Discover Rijksmuseum Art Beyond The Paintings

Last Updated: June 14, 2023

Gerrit Vandenberg

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In my previous article, I talked about 12 famous paintings in the Rijksmuseum. Today I would like to discuss Rijksmuseum Art items that are not paintings. If you’re looking for which paintings to see on your next visit, I recommend reading my other article on 12 famous paintings at the Rijksmuseum.

Logically, most attention goes to paintings at the Rijksmuseum. It is home to some of the most famous in the world, after all. Just think about the Milk Maid by Vermeer or the Night Watch by Rembrandt.

But there is a lot more to see here.

Here are 12 of my favorite art pieces you can see when you visit the museum that are not paintings.

PS: Did you know the Rijksmuseum displays 8,000 pieces (out of the nearly one million items they own) in 80 rooms?

It’s helpful to plan what you want to see to avoid overwhelm and checking out.

My Choice Of 12 Rijksmuseum Art Jewels That Are Not Paintings

Next will be my top 12 pieces of art. Of course, there are many more. Each of the 8,000 pieces at the museum has been chosen for a reason to be on display out of the 1,000,000 objects they have in their collection.

But to enjoy the museum to the fullest, it’s essential to choose.

My aim with today’s post is to do precisely that.

When you’re ready to visit, you can buy your Rijksmuseum tickets here.

Tickets sell out in advance. They are often unavailable on the day of the visit. To avoid disappointment, purchase them in advance with the link above and reserve a time slot as soon as possible to make sure you can enter the time you want.

I highly recommend visiting first thing in the day. Before 10 am, the museum is blissfully quiet. If your plans allow only for the afternoon, by all means, go, but there is no such thing as a leisurely afternoon at the Rijksmuseum since crowds will be enormous. If you have a choice, early mornings are always best.

1. The Virgin As Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows) c.1507-1510

The Virgin as Mater Dolorosa one of the 12 masterpieces of Rijksmuseum art I've selected in this article.
The Virgin as Mater Dolorosa.

The facial expression of this statue feels so real, this is the Virgin Mary, and she is mourning her son Jesus. The details on her face are unique, the bags under her eyes and her eyebrows make it so easy to identify with her and her emotions.

It always stops me in my track when you walk into this room. And right there, she is. Most people, including me, look at it, recognize that it makes you fill up with empathy, and then move on.

But there is a hidden detail I want to share with you that most people miss (99% of visitors).

You’re supposed to reverence the statue on your knees. Now if you do that, the facial expression becomes even more intriguing. If you take out your phone and turn on the flashlight, face it toward her mouth. Invisible without the extra light but now easily in view are her teeth.

Even more impressive is when you consider that this sculpture was made around 1510. That was over 500 years ago, and it is still in this beautiful state today.

You can find her in room 0.1.

2. Prayer Nuts c. 1500-1530

Prayer Nuts with its incredibly detailed carvings at the Rijksmuseum.
Prayer Nuts with its incredibly detailed carvings.

The incredible Prayer Nuts are two of my favorite non-painting items in the Museum. You need to find them first because only two are on display, and they’re tiny. And that is what makes them so gorgeous. These little balls made of boxwood are extremely finely carved – by hand! You find them right after the bust of the Virgin Mary, also in room 0.1.

Just look at them. How is that even possible? You see two biblical stories displayed. And even the most minor details are visible. I feel it’s magic. In 1500 3D printers were not exactly a thing. How can somebody achieve that?

The purpose of these prayer nuts is to aid private prayer. You would take it with you, for example, by hanging it on your belt or a prayer chain. And of course show it off, that you where able to buy such an expensive item.

3. Self Portrait Johan Gregor Van Der Schardt c. 1573-1580

Self Portrait Johan Gregor Van Der Schardt.
Self Portrait Johan Gregor Van Der Schardt.

Making a sculpture of yourself is more challenging than you might think. If you work with a model, you can walk around it or ask it to move. But Van Der Schardt sculpted himself, and how would you sculpt the back of your head? He must have used several advanced tricks with a mirror to do it. It showed off his skill level.

What I also find striking is how he looks. Typically with portraits of people from the Middle Ages, people look different. But this guy looks modern, like he is from our time, almost if you could see him at the airport next week. But he lived in the 1500s, not the 2000’s.

To see him, go to room 2.3.

4. Model of a Dutch Warship 1697

Model of a Dutch Warship at the Rijksmuseum.
Model of a Dutch Warship at the Rijksmuseum.

This model is incredible. The size of the ship is enormous, and you can see the tiniest details brought to life. Whether you’re interested in 17th-century naval warfare or not, it’s worth looking at.

This model was made by the same dockyard that produced actual warships at the time. That is why they can now say what a 17th-century warship looked like.

The ship takes a prominent role in the room it’s displayed. Take your time looking at it in detail.

PS In case you’re wondering, it’s about a 1:12 scale. It’s displayed in room 2.15.

5. Stern Carving from the Royal Charles c. 1663

Stern Carving from the Royal Charles.
Stern Carving from the Royal Charles.

In the same room as the ship model, but less obvious, is the counter from a conquered English warship, the Royal Charles. For this item, you need to look backward, above the entrance where you just came in.

In 1667 Dutch warships conquered the “Royal Charles” near London in Chatham, And the Royal Charles was not just any warship. It was their flagship and a huge embarrassment to the English when it fell to the Dutch.

The ship was towed back to the Netherlands, only to be scrapped. But the stern was kept as a trophy. And now it’s on permanent display in room 2.15 at the Rijksmuseum.

6. Doll House of Petronella Oortman c. 1686-1710

Doll House of Petronella Oortman.
Doll House of Petronella Oortman.

This object in room 2.20 always mesmerizes me (and many other visitors). The immense doll house from Petronella Oortman was commissioned in 1686.

This is not an ordinary doll house for a child. No, it’s a complete replica of an authentic canal house in Amsterdam. And no expense has been spared. The price of the doll house was 30,000 florins, equal to the cost of an actual canal house on the Herengracht at the time.

The interior contains very expensive materials like REAL marble flooring and oak wood. The Chinese porcelain (all made at exact scale, by the way) was ordered in China to be custom-made there before it was shipped back to the Netherlands by the VOC. Even the laundry material has been embroidered with Petronella’s initials.

Since this was a time when there were no photos yet, it provides a fantastic inside of how life looked like in the 17th century for the rich in Amsterdam.

7. Table Automaton Diana, Jacob Miller c. 1613-1615

Table Automaton Diana on a stag.
Table Automaton Diana on a stag.

What do you do when you have money to burn, but there are no private planes yet, fancy 7-star hotels, or a mobile phone to kill your time? You’d look for the most expensive gadgets to show off your wealth.

This object is not just a pretty object to display on a shelve. It’s a drinking cup.

After the meal was over and it was time for a drink, you could wind up the mechanism and let the stag roll around the table. Whoever it stopped in front of would be the person that could have the first drink.

The stag contained quite a bit of wine. If you didn’t want to drink that much, you could also opt for a smaller cup, the larger hunting dog.

Go to room 2.3 to see this automaton for yourself.

8. Hansel-in-the-Cellar, Fock Raerda 1669-1670

Hansel-in-the-Cellar drinking cup with a surprise.
Hansel-in-the-Cellar drinking cup with a surprise.

Do you think a gender reveal party is so this century? Well, you might need to think again because even in the Golden Age, the rich had nifty ways themselves beyond just telling what they were expecting.

This cup is extraordinary. The shield of the figure on top reveals that one needs to pour wine for the surprise to reveal itself.

Want to see it for yourself?

Get the Rijksmuseum App > Click Number at the Bottom > Type 494 > Then, when you hit Play, an audio clip is played, and a “See More” menu pops up. Click it for a video of the reveal.

You’ll find the item in room 2.12 at the museum, but bummer, you can’t add liquid to it yourself.

9. Flower Pyramid c.1692-1700

Man sized Flower Pyramid in Delft Blue.
Man-sized Flower Pyramid in Delft Blue.

Are you impressed by the flower still life paintings at the Rijks? Well, these expensive large flower bouquets had to be appropriately displayed, right?

So why not order a man-sized Delft Blue vase painted with exotic displays? Which came into swing at the end of the 17th century, and Chinese displays were all the rage.

This vase was baked in Delft and was the perfect item to display your fancy flowers in all their glory (and show off your wealth). These vases were ordered by the court of Mary (who became the queen of the Netherlands AND England).

Today these vases are extremely rare, and just a few are known to exist still. The Rijksmuseum has one complete pair; you’ll find them in room 2.22.

Every level could be filled with water, and then you put flowers in one by one. I’m sure it would have looked spectacular.

10. The Diamond of Banjarmasin c. 1875

The Diamond of Banjarmasin.
The Diamond of Banjarmasin. What to do with stolen art?

When the Dutch colonized Southern Borneo in Indonesia, they put a marionette Sultan in place who would be Dutch-minded. But the local population didn’t agree with the choice. When the Sultan could not control the region, he was exiled, and the Dutch, with violence, took control in 1859.

They declared the diamond Dutch property and shipped it to the Netherlands. Later it got cut to a rectangular 36-carat diamant. Still enormous, but it lost half its size in the process.

Today, it’s recognized that the diamond is stolen art, and now options are being discussed on what to do next. Give it back? Will it remain, but with more context? Will damages be paid to the people of Borneo or Indonesia? The answer is not sure yet.

So whether it will be on display much longer at the Rijksmuseum is unknown. It’s not often you’re able to see such a large diamond. If you have a chance to see it, do. It’s on display in room 1.17!

11. Double Decker F.K. 23 Bantam 1918

Double Decker F.K. 23 Bantam 1918.
Double Decker F.K. 23 Bantam 1918.

You’re mistaken if you think the Rijksmuseum is just about paintings and sculptures. There is an actual real-sized warplane on display at this museum. The plane was not finished in time to aid in WWI. So it was preserved and ended up 100 years later, in pristine condition, on the 3rd floor in room 3.2 of the Rijksmuseum.

Fritz Koolhoven built his first airplane in 1910. A few years later, he was hired by the British Air Force, where he designed this double-decker warplane. The plane on display is the oldest, still in its authentic condition that exists today.

12. Diorama of Zeezigt Plantation, Gerrit Schouten, c. 1815 – c. 1821

Diorama of the Plantation Zeezigt in Surinam.
Diorama of the Plantation Zeezigt in Surinam.

During the mid-1800s, nearly 800 enslaved individuals – men, women, and children – worked on the Zeezigt coffee and cotton plantation in Surinam. However, only a handful are represented in the diorama.

These figures can be seen performing various tasks, such as sweeping the coffee-drying floor, laying out the cotton to dry in the sun, and working diligently in the carpentry workshop. You see their barracks in the top right corner—a stark contradiction to the stately home of the plantation owner.

The artwork by Gerrit Schouten is made entirely of paper, including the figures. It’s not a painting but more if you’re looking into a shoebox. The details he was able to get across are impressive.

But however realistic his artworks were, they were always romantic displays of the harsh and inhumane reality. So what is realistic? See it for yourself in room 1.17.

Conclusion

Wrapping up, the Rijksmuseum is about more than just its world-famous paintings. With an incredible array of art and historical artifacts, there’s plenty to discover beyond the most popular.

From statues that feel eerily alive to the most miniature, most detailed hand carvings and a true double-decker warplane.

There is a wealth of history waiting to be explored. So, as you plan your visit, remember to look beyond the Gallery of Honor, and you’ll find a world of fascinating artifacts that will captivate and inspire you.

Make sure to download the Rijksmuseum App to have the stories and backgrounds on hand when visiting the museum.

And I would greatly appreciate it if you’d purchase your Rijksmuseum ticket through this link to support this website.

What Rijksmuseum Art (non-paintings) Activity Are You Most Curious About?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: Which item would you like to learn more about? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.

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Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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