Riches of Dutch History Return to Rijksmuseum
A man looks at Dutch master Johannes Vermeer's The Milkmaid painting (oil on canvas, circa 1660) during a press preview of the renovated Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, Thursday April 4, 2013. The Rijksmusuem, home of Rembrandt's Night Watch and other national treasures, is preparing to reopen its doors on April 13, 2013 after a decade-long renovation. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of the Netherlands, is finally set to reopen to the public, with Rembrandt van Rijn's masterpiece "The Night Watch" reclaiming its place of pride.
The giant painting hangs in the same central position it did before an epic, decade long, €375 million ($480 million) makeover, flanked by works by Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and thousands of other Dutch cultural and artistic artifacts.
In a preview Thursday ahead of the April 13 reopening, Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes said the far-reaching improvements will justify the long wait.
"It's totally changed, renewed, improved, radiant — everything is new," he said.
The Rijksmuseum houses the largest collection of Dutch artwork, with many treasures from the country's 17th-century Golden Age and beyond.
The 19th-century building's red-brick exterior, which resembles a fairy-tale castle, has been restored but left intact. Inside, twin central courtyards that had been gradually filled with extra floors as the museum grew over the years have been reclaimed. The clutter has been stripped away to let natural light flood into the center of the museum.
Journalists take pictures and video footage as dignitaries including museum director Wim Pijbes, center, pose in front of Dutch master Rembrandt's The Night Watch painting during a press preview of the renovated Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, Thursday, April 4, 2013. The Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandt's Night Watch and other national treasures, is preparing to reopen its doors on April 13 2013 after a decade-long renovation. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Despite reopening the courtyard, the museum preserved as much exhibition space as before by reclaiming some areas which had been used for offices.
From hand-painted details on every pillar, to newly laid mosaic floors and stained glass windows, to revitalizing the displays themselves, every part of the museum has been restored or rethought.
Pijbes said that almost never has a national museum undergone such a far-reaching facelift, with every single one of the 8,000 artifacts and pieces of art on display coming to rest in a different spot — with one exception: "The Night Watch" itself.
That enormous canvas — 4.35 meters wide and 3.79 meters high (14.86 x 12.43 feet) — portrays a company of Amsterdam volunteer militiamen. It stands at the end of the museum's central gallery, just as it did in the original 1885 design by architect Pierre Cuypers.
The painting's placement reflects Dutch history, a crowning achievement of the Golden Age when the Netherlands was a major naval power and Amsterdam was one of the world's most influential and wealthy cities.