The Golden Age

14 December 2012 - 31 August 2013

From 13 December 2012 until 1 September 2013, the Amsterdam Museum hosted its exhibition ‘The Golden Age: The birthplace of our world’. Alongside the TV-series of the same name, which premiered on NTR/VPRO on 8 March 2013, the exhibition told the fascinating tale of the Golden Age of Amsterdam.

An era of trade, the Dutch East India Company, economic growth, wealth, silver, regents, cultural and religious diversity, flourishing science, high-quality art and the construction of the Amsterdam canals. But it was also a century of slavery and war. The Amsterdam Museum told the story of the Dutch Golden Age in stirring fashion, with the latest multimedia techniques and a treasure trove of world-class pieces by Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch, Maerten de Vos, Dirck Hals and Melchior d’Hondecoeter, to name but a few.

A society in development
The 17th century is a historical period that continues to fire the imagination and a time that is considered to form the foundations for the Netherlands as we know it today. The year 2013 saw commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the construction of the Amsterdam canal ring and the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. What better moment to spotlight this turbulent century in an exhibition and TV series? They presented a unique perspective on Dutch society in that time: a society in the midst of enormous upheaval. The exhibit highlighted the impact these changes had on politics, religion, the economy and culture and on the lives of real people, from serving maids to sailors to merchants.

Presentation of showpieces
The Amsterdam Museum told the story of the Dutch Golden Age with cutting-edge new media and world-class historical pieces. One such piece was Melchior d’Hondecoeter's ‘Palace of Amsterdam with exotic birds’, an exotic illustration of the new urban extension of Amsterdam in 1613 and the economic prosperity of the day. Alongside masterpieces such as Rembrandt van Rijn’s ‘Elsje Christiaens’ and ‘Tending the orphans’ by Jan de Bray, a number of other extraordinary pieces were on display, such as a forgotten chest filled with 17th century letters and the death mask of a Dutch general. The openness of 17th century society gave rise to an incredible variety of cultural expression, which is reflected in pieces by Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch, Maerten de Vos, Dirck Hals and many others.

Bridging past and present
The exhibition presented this bygone society as the birthplace of the Netherlands of today. The past is linked to the present at every turn. The series of contemporary portraits by photographer Hendrik Kerstens, which allude to the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, awere a particularly evocative modern echo of the olden days.

A broad and diverse education package was developed to accompany the exhibition. Visiting school pupils became better acquainted with the Golden Age through the mock contemporary newspaper ‘De Gouden Eeuw Krant’, a theatrical guided tour, flip cards, and a special tour in preparation for examinations.

Accompanying publications
Alongside the exhibition and the TV-series, a book of the same name was published by Walburg Pers penned by NTR presenter and historian Hans Goedkoop and the Head of Research, Exhibitions and Education at the Amsterdam Museum, Kees Zandvliet. This publication is still available from the Museum Shop.

More on the Golden Age in 2012/2013
In parallel with the TV-series and the Amsterdam Museum exhibition, many other such exhibitions were staged around the country, along with two special TV productions for children and a wide range of activities held in Amsterdam. These included, in particular, celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the canal belt, the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and Tsar Peter the Great’s visits to the Netherlands.