Thursday, October 08, 2015

Maritime museum, instruments and and art

The museum is divided into three sections, the west, north and east wings leading off from the central courtyard. Once back inside we decided to explore the east wing, which is dedicated to objects. 

I think mostly what I want out of any museum is an aesthetic experience. Learning and reading and lots of words generally don't really grab me much, you can do that at home before or after. Audio-guides we don't bother with, though I'm sure they are often very good, and I prefer the silent company of people plugged into then than the intrusive voices of tour guides. The use of space and light and colour is important, though it doesn't have to be anything fancy; many years ago I was so smitten with the elegant simplicity of the Cycladic art museum in Athens I almost felt I could move in and live there (don't know what it's like now, it looks rather more extensive than I remember it). However, I do like to see objects, preferably close up; often a quaint and cosy small town local history museum can be just as enjoyable, but I've been to some exhibitions which seem to be very set on impressing with lots interactive hi-tech stuff - holographic figures talking to you, projected spatial stuff, lots of touch screens etc - yet I've found myself disappointed and thinking fine, but where's the stuff?

But this section at least of the Maritime museum (we didn't bother with the more pedagogic, interactive, 'explore-and-experience-the-life-of' bits) was brilliant, with creative use of space and light and sound and electronics, but with real solid stuff a-plenty too. We went first to the navigational instruments galleries. The room was darkened midnight blue, with illuminated star maps moving over the ceiling and a low, hypnotic background sound, suggestive of waves and bells and distant voices. An open book with empty pages greeted you in a pool of light as you entered, and this is what happened when you touched it and turn the pages:

(yes, I know he's turning them backwards, I don't think it made much difference)

Then there were the transparent cases of with the instruments, from late mediaeval astrolabes to modern equipment,

most of which I just enjoyed gazing at as objects of mystery and beauty, without taking much trouble to identify their names and purposes. The things below, however, were lead weights, for taking soundings, (and swinging when one was shirking, I suppose. Better look that one up):

while these are clearly compasses:

Then there were the decorations, not only figureheads, but stern and mast decorations, tiller heads and all manner of wild, graceful, fierce, funny and sometimes downright saucy creatures and characters, enough to people a sea-going saga on their own:

(a touch of mise-en-abyme there, a ship within a ship...)

Again the sound and light murmured and shifted and changed around and on the objects.

And after that there were the paintings, dating from the early 17th century, when there were still sea monsters,

with examples in the genre of pen-paintings, which I didn't know about, executed with eye-watering detail and precision with pen and india ink on an oil paint ground,

and moments of high and luminous drama,


We only really saw a small part of the whole collection, and this is only a small part of what we saw. It really is a splendid museum. 


Catalyst said...

Not just splendid but a sensational museum. I would love to spend time there but your photos brought it to me, Lucy.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Indeed a fabulous museum and your pictures are probably better than the real thing. That book! I'd like to make one like it. And those paintings! Everything. To think that I never visited this glorious place the one and only time I was in Amsterdam.

Roderick Robinson said...

Oh joy! Now we are forever united by a length of Stephen's catgut and the obscurity of Jack's futtock-shrouds. I didn't realise the infection had taken such a hold; Rilke and Proust being mere headcolds in comparison. And there is S's condign reaction in Australia yet to come.

Were I wealthy I'd buy one of those compass roses - whatever the cost - attach the most delicate filigree platinum chain and invite you to wear it as a necklace on Trafalgar Day. In France! Sure you've integrated, but every so often you're entitled to give your neighbours a little nip of independence.

the polish chick said...

i've always felt guilty about the way i take in museums - i rarely read, i'm bored by the details (unlike mr. monkey, who reads it all, and slowly, so we always drift apart pretty quickly), i just want to take in the sights, colours, and emotions. you made me feel better about that. thank you.
i didn't have time to go to the museum - our time in amsterdam was pretty tightly filled - but now i wish i'd gone. it seems like a gorgeous atmospheric place. that book alone is a meditation! one more reason to go back, like i need any more reasons!

Lucy said...

Thanks people.

Cat - it's a fascinating place, a little away from the main centre of the city. We would certainly wholeheartedly recommend Amsterdam!

Natalie - I'm not quite sure how the book worked, a sensor and projection from above of some kind, but very clever anyway. There's so much to see in Amsterdam, I had this museum down as a possible, I think it was seeing it from the water the evening before that convinced us to go.

Robbie - 'futtock shrouds' always makes me smile. I was looking at the figureheads and other personages with a view to the characters; I though Jack was perhaps the Goldilocks fellow in plain carved wood (pics 18 & 19) and Sophie the white lady in front of him (19). The top-hatted wench with the necklace and ear-rings in picture 14 was maybe Diana. Stephen I couldn't find there, but later I thought I spied him in the guise of an 18th century gent in the room of portraits of all the apothecaries-in-chief in the hospital museum in Bruges. Not sure when Traflagar day is, but the compass pendant sounds charming!

PC - I think the sense of obligation to read and absorb all the information in museums and galleries maybe gets in the way of a lot of people's potential for enjoyment. I don't in fact find I can spend more than a couple of hours at a time in many such places, so prefer to just drift through and absorb, or maybe concentrate on a small area. I rather liked the museums in Bruges because they were sort of pocket-sized! There's so much to see in A'dam, this part of town is quite airy and open, and also houses the botanical gardens and zoo, and I think the anthropology museum isn't far off. Really though, one needs months and an hour or so a day with a museum pass for all of them. And they've all got great cafés attached too. See you there!

tristan said...

at a glance ... ! fab ! fab ! fab !

Ellena said...

Wonderful and again deserves more than just one word and I prefer Tristan's word.

Anonymous said...

I am always delighted by all those boats and nautical devices you share with your readers. And I'm glad you haven't lost your eye for the mise-en-abyme vache-qui-rit-ish details ;-)