Exhibition | Dutch Masters Revisited

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on November 5, 2019

Now on view at the Amsterdam Museum:

Dutch Masters Revisited
Amsterdam Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, 30 September 2019 — 2 February 2020

Curated by Jörgen Tjon a Fong

Humberto Tan, Ruud-Gullit as Jacob Rühle, photograph.

This fall the Amsterdam Museum wing of Hermitage Amsterdam presents Dutch Masters Revisited. Curated by Jörgen Tjon a Fong (Urban Myth), this exhibition complements the Amsterdam Museum’s permanent exhibition at Hermitage Amsterdam Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century (formerly known as Dutchmen of the Golden Age). Surrounded by the huge group portraits in the grand hall, Dutch Masters Revisited shows thirteen portraits of prominent Dutch citizens posing as people of colour who, based on historical research, are known to have lived in the 17th- and 18th-century Netherlands.

Viewing the subjects depicted in the works presented in Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century, one could easily (and erroneously) assume that at the time the Netherlands’ entire population was white. After all, everyone included in these group portraits is white. But while they may not be depicted in these works, the city of Amsterdam was also home to people of colour. White people and people of colour have been living together in the Netherlands for centuries. And in the 17th and 18th centuries, Amsterdam in particular was a home to people from all corners of the globe.

Theatre maker Jörgen Tjon A Fong, who curated Dutch Masters Revisited notes: “I was amazed to discover this vibrant community of people with non-Western roots living in 17th-century Amsterdam. They could be found in all walks of life. A lot of people aren’t aware of this. So far, these individuals’ stories have been left untold. It’s important that we start doing so—to paint a more complete picture of our past. In the photo exhibition Dutch Masters Revisited various historical people of colour who so far have remained hidden from view are given a face. By doing so, this part of our history can become visible to all citizens of Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands.”

In Dutch Masters Revisited, prominent Dutch people of colour—including footballer Ruud Gullit, rapper Typhoon, comedian/presenter Jörgen Raymann, singer Berget Lewis, politician Sylvana Simons, and hospitality tycoon Won Yip—take on the role of historical Dutch citizens of colour. Photographers Humberto Tan, Ahmet Polat, Stacii Samidin, and Milette Raats portrayed their well-known sitters in the style of Rembrandt and his contemporaries, against the backdrop of special locations like the Rijksmuseum, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Museum van Loon, Hortus Botanicus, and the Amsterdam Museum’s own building.

The sitters have certain things in common with the individuals they portray. For example, Humberto Tan has photographed footballer Ruud Gullit in the role of Jacob Rühle (1751–1828). Jacob Rühle was the son of WIC employee and slave trader Anthony Rühle and the African woman Jaba Botri. In 1798 the fabulously wealthy Jacob moved to Amsterdam. Here, he eventually headed the family business—with great success. Like Ruhle, Ruud Gullit is the son of a white and a black parent. Dutch Masters Revisited puts a face to Rühle’s name, telling his story together with twelve other people of colour who lived in the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Since November 2014, the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum have jointly presented the largest collection of group portraits in the world, in the permanent exhibition Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century at Hermitage Amsterdam. Displayed on the walls of an impressive grand hall, these group portraits of Amsterdam militiamen and regents form the heart of a presentation dealing with life in the Dutch cities and towns of the 17th century. In this setting, the thirteen photo portraits of 17th-century people of colour enter into dialogue with the group portraits, which feature exclusively white men and women.

The grand hall at the Hermitage Amsterdam, where the Amsterdam Museum’s ‘Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century’ is on display; it was formerly called the ‘Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age’ (Photo by Joel Frijhoff, via Amsterdam Museum).

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Nina Siegal recently wrote about the installation and its larger context in the article, “A Dutch Golden Age? That’s Only Half the Story,” The New York Times (25 October 2019).

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