High Society – this is the title of a great exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in this year's spring and summer season – literally! In this show we can admire a selection of life size and full length portraits in the Rijksmuseum's Philips Wing.
The acquisition in 2016 of Rembrandt van Rijn's only large full length portraits was the occasion for this special exhibition: Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. Both portraits were acquired by the states of the Netherlands and France together in a joint purchase. During the recent months, the paintings have been thoroughly cleaned and restored in the Rijksmuseum's restoration studio. In the current exhibition, both works are now surrounded by other life size portraits of similar monumentality, dating from the centuries before and after Rembrandt created his masterpieces.
The exhibition High Society gathers a choice of portraits in full length from international collections. In contrast to many other special exhibitions in this country, it is not limited to Dutch art. So we can admire highlights of Italian, German and English portrait painting – not only by famous artists like Lucas Cranach, Veronese, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Reynolds or Munch. We also find works by painters that are less known to the larger audience. In the case of two portrait paintings by the hand of Paolo Veronese, it has even been possible to re-unite a whole family. While mother Livia da Porto Thiene and her daughter belong to the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the painting with the portrait of her husband Iseppo da Porto and their son are at home in the Uffizi in Florence. Now in the Rijksmuseum, all four of them are joint again next to each other on the same wall. Among those who were portrayed, we encounter representatives of European (higher) nobility as well as proud Dutch citizens and military commanders, famous beauties and exotic appearances, a gynecologist with the reputation of a womanizer, a slave owner, virtuous (and less virtuous) wives, a femme fatale, an author and the director of a factory.
They all present themselves to us from tip to toe and for this occasion, are dressed up in their most magnificent outfits. Or they have themselves being immortalized in a well-thought-out fantasy costume. To underline their personality or their social position, they are furnished with attributes: We see precious jewelry, pomanders, gloves, codpieces, hats, weapons and armor, even a lion, a tobacco pouch with pipe, a cigar, a letter, flowers and fans. Especially dogs of various sorts and gloves play important roles as personal accessories. While the ladies are all dressed, some of the gentlemen dare to show more naked skin. So we come to behold male naked legs and on one occasion even a completely naked man, albeit with covered private parts.
This exhibition comprises works of art of four centuries, allowing us to take a journey through the history of fashion, as well – with the inevitable black of the clothes of Dutch burgers, tartan patterns and the revival of fashion trends from classical antiquity. Unexpected outfits appear, too. Showing off the latest fashion trends is something we would rather expect from women than from men, when it comes to having themselves immortalized in art. But in this presentation, also men know to attract attention by their choice of sometimes unusual outfits or accessories. Their clothes are often furnished with abundant embroidery, not only on a coat or jerkin, but even on silk stockings. Men wearing high heels appear to be no exception in past ages and also other decorative elements we would consider female today, can be found in male clothing of different social origin.
The exhibition is amplified by a presentation of prints about immoral pastime in high society. In these social classes as well, drinking, gambling and erotic adventures and their consequences were (and are) an evil worth being denounced, or were made fun of. For those too sensitive for visual stimuli of a special kind and those who have to respect the development of minors growing up: Here you will find a cabinet with depictions that don't leave much to the imagination or even can be considered pornographic.
The exhibition High Society in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam with life size, full length portraits will be on show until June 3rd, 2018. A visit can very nicely be combined with a private guided tour in the collection of the Rijksmuseum. Apart from guided tours along highlights or along masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age, there also is a special guided tour on portraiture in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.