaries. Return to our hotel before a group dinner in the evening.
A day in Amsterdam, our focus being the Rijksmuseum’s landmark Vermeer exhibition. The impressive number of artworks on international loan, coupled with their enormous fragility, will make this an unprecedented event. Paintings on display will include The Girl with a Pearl Earring (The Mauritshuis, The Hague), The Geographer (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main), Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid (The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Woman Holding a Balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). There will also be time to explore some of the other treasures of the Rijksmuseum collection, such as Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and The Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen by Frans Hals. Return to Haarlem for an evening at leisure.
Before making our way to Delft, we visit the Grote Kerk, the enormous mediaeval Gothic church which dominates the city skyline. The sumptuously decorated Müller organ, dating from 1738, dominates the interior and is one of the most depicted instruments in the world. Then a morning in Delft to explore the city in which Vermeer lived and worked. Our first visit is to the Nieuwe Kerk, which pierces the sky with its impressive Gothic tower. It has been the final resting place for all Dutch monarchs since the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. On the other side of Delft Market Square is the Oude Kerk; notable for its leaning tower and lovely stained glass, it also contains the tomb of Vermeer. After a short break for coffee, we head for the Museum Prinsenhof Delft, which will be hosting a temporary exhibition exploring the relationship between Vermeer and his city. After an independent lunch in the museum, transfer by private coach to The Hague to visit the Mauritshuis Museum, which is located in a handsome 17th-century house. Usually home to The Girl with a Pearl Earring, the museum contains several other masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age, such as The Goldfinch by Fabritius and Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp. Return to Haarlem.
Utrecht and Leiden are both university towns, the former of the country’s largest, the latter of the country’s oldest. Leiden was Rembrandt’s birthplace and the Lakenhal Museum, which houses some of his earliest works, will be our first visit today. Before departing Leiden, there will be time to visit the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in Western Europe. The Clusius Garden, named after founder Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) is an interesting reconstruction of the garden’s earliest appearance. Continue to Utrecht, which has preserved its Golden Age appearance. Its Centraal Museum has an excellent collection of works by Utrecht Caravaggisti, such as Gerit van Honthorst and Hendrick ter Brugghen. Return to Haarlem for an evening at leisure.
Check out of our hotel after breakfast and bid farewell to Haarlem. Transfer to Amsterdam, where there will be time for two final visits before the tour concludes. At the Rembrandt House Museum, the artist’s former home contains recreations of his living quarters and studio space, alongside an almost complete collection of Rembrandt etchings. Some free time to explore Dam Square and enjoy an independent lunch before the second visit to the charming Our Lord in the Attic Museum. In this beautifully preserved example of a 17th-century canal house, narrow corridors and winding stairs lead up through living quarters decorated in the period style to a complete church in the attic. Commissioned by a wealthy Catholic merchant in the 1660s, the church provided a secret space for Catholic worship at a time when the city was governed by Protestant rule. Transfer to the station for our afternoon Eurostar to London St Pancras.