Longer articles about living in the Netherlands, Dutch society, culture and travel plus third party content from our partners


Signed, sealed, undelivered: 300-year-old letters reveal secret lives

Signed, sealed, undelivered: 300-year-old letters reveal secret lives

In 1926, a chest containing 2,600 letters dating from between 1689 and 1706 was bequeathed to the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague. As many as 600 remained unopened. Now an international team of researchers is busily reading what is in them, writes Hanneke Sanou. Reading other people’s letters is usually frowned upon and researcher David van der Linden, one of the project leaders, has admitted reading the letters has made him feel something of a ‘voyeur’ at times. The letters contain gossip and scandal but also tell of political turmoil and heartbreak. ‘Many of the letters were written by Huguenots, persecuted French Protestants who fled to the Netherlands and so became separated from their families. They were writing to say how much they missed each other. But there are also love letters refused by the intended recipients, and an order list from a book seller. I happened to know the titles that were on them, they were pornographic books,’ Van der Linden says. Undelivered and unclaimed, these so-called dead letters were kept in a linen-lined leather chest waterproofed with sealskin where they remained, perfectly preserved, for the next three hundred years. The prudent owner of the chest was Frenchman Simon de Brienne. In 1676 De Brienne became postmaster of The Hague and assumed responsibility for the postal traffic to and from France, the southern Netherlands and Spain. Postmasters were highly regarded and well-remunerated in those days. Their task was to keep records and hire postilians to transport the letters. De Brienne, a self-styled lord used to moving in royal circles, was chamberlain and confidant to stadtholder Willem van Nasssau, Prince of Orange. Contrary to normal practice De Brienne didn’t destroy the letters that were refused (the postmaster would write ‘Wil niet hebben’ or ‘unwanted’ on the back of the letter) or otherwise undeliverable. Instead he put them in his ‘piggy bank’, as he called it. Postage and delivery charges were paid by the recipient and De Brienne expected to profit from them at a later date. Not all letters that came back went unread, however. People went to some lengths to get out from under the charges. The most important message in the letter would be written on the outside by the sender so the recipient could read it at a glance and then refuse to take receipt – and pay. The contents of the letters are opening a window on what were turbulent times in Europe and senders and recipients, aware of the safety implications of exchanging confidential letters, employed an ingenious security method known as letter locking. By dint of some 17th century origami the letter effectively became its own envelope. Any tampering with the intricate folding of the letter would show immediately. The folding was also highly personalised and functioned as something of a signature. The collection includes letters from aristocrats, spies, merchants, publishers, actors, musicians, barely literate peasants and highly educated people with beautiful handwriting, and are written in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Latin, the Guardian reported. In order to preserve and study the letter locking method, the 600 unopened letters will be perused using a powerful CT scanner. ‘Old letters are usually flattened and filed but that means the folds will fade over time and then we can no longer tell how it was folded. We still want to know what’s in them so we’ve turned to the same method used to decipher the Dead Sea scrolls,' says Van der Linden. 'But because of the many twists and turns the scanner has to make, the letters present a more complex challenge, and a more expensive one,’ Van der Linden says. The team have their work cut out: paper, postal marks, matching enclosures, seals and hands will also be scrutinised. Once all the letters have been digitised, transcribed and edited they will be published on the museum’s website. Already on show in the museum are De Brienne’s administrative documents, including the bills of the postilions who carried the letters. The project, titled Signed, Sealed & Undelivered, is a partnership between researchers from five leading universities — Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Universities of Leiden, Groningen and Oxford — and the Museum voor Communicatie.  More >


Dutch theatre groups wake up to an international audience

Dutch theatre groups wake up to an international audience

With more internationals living in the Netherlands than ever and staying longer than before, Dutch theatre groups are seeking to engage international audiences on their own turf. Esther O’Toole reports. Walk through Amsterdam centre on any given day and you are likely to hear as many people speaking a foreign language as speaking Dutch, and they’re not all tourists. Hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch nationals have made the Netherlands their home. Culture and entertainment groups are getting wise to the fact that there is this new permanent audience with plenty of disposable cash, time to explore and an eclectic taste. In theatre, for instance, accessibility has become a higher priority and theatre companies are looking for new ways to engage the diverse international community. Toneelgroep Amsterdam Toneelgroep Amsterdam is the largest theatre company in the country and has long offered weekly performances with English surtitles on Thursdays, though this still isn’t widely known. In order to get the word out about these and in an effort to try and entice more international residents through their doors, they’ve recently begun a series of complimentary programmes, in English, that run alongside their normal productions. Last month a Sunday afternoon performance of Medea was kicked off by a breakdown of Dutch theatre history by a Groningen University theatre professor and a comic take on ‘the dos and don’ts’ of visiting the theatre from Dutch-American stand-up Greg Shapiro. Karlijn Mofers has been heading up the programme for the group: ‘This is what we do best’ she said. ‘We tour the world and perform in Dutch, with surtitles. The actors use of language is their strong point. We want to be able to capitalise on that whilst making our productions more accessible to an international audience here in Amsterdam. We’re also under the impression that people may need more from us to understand Dutch theatre.’ The next international programme will complement their show The Hidden Force on Monday 11th January. ‘I guess I was hoping to get an insight into why the Dutch theatre is so director-orientated – as I’ve been led to believe,’ said Kristine Johansson, a literature professor originally from the US. Alajandro Mondragon (originally from Mexico) was keen to see ‘what the largest theatre might have to offer.’ ‘So far it’s been really good for us, we really enjoy theatre but don’t speak Dutch and it’s hard to find performances in English,’ added his wife, Alline Pẽna. Mofers says the Toneelgroep does not have plans to add English language shows to their repertoire at the moment, preferring to play to their strengths. These expat programmes are a simple and effective way to open their doors to international residents. Additionally, they are becoming more international by bringing in top notch directors from around the world, to work collaboratively on producing new work in Dutch. English language productions Throughout the country smaller international theatre groups are taking root. Performing in English with professionally trained international actors, groups such as STET, based in The Hague, Mezrab storytelling centre and Orange Tea Theatre (who both work out of Amsterdam) are forming small but loyal followings. ‘Though we perform our work in English, we feel our company and work reflect our modern, global world’ said Lora Mander the co-founder of Orange Tea, which focuses on new writing. Elske van Holk, who spent time in Britain at the renowned Southwark Playhouse and now heads up STET, has a very collaborative approach to producing. ‘We like to help each other. We’re hoping to set up a small touring circuit soon. Though we get visitors from around the country to our shows it would be great to take work to the growing expat communities in Eindhoven and Groningen for instance.’ So what should companies such as these do to increase their appeal to internationals? New approaches Teunkie van der Sluijs is a director who has trained and worked in both Britain and the Netherlands. His company, DubbelAgent, focuses on bringing work from one country to the other and cross-border collaboration. Having worked extensively around the world he had this advice for theatre makers looking to engage broad international audiences. ‘What works in one culture, and how one culture works, might not apply to another. But the tension between the two can create wonderful results. And never assume that everyone everywhere will just (want to) speak English.’ Old favourites Currently resident director on Anne, the stellar Dutch language musical based on the diaries of Anne Frank, Van der Sluijs also pointed to digital innovations coming into vogue. For instance, visitors to Anne can use a tablet computer mounted on the seat in front of them to follow the show in eight different languages, either through surtitles or dubbing. Other methods are on show at Royal Theatre Carré where world music stars, such as Turkish ‘pop diva’ Sezan Aksu, together with massive events like the World Christmas Circus, seek to entice a local audience as well as temporary visitors. Later this month, the original English cast, including Jason Donovan, will be on stage performing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. ‘Language no problem’ shows are also becoming more visible, as the recent programme at The Hague's De Betovering (the Enchantment) festival testifies. Further information Toneel Groep Amsterdam Carre (information in English) Anne is on until the end of 2015   English language theatre STET, the English theatre Orange Tea Theatre InPlayers (Amsterdam's oldest English language theatre group) Queen's English Theatre Company Mezrab International Theatre in English Rotterdam English Speaking Theatre Mike's Badhuis Theatre   (Amsterdam)   French-language theatre L’Autre pays du théâtre (4-5 productions from France a year) Alliance française de La Haye (2-3 French language productions) Amateur groups include: GEST, Le Coq et la Tulipe, Compagnie Avalanche of Alliance Française, Les Bandits du grand Moulin, and Compagnie Coup de Théâtre, part of the Institut Français Amsterdam,  We are compiling a list of foreign language and surtitled theatre in the Netherlands. If you know of an initiative which should be included, please email editor@dutchnews.nl  More >


Ten things you didn’t know about prime minister Mark Rutte

Ten things you didn’t know about prime minister Mark Rutte

Last week, women's magazine Margriet published a special issue devoted to the Dutch prime minister, who was the latest in a long line of illustrious guest editors. Who is he and does his eternal smile hide a perhaps even jollier personality? And why is he still single? Here are 10 things we now know about Mark Rutte. 1 Mark Rutte is one of seven - his oldest (step) brother is 35 years older than him. He was a fractious five-year-old and, rumour has it, he still has a bit of a temper. This is denied – calmly - by the prime minister who says he only ‘slams the door twice a year and then pokes his head around to say sorry’. 2 Mark Rutte does not have a ‘teflon layer’ which allows him to shrug things off, no matter what his political opponents throw at him. Rutte says he is just as sensitive as the next person. 3 Mark Rutte is a 'happy single'. When asked about the conspicuous absence of a significant other in his life, the prime minister says he might have ‘a wife and kids’ one day. But not just yet. 'The most important thing to ask is "am I happy with how I live at the moment?" And I am,' he says. 4 Rutte says he will not be a politican forever. He spent 10 years in industry before going into politics and now spends one morning a week teaching Dutch and Civics at a nearby secondary school. 5 Mark Rutte likes his political opponents. His real friends, however, all date from before his political career and are not interested in the VVD. But, typically, he likes all his colleagues, especially the SP’s Emile Roemer. ‘He has integrity. And so does everyone in politics.’ 6 Mark Rutte’s favourite film is Milos Forman’s Hair from 1979. The film – about the Vietnam war - was made when he was twelve but Rutte was a precocious boy who started becoming interested in politics at a young age. 7. He uses an old Nokia to send text messages, blaming his big thumbs for making it hard to use a smart phone. 8 His favourite television programme is De Wereld Draait Door, the daily tv chat show hosted by Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, on which he has been a guest on occasion. 9 Mark Rutte’s favourite classical music include Mozart’s String quartet no 4, part 1 ‘Allegro’, Brahm’s clarinet quartet, opus 115 – part II, ‘Adagio’ and Franz Schubert’s ‘Gute Nacht’. 10. But when it comes to something more modern, you might find him belting out U2's Beautiful Day or Uptown Funk from Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars. Previous Margriet guest editors have included princess Laurentien, Marco Borsato, Job Cohen and Jamie Oliver.    More >


How to buy a house in the Netherlands

How to buy a house in the Netherlands

Finding somewhere to live is one of the most difficult issues expats in the Netherlands have to deal with. Buying a home is certainly an option and may be even more interesting than renting. But there are conditions attached and customised advice is essential. ‘Did you know that the procedure for buying a house here is different from the way it is abroad? In other countries, you often need to apply for a mortgage before you start to look for a house. But in the Netherlands, it’s the other way around,’ says Susan Mulders, mortgage advisor at ABN AMRO International Clients in The Hague. It is exactly these differences between countries and clients that make Susan's work so varied. ‘You have to deal with new clients, new situations and new houses every time. It’s wonderful to look at Funda together with the client. I really do everything I can to ensure that they actually can buy their dream home,’ she says enthusiastically. Together with six colleagues Susan mans the ABN AMRO office in the Shell headquarters in The Hague. Most of her clients work there. ‘For them it’s ideal to be able to come along with financial questions during working hours.' Foreign languages Shell’s employees come from many different countries, including England, India, the United States, Germany, France and Russia. So naturally its useful that ABN AMRO International Clients Desk staff have a lot of experience in looking after international clients and are able to talk to them in English or some other foreign language. 'The reasons why they drop in at our office vary enormously, from replacing a bank card and taking out insurance, to mortgage advice, which is my own specific field,' Susan says. 'I arrange the mortgage and advise on everything that surfaces during the purchase of a house. I also discuss subjects like insurance and pensions with clients. I certainly know what it’s necessary to know, but if something like this really needs to be arranged, a colleague who specialises in such matters will get in touch with the client. All of us here are experts on expats, but we each have our own field.’ Different laws and regulations Every country has its own laws and regulations, including when it comes to buying a house and this is where expert knowledge comes in. ‘Most clients are highly educated and are clued up about financial matters. But exactly what the rules are on buying a property in the Netherlands, that’s a different story, Susan says. 'And that also applies to opening a bank account or taking out insurance, for example. That’s why advice is so important, and in a language you understand. 'Many of my colleagues here and elsewhere in the Netherlands have lived and worked abroad themselves. We therefore know from experience the obstacles that expats encounter. What is difficult, what is different? And also how we can smooth the way for them. I have noticed that clients appreciate this awareness and attention. When a client is happy that makes you feel good, too. Then you cycle home with a smile on your face. Deposits One of the biggest differences between buying a house in other countries and the Netherlands is the size of the deposit, you need. 'In England, for example, you must first put down a sizeable deposit before you can raise a mortgage on your prospective home,' Susan says. 'So clients are often pleasantly surprised that in the Netherlands you can borrow up to 103% of a property’s market value. This means that for many, their dream home is no castle in the air. What’s more, here they can often also pay all the associated costs with taking out a mortgage as well. 'That clients get more than they had expected is of course wonderful,' Susan says. 'I would therefore like to say to expats: just come along to International Clients and speak to me or another mortgage advisor without any obligation. We are experts on expats and will do everything we can to make you feel at home here. In your own Dutch home.’ A quick look at the financials If a house costs, say € 350,000, the maximum amount you can borrow under current Dutch rules is 103% or € 360,500. There are also costs associated with taking out a mortgage. Transfer tax, 2% of purchase price will be €7,000. On top of this will come legal fees of around €1,500 and the bank's consultancy fee of, say, €750. Added up, the costs come to € 9,550 which when subtracted from the mortgage, still leave € 350,950 - enough to cover the purchase price of the property (€ 350,000) plus any unforeseen expenses. What conditions does an expat have to meet? At least six months’ residence in the Netherlands Permanent employment contract or Letter of intent* or Details of income in the past three years * In a letter of intent, the employer declares that subject to the employee continuing to perform satisfactorily and the company circumstances remaining unchanged, the employer intends to change the employee’s employment contract into a permanent employment contract.  More information? Please visit abnamro.nl/house. Or call: 0900 – 8170 (you pay your usual call charges set by your telephone provider) or from outside the Netherlands: +31 10 – 241 1723. // // //   More >


From dinosaurs to treasure troves: 10 great archaeological finds

From dinosaurs to treasure troves: 10 great archaeological finds

We are always going on about the Golden Age in the Netherlands, which might make you think there was little of note in the low countries before then. So, here is a list of 10 great archaeological finds, which all tell us something about the very early Dutch. 1 The Mosasaur At least six of the giant sea reptiles have been found in limestone quarries in the Maastricht area which, some 67 million years ago, was a shallow sea. The first was found way back in 1764. 2 Fish traps In 1978, archaeologists found five fish traps, thought to date from around 4,200 BC, during excavations in Bergschenhoek, Zuid Holland. The traps are made from twigs from the red dogwood tree. The original shape, say experts, was cigar shaped. Fish could swim in, but there was no way back. 3 Hunebedden Hunebedden, or dolmens, are among the oldest archaeological monuments in the Netherlands. Like stone age monuments everywhere, they required much hauling and stacking of colossal (‘hune’ means giant) stones, in this case conveniently left by a passing glacier. The biggest hunebed (22 metres long with covering slabs weighing several tonnes) is imaginatively called D27 and can be found in Borger in Drenthe. 4 Bronze Age jewellry In January 2015, a number of late bronze age objects, among which bracelets, rings and fibula of remarkable sophistication, were found in Hoogkarspel, Noord Holland. In 900 BC someone ‘ritually buried the equivalent of the Rolex that went with his Armani suit’ said archaeologist David Fontijn at the time. 5 The Bog Girl from Yde In 1897 two peat cutters stumbled upon what became known as the Girl from Yde. At the sight of a blackened head with long fiery hair the petrified men took to their heels never to return. Research carried out in the 1990s showed that this particular peat body dates from between 54 BC and 128 AD and belonged to a 16 year-old girl who suffered from scoliosis. Gruesomely but not uniquely, she was probably sacrificed. Half of her hair (turned red from the effects of the peat) had been shaved off and a cord was wound three times around her neck and tightened with a slip knot. She was also stabbed. In 1993 her face was reconstructed by forensic medical artist Richard Neave. 6 Bronze face mask In 1996 archaeologists digging around what is left of a canal between the Rhine and the Meuse built by Roman soldiers stumbled upon a beautiful bronze face mask. Identified variously as a military parade mask and a mask worn in actual battle in order to intimidate opponents with its immoveable features, its curly hair and intelligent expression quickly gained it the name ‘Gordon’ mask, after the eponymous Dutch singer. To see it you have to go to the Archaeological Museum in Leiden, which is  closed until December 2015. 7. A gold brooch A gold cloisonné brooch set with coloured glass, semi-precious stones and pearls was pulled out of a well in Wijk bij Duurstede in 1969. The brooch has various Christian symbols and Dorestad - as the town was known then - played an important part in the dissemination of Christianity. It was made in around 800 and archaeologists say it may have been hidden in the well to protect it when the town when the the town was invaded by Vikings in the early 9th century. 8. A castle in Amsterdam In spring 1994, archaeologists working in the very heart of old Amsterdam found a medieval brick foundation which, some say, is the remains of the ‘castle of the lords of the Amstel’, the noble family who ruled the Heerlijkheid of Amstelland around 1200. A castle on the banks of the river Amstel is described in documents and historians are still divided about whether the brick walls are part of it. We may never know, because plans to make the wall part of a permanent exhibition were dropped and it was buried again. 9 A treasure trove A hoard of treasure was found in 2013 behind the Rotterdam town hall dating from the turbulent and insecure period in Dutch history that was the Eighty Years’ War with   Spain (1568-1648). The city archaeologists who found it labelled it unique because treasure troves are not that common in the Netherlands. This one consisted of 477 silver coins and was found in a shoe. Perhaps the owner when fleeing the Spanish grabbed the wrong one. 10 A grave for horses A unique 50 metre-long grave containing no fewer than 65 horses was found on the edge of the town of Borgharen in Limburg in 2010. Originally the horses were thought to have died in 1632 when Maastricht was recaptured from the Spanish during the Eighty years’ war (1568-1648) but research has since shown they were killed when the town was conquered by the French, in 1794.  More >


Shell should be researching sustainable alternatives to oil and gas

There it goes! Shell wins the sustainability race! Not true, writes economist Mathijs Bouman, and green investors should steer clear. It was ahead in the race, miles ahead. The ‘Shell Solar Speeder’ was by far the fastest car in this year’s World Solar Challenge, the annual race for solar powered cars between Darwin in the north of Australia and Adelaide in the south. The roof of this aerodynamic racing car was fitted with revolutionary solar cells made at the world renowned Shell Renewable Energy Lab at Energy Valley in Groningen. They’re efficient, thinner and cheaper to produce than anything the competition has come up with. A unique international team of students and researchers at the Shell Solar Academy in The Hague – the company’s new flagship project – used the cells to build the Speeder which was flying way past the TU Delft’s Nuon Solar Team and TU Twente’s Team Twente. It also left Japanese and American challengers standing. This is all nonsense, of course. There is no such thing as a Shell Solar Speeder and it never went to Adelaide. There is no Solar Academy in The Hague. And Shell is no part of Energy Valley (a foundation which promotes the use of clean energy in the north of the country). For Shell, energy comes through a pipeline, or not at all. Oil and gas, that’s Shell’s business. Solar energy is something other companies do. Still and all, Shell thinks it’s doing its bit  to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. In order to get rid of coal and oil the world needs to switch to gas. That will bring down C02 in one fell swoop. Shell is investing in gas and that means Shell is sustainable. The country’s biggest investor agrees completely. Pension fund ABP and investor APG are going to invest sustainably. The portfolio needs to be greener, ABP announced last week. It’s not a bad idea in itself but when I asked ABP boss Corien Wortmann if that meant Royal Dutch Shell would be out of bounds, she said Shell’s investment in gas made it part of the energy transition process. And that is something ABP will happily invest in. Even if the road to CO2 neutral energy goes via gas, Shell can only be part of the energy transition process if it puts large amounts of money into the research and development of sustainable alternatives, not in order to be able to stop producing oil and gas in the next few years but to do it as soon as is realistically possible. Without that vision Shell’s story is just so much waffle. That is why it has no place in the ABP’s sustainable portfolio. Mathijs Bouman is an economist. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Get to grapes with Dutch wine

Get to grapes with Dutch wine

Is ‘good Dutch wine’ a contradiction in terms? Is it possible to produce a full-blooded red or a twinkly white in the Netherlands? Is there a ‘nose’ that isn’t permanently clogged up in its wet and windy climate? Can the Dutch attitude to wine still be summed up in the phrase ‘as long as it has 11% alcohol’? Questions, questions. Here are some facts & figures about wine, yes wine, from the Netherlands. 1 According to the quaintly olde-worlde named Wijngaardeniersgilde (the wine growers' guild, established as far back as 1999) the Netherlands has around 170 commercial vineyards. Some 300 more are owned by people who just enjoy making their own plonk. 2 So where are they all? Most are in the south, in the province of Gelderland, closely followed by Limburg where the soils, loess and marl respectively, are conducive to viniculture. But vineyards can be found as far north as Groningen. All in all, Dutch vineyards cover around 300 hectares. In the Bordeaux region there are 115,000 hectares, which gives you some idea of scale. 3 The earliest mention of vineyards situates them around Maastricht and dates from the year 968 when they pop up in an inventory of the belongings of an obscure Saxon queen named Gerberga. Until the climate went chilly in the 16th century and downright freezing in the 18th, Dutch wine, it seems, was quite drinkable. Disease and Napoleon’s alleged protectionist measures (he had foreign vines pulled up) dealt it a final blow. The vineyards went into decline and beer became the tipple of choice. 4 According to wine buff Nicolaas Klei, 15 years ago Dutch wines were so acidic ‘your teeth would drop out of your mouth’ at the first sip. The culprits were the types of grape used: sturdy little varieties cultivated to withstand the rigours of the Dutch climate but with an unfortunate tendency to dissolve teeth once in a fermented state. Much has changed since then. Take, for example, the owner of vineyard De Linie in the province of Noord-Brabant, who, after lengthy experiments, came up with a blend of seven grape varieties which proved both pleasant to the palate of exigent wine critics - Hubrecht Duijker among them - and careful of dental health. 5 The gripe about grapes is important enough to merit another entry so here goes. Classic grape varieties such as Riesling, Auxerrois or Pinot Gris were used in the south of the country and still are, but they need to be protected, and probably talked to in French. Now the most commonly used varieties are Johanniter and Solaris for white wine and Regent and Rondo for red. These were tinkered with in the wine lab until they could be convinced to ripen later in the year and withstand mildew. A hearty spraying of pesticides can thus be avoided and the wine produced from these grapes can be classified as organic. It also explains why the grapes thrive in inhospitable (to wine growing!) places such as Groningen. 6 The oldest ‘newly’ established vineyard in the country is Slavante in Limburg. The estate, in the grounds of a former monastery, was turned into a vineyard by Amsterdam wine merchant Frisch Bosch in 1967. After a number of mouldy harvests and changes of ownership, Slavante perked up sufficiently to produce some 2,000 half bottles a year of unassuming Slavante red and white using Riesling, Müller - Thurgau and Pinot Noir 7 The Dutch have their very own wine festival which takes place annually in the town of Groesbeek in Gelderland at the end of September. It seems to be a combination of rowdy Carnaval-like jollity and serious wine tasting. Groesbeek became a wine growing village in 2001 when half a dozen farmers abandoned the plough and turned to wine. Now the cultivation of grapes around Groesbeek takes up some 20 hectares. 8 Although Dutch wines are getting better, none of them are exported abroad, not because the Dutch think they are so good they jealously want to keep them all to themselves but simply because they are too unsophisticated – and expensive - compared to the wines from better-favoured climates. The Dutch import some 366 million litres of wine while home production accounts for a mere 900,000 litres. According to the Dutch statistics office CBS, the Dutch downed an average of 20.3 litres of wine per head of the population in 2014 (compared with 68 litres of beer). 9 The southernmost vineyard in the Netherlands is De Planck in Slenaken in Limburg. The northernmost vineyard is Ol Diek in Nieuwolda, Groningen. 10 Every self-respecting wine producing country has a national wine competition and the Netherlands is no different. It is a serious affair conducted according to the rules of the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin. The national wine competition is in fact international because it includes Belgium which joined in 2012 and walked away with two gold medals this year. But there were silver and bronze medals galore for such charmingly named Dutch wines as Veluwsche Vreugde and Polderlicht (Polder light).  More >


Video: a Dutch view of why refugees should go to Denmark instead

Video: a Dutch view of why refugees should go to Denmark instead

Dutch satirical television programme 'Zondag met Lubach' has weighed in to the refugee debate in the Netherlands with a humorous message urging asylum seekers to go to Denmark instead. Denmark, unlike the Netherlands, may qualify for European football next year, everyone rides bikes and you get to build a house from lego, the video tells would-be refugees.   More >


Half-term holidays: great things to do, come rain or shine

Half-term holidays: great things to do, come rain or shine

It’s been a late one this year but autumn has now definitely arrived. The trees are turning but the weather is still pretty mild, making it a great time to get out and about with the kids. Come rain or shine, Esther O’Toole has a great selection of half-term activities around the country, to entertain children of all ages. Cinekid Festival This fantastic children’s cinema festival started in Amsterdam but now has 39 participating locations throughout the country. Running from 17th - 23rd October, this 29th edition sees expansion into new media experiences, such as virtual reality exploration and the Applab, in addition to the cinema and TV-related activities. What started as a single screen, a video recorder and some cushions on the ground, has grown into one of the world’s most successful cultural festivals for primary school children, attracting up to 60,000 visitors a year. Well worth a look. Prices: vary per location and activity but they aim to make the festival accessible for all budgets  www.cinekid.nl/english/festival Slot Loevestein Slot Loevestein is a 14th century moated castle on the banks of the Waal, 28 mins from Gorinchem, and is beautifully preserved as a museum and archeological site. There’s plenty to do. Take your ‘key to the castle’ and explore the fortress or grounds, visit the exhibition ‘Dug Up’ and see what’s been found there, hear stories of the early inhabitants and dress up as those very same knights, princesses and prisoners. On the 24th and 25th they even have a jousting tournament! All tours and exhibitions are available in English as well as Dutch. Prices: €12.50 for adults and €8.50 for 4-18 yrs  www.slotloevestein.nl/en/ Oerrr If there’s fine weather (or you fancy getting muddy) then check out the great selection of kids activities from Oerrr, the children’s division of national park organisation Natuurmonunmenten. During October half term they boast a great range: from night-time walks through the Dwingelderveld National Park and Wild Outdoors days (like that in Boekesteyn) to Halloween inspired magic lessons in the Sallandse Heuvelrug. Prices: variable but affordable, with discounts for members. Call for assistance in English 035 035 - 655 99 11 www.natuurmonumenten.nl/kinderen De Klim Muur Raining again? But the kids have energy to burn, right? Well, if you’re looking for somewhere that adventurous little people can let off steam indoors, then how about booking a trial lesson at one of the national Climbing Centres? There are centres in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and two in The Hague. Price: €18 per child for an all inclusive 2 hour introductory lesson. Accompanying adults go free. http://www.deklimmuur.nl/en/jeugd/introductieles/ De Betovering One other children-specific festival to take note of is The Betovering (The Enchantment). This massive children’s arts festival takes place in The Hague, with events going on at more than fifty locations throughout the city. There are performances and workshops for children from 2 to 12 years old in dance, music, theatre, film and fashion. Their international focus means many of the activities are ‘Language No Problem’. Price: variable, early booking advised. www.debetovering.nl/english De Uitvinderij/Speelrij Here’s something unusual if you’ve got a little tinkerer or musician in the house. Under half an hour from Arnhem, the Uitvinderij (The Discovery Place) gives guided access to everything for doing and making. Your child can work with wood, metal, plexiglass, polystyrene and even a paint machine - to create their own art work or invention. Best of all they get to take it home! Next door in the Speelerij (The Play Place) children can play on life-size musical instruments and play artworks created by artist Jos Spaanbroek. What’s more, during half term, kids can make their own instruments and become a member of the Speelerij Orchestra for a day or catch the daily theatre show at 2.30pm. Price: €12.00 for 4- 65 year olds (under 4s free, over 65 €10). Call for assistance in English 0313 413 118  www.spelerij.nl/de-uitvinderij/ DinoAdventures - Amersfoort Animal Park Amersfoort Animal Park are going all out for half term. There is a ‘new arrival’, a dinosaur of unknown origin and your wee one (6+) can take a peek! You can only enter the park under the guidance of the Dinosecurity team and entering the Dinowoods is strictly at your own risk! If you’ve got a dinosaur obsessed, thrill seeker in the house then this could make for a great day’s adventuring. Price: €17 for kids 3-12 years, thereafter €20. Call for assistance in English, 033–4227100  www.dierenparkamersfoort.nl/doen/dinoadventures/ The Power of Poison If dinosaurs aren’t scary enough then take your little horrors down to Rotterdam where half term coincides with the opening of a major interactive exhibition about poison! Get a good look at poisonous beasties and dive into the history of humans' relationship with it. Runs till February. Price: €13 adults, €7.50 children, family group discounts available. Call for assistance in English 010 2030 482  www.thepowerofpoison.nl/nl/Home/  More >


Proost! Here’s five of the oldest taverns in Amsterdam

Proost! Here’s five of the oldest taverns in Amsterdam

Whether you call them pubs, taverns, brown cafes or simply watering holes, there are several of them in the Dutch capital that are decades or even centuries old. Which one is the oldest? The answer remains elusive. Here is Brandon Hartley’s rundown on five historical Amsterdam drinking establishments that date back to the Golden Age or earlier. In ‘t Aepjen - Zeedijk 1 How long has this tavern along the Zeedijk been open for business? No one seems to agree but many say it dates all the way back to the 15th century. It’s housed inside one of two buildings that survived a devastating fire that roared through Amsterdam in 1452. One source says it was converted into an inn that began serving food, beer and lodging to weary travellers in 1475. Another source says that didn’t happen until 1519 or perhaps even much later. One thing is for sure though: it was popular among sailors during the Dutch Golden Age. Supposedly, many of them rolled into the bar straight off their ships from voyages to distant colonies in Indonesia with monkeys in tow. When some of them couldn’t pay their tabs for whatever reason, the kindly proprietor accepted their new pets as payment. Eventually, though, he wound up with too many monkeys in the bar and his other customers started complaining about fleas. A regular named Gerard Westerman allegedly offered to adopt the creatures and allowed them to live in a large garden at his house in east Amsterdam that was eventually converted into the Artis Royal Zoo. This story doesn’t quite hold up against careful historical scrutiny so take it with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, In ‘t Aepjen (In the Monkeys) doesn’t shy away from the legends surrounding it. The small bar is currently decorated with lots of monkey statues and other simian bric-à-brac. In ‘t Aepjen De Druif - Rapenburgerplein 83 About a fifteen minute walk from the tourist throngs along the Wallen, this tavern sits in a much quieter neighbourhood along the Rapenburgerplein. De Druif (‘The Grape’) has been serving up spirits since at least 1631 but the bartender who was working on a recent Saturday afternoon claimed it first opened in 1585. This would explain its ties to Piet Pieterszoon Hein. The infamous admiral became a hero during the Eighty Years War when he and his men managed to capture a Spanish treasure fleet loaded full of silver. The proceeds from their daring raid funded the Dutch military for eight months. Hein lived in a house down the street from De Druif and was said to have spent a lot of time hanging out at the tavern when he wasn’t at sea. Sadly, a flying cannonball killed Hein during a battle in 1629. A small portrait of him now hangs on one of the tavern’s walls. De Druif is currently decorated with carpeted tables, old casks and a peculiar brass lamp that hangs over the bar. The old stairwell that leads to the bathroom in the cellar is also one of the most precarious in town. Take heed. De Druif Café Papeneiland - Prinsengracht 2 This tavern in the Jordaan district might pre-date the Café Karpershoek but it really depends on your perspective. Its early years are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Some say that as early as 1600 an enterprising undertaker sold intoxicants to his still living customers at this location. There’s also a hidden tunnel on site that was used as an escape route by Catholics during an era when their religion was declared illegal by government officials. The cafe’s website, on the other hand, claims that it first opened for business in 1642. These days, its friendly staff and traditional Dutch decor remain popular among locals and visitors alike, among them Bill Clinton. The former US president stopped by for a cappuccino and a slice of apple pie in the spring of 2011. Never one to pass up a delicious treat or two, Clinton supposedly wound up taking the rest of the pie with him when he left. Cafe Papeneiland Café Karpershoek - Martelaarsgracht 2 Many people claim this is the oldest tavern in Amsterdam and it first opened its doors in 1606. It also lays claim to the city’s oldest liquor licence and it’s conveniently located pretty much across the street from Amsterdam Centraal. Back in the 17th century, long before the train station was built, it sat along an old harbour and served as an inn offering food, drinks and lodging to crew members of the Dutch East-India Company. So, much like In ‘t Aepjen, it was once favoured by sailors but you won’t find any (literal) monkey business here. Mind you, the staff still tosses sand on the floor in honour of its historic past. Once upon a time, the patrons used to spit wads of chewing tobacco on the tavern’s wooden planks while they sipped their suds, and the sand made it easier to sweep up. Old beer signs now line the walls and, curiously enough, an old Amsterdammertje has been stationed near the front door. Cafe Karpershoek In de Olofspoort - Nieuwebrugsteeg 13 ‘Een dranck, bitter of soet, geeft vrolijkheidt en moedt.’ These words, written in an older form of Dutch, can be found on a shelf over the bar in the front room of this tavern on the Nieuwebrugsteeg. The translation: ‘one drink, sweet or bitter, gives happiness and courage.’ While many might assume that In de Olofspoort is one of the oldest drinking establishments in town, given its location and decor, it’s actually only been serving drinks since the 1980s. Prior to that, it was used as a bakery and before that it was a hat shop. However, the spot it occupies was once part of the city gates (for which the bar is named) and the building itself was designed by famed architect Hendrick de Keyser in 1618. A portion of it was also used as a brewery at one point. These days, customers can enjoy a wide array of jenever and other more obscure spirits in the tavern’s tasting room. A few of the odd names for the latter: Sailor (30%), Hallelujah (31%) and Okofspoortje (14.5%). There is also an off-licence in In de Olofspoort, allowing many of its exotic intoxicants to be bottled and taken home by customers. The staff also hosts sampling nights in addition to cultural tours through the surrounding district. In de Olofspoort  More >


Networking and business clubs in the Netherlands

Networking and business clubs in the Netherlands

There are a whole lot of business and networking clubs in the Netherlands aimed at the international community. Here's a list. American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands Established in 1961, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands (AmCham) is a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political, voluntary organisation of companies and individuals involved in investment and trade between the United States of America and the Netherlands. If your business is transatlantic, you should consider joining AmCham Netherlands. Website Amsterdam American Business Club The Amsterdam American Business Club is a professional networking organisation whose main purpose is to help improve business-to-business contacts between Dutch and American businesses. The club consists primarily of American and Dutch professional people, but also includes a broad variety of business men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds. It currently has over 1,400 members and meets once a month in Amsterdam. Website Australian Business in Europe ABIE is a networking organisation for business people and professionals of all sorts. By organising functions throughout the year, ABIE aims to facilitate networking amongst Australians living and working in the Netherlands and others living or working in Europe. Such networking provides a social basis for expats but also a basis from which international opportunities between Australia and the Netherlands can be fostered. Website Brazilian Dutch Chamber of Commerce Bradutch – the main object of the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands, is to develop activities that stimulate interactivity and business between Brazil and the Netherlands. Bradutch is responsible for organising Brazilian trade missions to the Netherlands, and also promoting conferences, seminars and meetings related to economic, commercial and cultural exchanges between the two countries.  In addition, the organization has platforms for networking, offers several diverse publications and different services for its members. Bradutch is based in Amsterdam and has seven offices in Brazil. Website: CADS Founded over 40 years ago, the Commercial Anglo Dutch Society’s purpose was, and still is, to provide an informal meeting point for Dutch and English-speaking professionals, to help members improve commercial and cultural contacts between the UK and Commonwealth and The Netherlands, and to promote good practice in these fields. CADS publishes a monthly newsletter, invites members and their guests to a monthly lunch (usually with a guest speaker), organises various social events, and raises money for charity. Website Club of Amsterdam The Club of Amsterdam is an independent, international, future-orientated think-tank involved in channelling preferred futures. It involves those who dare to think out of the box and those who don't just talk about the future but actively participate in shaping outcomes. It organises events, seminars and summits on relevant issues and publishes findings and proceedings through various off-lne and online media channels. Website: Connecting Women CONNECTing WOMEN aims to provide a forum for motivating and supporting professional and internationally-aware women in the paid and unpaid sectors. How? Through networking and presentations at its monthly meetings, a web site, and a variety of interesting workshops. Interested? Then pop along to one of the meetings. Website Dutch-German Chamber of Commerce Promotes trade and organises conferences and seminars between the Netherlands and Germany. Also operates a 'young professionals' group. Website European Professional Women's Network in Amsterdam EuropeanPWN-Amsterdam is an international networking association for professional women in the Netherlands. It offers an open platform for members to communicate and share expertise through organised monthly meetings and informal networking sessions. An integral part of the EuropeanPWN-Amsterdam philosophy is an open, positive approach – one that aims to promote the personal growth of its members as well as the overall development of women in business. Website Foreign Press Association The professional organisation representing the more than 120 foreign journalists who cover the Netherlands for foreign media. Website French Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands The French Chamber of Commerce is based in Amsterdam. It runs a very active French-Dutch Business Club and offers services ranging from a simple list of contacts to the recruitment of French-speaking staff or an agent, incorporation, domiciliation and payroll administration. Website Institute of Directors The Institute of Directors’ Netherlands branch focuses on developing effective networking within the Anglo-Dutch business community. The IoD in the Netherlands organises local activities and networking events for members and their guests. International IoD members are part of an influential network of business leaders worldwide and benefit from free access to prestigious member premises in the UK, France and Belgium.Website JCI Amsterdam International The club for ambitious professionals (age 21-40) seeking possibilities for personal development, community projects, networking and opportunities for their own organisation. It offers a team of young, enthusiastic professionals who work or live in the Amsterdam area, who come from various different countries, and have many different fields of expertise and backgrounds. They use their time within the chapter to promote trade, commerce, community and culture, whilst developing their professional and social skills. Website Netherlands African Business Council The Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC) believe that the Dutch private sector has a prominent role to play in the sustainable development of the African continent. Active in nearly every sector, NABC has amassed an extended network of thousands of African business contacts and enjoys collaborative relationships with Dutch knowledge institutions, NGO’s, the Dutch government, African embassies and trade and investment promotion institutes. Website Netherlands British Chamber of Commerce The NBCC is a bilateral non-profit membership organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting Anglo-Dutch trade and investment and to serving its members' needs. With offices in London and The Hague, the NBCC provides the first point of entry for doing business in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom. Website Netherlands Hong Kong Business Association The aim of the NHKBA is to provide a forum for people interested in Hong Kong, to give its members and their guests an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences and to gain first hand information from prominent visiting speakers. The main objective of the NHKBA is to strengthen bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Focus areas include economic relations and also cultural and educational relations. Website Polish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands The Polish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands is a non-profit organisation uniting, promoting and supporting Polish entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, as well as Dutch companies collaborating with Polish customers and partners. We are a stable platform for Polish-Dutch cooperation. Website Polish Professional Women in the Netherlands Polish Professional Women in the Netherlands is a platform uniting Polish female professionals and entrepreneurs living and working in the Netherlands. The goal of the association is to gather together a group of active internationally minded women, exchange knowledge, experience, and support the personal and professional development of its members. Website Rotary Club Utrecht International All members of Rotary Club Utrecht International have an international background and less than half of the club's members are Dutch. The club's motto is: Sharing a cross cultural experience. The working language is English. Find out more about joining the club on the website. Website Society of English Native Speaking Editors SENSE stands for the Society of English Native Speaking Editors. Based in the Netherlands, the society serves as a professional networking community for nearly 400 members who work as editors, translators, interpreters, copywriters and teachers of English writing skills. Every year SENSE organises a full programme of professional development activities, including lectures and workshops, as well as regular social events.The society also maintains a thriving forum where members can crowdsource the in-depth knowledge and technical information possessed by fellow language professionals. Website: Spanish Association of Professionals in the Netherlands The Spanish Association of Professionals is a club whose objective is to promote networking among people and companies which work at a professional level in the Netherlands and which have ties/interests with the Spanish-speaking world and culture.The club consists primarily of Spanish and Latin American professional people, but also includes a wide variety people of different nationalities and backgrounds with a common interest in Spanish culture. Website: Swedish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands The Swedish Chamber of Commerce was established in the Netherlands in 1960 and has more than 160 company members from Ikea to Volvo Cars Netherlands. The chamber's main role is to provide a forum for members to exchange business ideas, experiences and to explore new business opportunities. Website Women's Business Initiative International The goal of the WBII is to promote the inclusion of women in the professional world by identifying and removing barriers that prevent their full participation. The WBII provides a physical space and necessary support to create new business ventures, expand small businesses, spark new ideas and collaboration, increase profitability and expand employment opportunities. Website If we've missed out your club or organisation, please let us know. Email editor@dutchnews.nl for inclusion.  More >


10 things about death in the Netherlands

10 things about death in the Netherlands

Enough of the jollity and fun. Never let it be said we shy away from difficult topics. So here’s some useful information about death in the Netherlands 1. Insured for death 60% of Dutch households have funeral insurance –  the Dutch love insurance after all and this is one policy which is bound to pay out at some point. But no matter how much you pay for your funeral in advance, there are always stories in the papers about grieving relatives being fleeced by funeral insurers for extra cars and coffee and cake. 2. Group of death Every year in the Netherlands a handful of people die alone, with no friends or family. In 2002, a poet known as F. Starik came up with the idea of the Poule des doods – a pool of poets who write and read a poem for the people who have no mourners at their funeral. Details of every funeral, plus poem, are on the website. Don’t read unless you want to weep. 3. The cost of death A funeral – service and cremation or burial – will cost you upwards of €5,000 depending on the extras. The dreaded coffee and cake for 50, for example, will add around €250 to the bill. But there is a new trend in the Netherlands towards budget funerals with no ceremony at all – a bargain at €1,200. By the way, if you have pallbearers they may well be students. It is a popular student job. 4. The crematorium Research by the crematoria association in 2010 showed Dutch crematoria only collect an average of 50 grammes of gold and other precious metals per body, but they could collect up to 150 grammes. The money raised from selling the gold, jewellery and other recyclables is, they say, given to charity. 5. The ashes Once you’ve been cremated, the funeral home will keep your ashes for a full month. This is in case they are needed for a criminal investigation – that is the official line anyway. After that, you can pick them up. But scatter them where ever you like? Oh no. This is the Netherlands, so there are strict rules about that. You need to ask permission from the landowner and that, if it is a local authority, can be rather expensive as well. Upwards of €1,000…. 6. Graveyards Still, getting buried in the Netherlands will cost you a whole lot more. The shortage of space means graveyards are scarce – so most people tend to ‘rent’ a grave for 10 or 20 years. After that, unless your family coughs up to keep you in place, your remains will be cleared out and placed in a mass grave. The most expensive council-run graveyard in the country is the Esserveld cemetery in Groningen, where a 30-year lease on a grave costs nearly €7,000, according to research by Dela. The cheapest council graveyard is in Littenseradiel, a group of hamlets in Friesland, where a 20-year plot costs just €456. 7. Funeral music According to funeral insurer Dela (yep, them again), the most popular song at Dutch funerals is Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman, followed by Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven and Marco Borsato’s Afscheid Nemen Bestaat Niet (there is no such thing as goodbye). 8. Causes of death: In 2014, there were almost 140,000 deaths in the Netherlands. Cancer (led by lung cancer) accounted for 31% of all deaths, followed by cardiovascular diseases which caused 27%. There were an official 1,825 suicides in the Netherlands and 600 people died in traffic accidents, of whom 75% were male. 185 people died in bike accidents. Last year, 123 people were murdered. Seven in 10 victims and nine in 10 murderers are male. You are most likely to be murdered by a member of your family or a criminal associate – if you are a criminal that is. 9. After death Don’t worry if you have not made a will. This being the Netherlands, there are very strict laws to cover wills and inheritances as well.  That’s why there is a special breed of expensive lawyer, known as a notaris, to take care of it all. For example, you cannot disinherit a child no matter how much you would like to because they have a legal right to a percentage of your property and cash.  You can, however, refuse to accept an inheritance, especially if you suspect it may be made up of debts (like unpaid funerals). 10. Death in a proverb And if you are adding up the cost of dying in the Netherlands, do remember this very useful Dutch saying:  De een zijn dood is de ander zijn brood – one man’s death is another man’s money. Just about sums it all up really. After all, in een doodshemd zitten geen zakken, (there are no pockets in a shroud – you can’t take it with you). This list was first published by website Netherlands by Numbers.   More >


The ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide in the Netherlands

The ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide in the Netherlands

Former Labour politician and chairman of the Council for Public Administration Jacques Wallage feels that refugees shouldn’t be the victims of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality fostered by politics. The range of popular reaction to the influx of refugees shows that the Netherlands is a divided society. After a Red Cross appeal, some 20,000 volunteers have come forward and their number is growing. Some local councils have little problem providing emergency accommodation while in others emotions are running high. On closer scrutiny it is clear that the anger in places like Oudenbosch and Purmerend is about more than the arrival of the refugees. The angry citizen is filled with a mixture of resentment and long-felt frustration. The committed citizen is feeling relief at finally being able to act. For the angry citizen the sign ‘Welcome refugees’ is yet another indication of very unwelcome societal upheaval. In short, where one citizen is reaching for his wallet, the other is reaching for the emergency break. Grim divide Behind the façade of the traditional political factions there’s the grim divide between commitment and anger, self-reliance and exclusion. When PVV leader Geert Wilders talks about a ‘fake parliament’ he garners support across the board. The last Maurice de Hond poll showed that 44% of the VVD electorate agree with Wilders, and so does 30% of Labour voters. Looking at the educational level, the divide is even clearer. 55% of low-skilled people agree with Wilders against 35% of people with a higher level of education. The declining turnout at local and regional elections is yet another example of a divided country: people with a good level of education vote, an increasing number of lower skilled people don’t. According to public administration expert Mark Bovens, the Netherlands is turning into a ‘diploma democracy’: influence increases according to the level of education. New reality Slowly this new reality is challenging the tenets of politics and administration. Until recently it was a given that increased consumer confidence meant increased confidence in politics. But recent figures from the government’s socio-cultural policy unit SCP tell another story: the economy is recuperating – slowly but surely – but confidence in politics (and big companies!) is declining. The feeling of being an outsider, that one’s opinion doesn’t count is generating anger. It doesn’t take much for irritation about high public and private sector salaries to blend with worries about healthcare and immigration. Scandals such as the recent Volkswagen debacle further strengthen the feeling that power is manipulative and that citizens are at its mercy. People who feel that they are outsiders in their own society won’t be open to an appeal to solidarity with the fate of refugees. The committed citizen feels part of society and is firmly in the ‘us’ camp. Angry citizens only see ‘them’, the people who determine their lives. That cultural divide holds true across the classic political board. Consensus It’s a divide which can only be bridged when a consensus is reached about the big problems of today, such as sustainability and migration, inequality and employment. But here politics, which should be a force for unity, turns out to be the weakest link in the chain. It is focused more on amassing power than on sharing it, more interested in holding forth than listening. Refugees shouldn’t be the victims of this internal polarisation. Fortunately many people do care and try to help. But perhaps the anger of others should also be seen a sign of commitment: a cry that expresses the need to bridge the gap between institutions and people, between the vertical and the horizontal world. Politicians shouldn’t leave that task to the populists. This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Wrangle over Rembrandt wedding paintings has no winners

Wrangle over Rembrandt wedding paintings has no winners

The cultural spat between the Netherlands and France has no winners but the losers will almost certainly be the two Rembrandt portraits themselves, writes art historian and art dealer Jan Six. In 1873 Victor de Stuers wrote a passionate indictment of the way the Dutch authorities treated the country’s cultural heritage. In his article Holland op z’n smalst [A narrow (minded) country, DN], Stuer described the depressing frequency with which important art works left the country only to boost the collections of foreign museums, and how wealthy overseas collectors were dominating the art market. Not that it did any good. Some four years later Annewies Van Loon-Van Winter sold her entire collection to Gustave de Rothschild, a clear sign that De Stuer’s protestations were not taken too seriously at the time. The transaction, which included the much-wrangled over wedding portraits by Rembrandt, did, however, signal the start of a private initiative to protect the Dutch national heritage. The Vereniging Rembrandt is with us today. This was a time when art dealers ruled the roost. They emptied the great British stately homes of their treasures and sold them to American robber baron clients like Pierpont Morgan, Frick, Rockefeller, Huntingdon and Kress, making monstrous profits from every deal. 1 Who says they’d fetch €160 million on the open market? In 2015 the old masters no longer dominate the art market, partly because most of them are in European museums and they never sell. But the main reason for the decline is the thriving market for impressionist and modern art. It would be great if the 19th century American art buyers of old masters were replaced by Arabic, Chinese or Russian art buyers but that is not going to happen. The 31-year-old Sheika Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bint Khalifa Al-Thani is considered today’s most powerful art buyer. One of her more famous acquisitions is Cézanne’s Card Players (bought for $250 mln) As far as is known, she has purchased not a single old master. There really was no reason to suppose that scores of non-European buyers were queuing up to make off with ‘our’ two Rembrandt portraits. It’s not unusual for Rembrandts to remain unsold for quite long periods of time. The respected art dealer Otto Naumann took his particular Rembrandt, a portrait of a man dating from 1658, to the TEFAF art fair, the London Frieze Masters and a private showing at Sotheby’s in London. Not a single Chinese could be bothered. It wasn’t the asking price of $48m dollars that kept buyers away. Modern art works were being sold for similar amounts at the same time. The only serious private collector interested in Rembrandts is the American billionaire Thomas S. Kaplan (1962). His famous Leiden Gallery is home to hundreds of old masters, seven of which are authentic works by Rembrandt. It is thought the collection cost Kaplan around $500m. None of the works came close to De Rothschild’s asking price but then none of his Rembrandts are life-size portraits. I think Tom would have liked to have bought them for his collection but not for €160m. We can only guess how De Rothschild arrived at his price: I would never venture to name a price if I hadn’t seen the works for myself. Incidentally, in none of the known documents has De Rothschild ever felt compelled to allude to possible interest from non-European buyers. This is significant in itself as the family has an extensive network in Arab and Chinese business circles. But suppose Chinese and Arab buyers were interested. I find it hard to believe that a person willing to spend €160m on the paintings wouldn’t take great care of them. I consider China and the Arab Gulf states as relevant guardians of culture. Many privately owned masterpieces are not locked away in safes but are lent to big museums all over the world, there for all to see. 2 A little political distance would have been in order The way ministers and museum directors have been wrangling over the matter these last few weeks demands an explanation. I don’t understand why the culture minister didn’t confer with the finance minister. Surely the size of the amount would warrant a closer cooperation between the two. If the director of an independent museum is confident enough to take on what may be an impossible task, it would seem sensible to give him a ‘proper’ shot at it first. A little political distance would have been in order, especially after the political decision was made to set aside half the money. How is it possible that the asking price was accepted without question? At this price level comparable cases are few and far between. Do I think the price is absurd? I’m an art dealer and I can tell you that I would have a big smile on my face if I could sell two Rembrandts for such an amount. Trade is trade, after all. But if a politician uses public money to push through a purchase saying speed is of the essence because ‘the works may disappear to a far-away country’, then I know I’m being had. Would France really have coughed up €160m if we hadn’t made the decision then and there, or would it have changed its mind about the national importance of the works? There’s a good chance the deal would have fallen through, creating an opportunity for De Rothschild to approach the Rijksmuseum without making France look silly. Mind you, the French sat on their hands for 18 months, apparently unafraid of non-European buyers muscling in. 3 Restoration: the French and the Dutch are diametrically opposed about why and how The restoration policy of the Louvre is diametrically opposed to that of the Rijksmuseum. The Louvre restores its paintings very sparingly (as the extremely mucky state of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa attests) which means there’s a very good chance we’ll be looking at a dirty and yellowing Oopjen and Maerten a few years from now. How will the two museums agree on restoration when the time comes? You can’t restore half of half a painting. Whenever I’m in Paris I visit the Louvre. Museums are the best places for an art dealer to check whether his instincts about a possible discovery are correct. But every time I look at a Dutch master I am dismayed at the terrible state of the paintings. Unrestored paintings in damaged frames are hung willy-nilly, covered in dirty layers of varnish. If there were such a thing as a hall of fame at the Louvre it certainly wouldn’t include a Dutch master. Everything points to the fact that France’s action wasn’t inspired by art historical gain but by political gain. 4 How can this be: a contract to subject fragile paintings to a constant to-ing and fro-ing. The deal – to exhibit the portraits as a pair ensuring a frequent exchange between Amsterdam and Paris – is sure to precipitate the deterioration of the paintings. Of all the Rembrandts only those that have always, or nearly always, remained in private hands are still in very good condition. There’s only one reason for this: they have hardly ever been moved. The comparison with the frequent travels of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Ear Ring doesn’t really hold water. Vermeer’s painting is 44.5cm by 39cm whereas Rembrandt’s portraits measure 207cm by 132cm! They will certainly be transported in a professional Turtle box but the greatest danger lies with manually taking the paintings down from the wall and mounting them again. I am an art historian first and foremost. The object comes first. That is why I’m worried. If something were to happen to damage the paintings, and it is statistically certain that something will one day, who will take the initiative to restore them? If the Louvre were to decide the paintings are too fragile to move how are the Netherlands going to recover their ‘rightful share’? I have a feeling the Dutch – ever ready to compromise when the French are clearly not - will have to make the French a present of €80m when that time comes. It’s an irony that 132 years after the Vereniging Rembrandt came into being, it – understandably - distances itself from contributing to a possible acquisition of the paintings which formed the catalyst for its inception. The 19th century statesman Thorbecke wrote that buying art was not a matter for governments. What he meant was that governments should facilitate but not intervene. Now the Rijksmuseum’s director’s original plan of securing both paintings for the country has been torpedoed I can understand he’s not too keen to discuss finance with finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. It’s an attitude the outside world might find somewhat impolite considering the minister came bearing an €80m ‘present’. I hope Eric de Rothschild hasn’t signed the contract yet. An art loving man like him should know better than to agree to irresponsible decisions. But most of all I hope that on future occasions society and politicians will be informed properly before we all succumb to a collective panic attack and forget to question what is actually happening. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Water, water everywhere: How being surrounded by water made the Dutch different

While researching a book on ‘Why the Dutch are Different’, Ben Coates realised that an amazingly large number of the things which an outsider might think of as ‘typically Dutch’ could be explained at least in part by a single factor: water. First, of course, there is the Dutch landscape itself. The Netherlands famously is not just fronted by water but permeated by it – a fifth of the total surface area consists of water. That figure would be even higher were it not for the intricate lacework of dikes and canals, and thousands of water-pumping windmills, which liberated land from the waves. As a result, Dutch topography is among the most unique in the world: acres of flat grassland, turning windmills, hunchbacked dikes, and barely a hill in sight. The fact that reclaimed land is both flat and fertile has also influenced many other things which help keep the Dutch tourism industry afloat. Tulips thrive in the silty reclaimed soil, while thick wooden clogs keep farmers’ feet dry when trudging through boggy fields. Tall buildings divided into tiny apartments help recoup the cost of building deep foundations. Red-brick roads prevent tarmac cracking on soggy subsiding ground. And then, of course, there are the bicycles: the perfect way of getting around a place where the steepest hill is usually a tiny bridge. Were it not for the water, the icons printed on Dutch postcards would look very different indeed. Diet Less obviously, omnipresent water also influenced Dutch diets. As land was reclaimed from the sea, Dutch farmers quickly realised that the silty soil left behind was perfect for growing rich grass; and that this grass in turn made perfect food for cows. Milk produced by the cows became a popular drink when clean water was in short supply. Whatever wasn’t drunk was churned into another product which soon became a national obsession: cheese. Today, the average Dutch person eats nearly a third more dairy produce than the average Brit, and high dairy consumption is one reason why the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. Without all the water, and the resulting deluge of dairies, the Netherlands might well be filled with short people eating croissants for breakfast. History Water also changed the course of history by lubricating the so-called Golden Age; the extraordinary era when the seventeenth-century Dutch led the world in commerce, art, architecture and science. With a long coastline lying at the nautical crossroads of Europe, the Netherlands was perfectly placed to become one of the continent’s greatest trading nations. Even far inland, a dense network of canals and waterways enabled German merchants to travel all the way to Amsterdam, Antwerp or Bruges without ever breaching the stormy North Sea. As a result, the country not only developed Europe’s largest port, but controlled an empire stretching from the Caribbean to Africa and Indonesia. Today, the legacy of the Golden Age is clear: without seagoing trade, cities like Amsterdam couldn’t have afforded their tall town houses and beautiful churches, and Rembrandt and Vermeer might be long-forgotten cobblers or blacksmiths. Were it not for the water, this tiny nation would never have become the tenth richest in the world. Politics In the political sphere, too, the watery landscape had a profound impact on the Dutch. Historically, the fact that one person’s land was liable to flood if another person failed to maintain their dikes meant that decisions had to be made jointly wherever possible. People therefore became used to negotiating to get their way. National governments were usually coalitions, and most political decisions based on compromise. The fact that even small minorities had an equal voice was one reason why the Netherlands developed famously liberal laws concerning things like drug use and prostitution, and why minority groups were awarded equal rights. To outsiders used to seeing politics as a blood sport, Dutch politics can seem either very sensible or very boring. And the damp terrain is at least partly to blame. Landscape Finally, the Dutch themselves have also been shaped by their landscape. All that empty sky and flat reclaimed land seems to have flooded their souls, making most Dutch as open and accessible as the landscape they live in. Travelling around the Netherlands, I was routinely amazed by how direct the Dutch were, and how little value they attached to quaint notions like privacy or solitude. Try as I might, I never found a shy or introspective Dutchman, and the waterlogged terrain was again partly responsible. As the great novelist Cees Nooteboom once wrote: ‘Holland doesn’t have mountains. Everything’s out in the open. No mountains, no caves. Nothing to hide. No dark places in the soul.’ There is, of course, far more to the Netherlands than just clichés like clogs and windmills. In the strange alchemy of national culture, many other influences have played a role – from the war against the Spanish to the religious divide between north and south, from the invasion by the Nazis to the influx of immigration. However, the deeper one digs, the more likely one is to strike liquid. In the Netherlands, water really is everywhere. 'Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands' by Ben Coates is published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Ben Coates will soon be appearing in a series of events in Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam and London. For more information, see his website   More >


Go to an American university in the Netherlands? Yes you can!

Go to an American university in the Netherlands? Yes you can!

Some 9% of the student body in the Netherlands has come here to study from abroad, according to new figures out just this week. But students have more than Dutch colleges and universities to choose from. Webster University in Leiden, for example, is the only certified US university in the Netherlands, offering both bachelor and master’s courses taught by experts in their field. Leiden is a city with a rich past and a bright future – where you see students, bicycles, canals and charming buildings all in one place. The city has been a centre of historical and commercial importance for centuries, where new ideas and philosophies were explored and education cultivated. This heritage of education is still very much alive today. In the heart of Leiden is Webster University, the only certified US university in the Netherlands. It offers bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in business management, the behavioural and social sciences, international relations, and media and communications to a small, highly motivated and international group of students. Webster students are encouraged by both staff and professors to develop their leadership skills. This might include starting up a new club to participate in, attending the university’s Signature lectures on a variety of current affairs, or creating a piece of art to be shown at the Art gallery in the Living and Learning Center. Student life at Webster is filled with discoveries, interaction with people from all over the world and new experiences. ‘Our classes are small, you really get to know your teachers and it is a great way to build up an international network,’ says spokeswoman Joijcelyn Hoost. And if you are already forging ahead with your career, Webster even has an Amsterdam annex where you can study for an MBA or other Master’s programme part time. On October 10, Webster is holding an open day for prospective students at its Leiden campus where you can learn about its degree courses, study options, flexibility and what you can expect from the only accredited American University in the Netherlands. You will also be able to meet heads of department, students, staff and faculty members. Sign up online.   More >


10 Dutch football clubs with really ridiculous names

10 Dutch football clubs with really ridiculous names

The Dutch, as we know, are a sensible folk. But not when it comes to naming their football clubs. In most countries football clubs have really boring names like Manchester United, Barcelona or Paris Saint Germain. But not so in the Netherlands. Here, names are descriptive. Take Vlaardingen club CION for example. Its name is an abbreviation of Chevron Is Onze Naam  (Chevron is our name) – er, right! Here is an alphabetical list of professional Dutch football clubs with weird names and one amateur side with possibly the weirdest name of them all. ADO Den Haag ADO (Alles Door Oefening or everything through practice) is the main football club in The Hague. ADO has never matched the successes of the other big city clubs Ajax (Amsterdam) and Feyenoord (Rotterdam), although it did win the national title in 1942 and 1943, as well as the league cup in 1968 and 1975. In 2008, the club was bailed out of financial difficulties by the local city council and opened its new 15,000-seat stadium. In 2014 it was bought by a Chinese sports marketing firm. AZ Alkmaar football club AZ was formed in 1967 when the professional clubs Alkmaar ’54 and FC Zaanstreek merged to create AZ ’67 (the ’67 was dropped in 1986). The club’s heyday was in the late 1970s and early 1980s but it was relegated to the first division in 1988. Ten years later, AZ returned to the premier division, taking the title in the 2008/09 season. Go Ahead Eagles Deventer side Go Ahead Eagles have possibly the most romantic name in Dutch football – if you are not into superheros like Ajax of course. The club was founded in 1902 as Be Quick but the name was soon changed to Go Ahead at the request of the Dutch Football Association. The suffix Eagles was added in 1971, following a suggestion from their then coach, Barry Hughes. The eagle part comes from Deventer’s coat of arms. Go Ahead are not, however, living up to their name and have been relegated to the first division for the 2015/16 season. NAC Breda’s football club NAC was set up in 1912 as a merger between NOAD (translated, the letters stand for ‘Never Give Up Always Keep Going’) and ADVENDO (‘Pleasure Through Enjoyment and Usefulness Through Relaxation’). The resulting name was Noad Advendo Combinatie or NAC. Unless you want to write it all out in full – and then you probably have the world’s longest football club name. NAC has just been relegated to the Jupiler league NEC Nijmegen football club NEC, which has just moved from the Jupiler league to the Eredivisie, was founded in 1900 and claims to be the first in Holland to be set up by workers. Its name comes from Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie or Nijmegen united combination. PEC Zwolle You need your wits about you to understand this one. PEC was founded on June 12 1910 following the merger of two other local clubs – Prins Hendrik and Ende Desespereert Nimmer (And Never Despair). The PH EDN Combinatie became PEC and added Zwolle in 1971. In 1982 it added ’82 to the name, only to drop the PEC and the ’82 in 1990 when it went bankrupt. The club was relaunched as FC Zwolle and continued on its merry way until 2012 when it won the first division championship and went back up the premier division. Cue a change of name again – the club once again became PEC Zwolle and won both the Dutch KNVB Cup and the Johan Cruijff Super Cup in 2014. Roda JC Roda JC is based in Kerkrade in Limburg and was formed in 1962 following the merger of Rapid JC and Roda Sport. Rapid JC, yes, you’ve guessed it, was formed through the merger of Rapid ’54 and Juliana. Roda Sport took its name when clubs SV Kerkrade and SV Bleijerheide merged – but we’re not really sure where the Roda bit comes from. VVV-Venlo You might be forgiven for thinking the VVV stands for something exciting involving victorie or vooruitgang but you’d be wrong. VVV-Venlo stands for Venlose Voetbal Vereniging-Venlo or Venlo football association-Venlo – just in case you had not got the message where it is. Willem II Set up in 1896, the Tilburg premier league club Willem II is one of the oldest football clubs in the Netherlands. It was originally called Tilburgia but was renamed Willem II some 18 months later after the Dutch king of 1840-49 who was a local hero. The club has won the national title three times (1916, 1952, 1955) but done nothing much of note since then. ZSGOWMS An amateur side in Amsterdam, the club’s name is the abbreviation of Zonder Samenspel Geen Overwinning en Wilskracht Maakt Sterk – Without Teamwork No Victory and Determination Creates Strength. The club was formed in 1996 following the merger of ZSGO and WMS, both of which date back to 1919. The club did not change its name to something more manageable because, according to the website, it can be easily found on internet and is a good advert. But what on earth do the supporters chant? Want more? There are several websites devoted to mad Dutch football club names. WWNA, VAKO, HS Texas DSZ, Audacia (based on latin) – the list goes on and on and on. This list was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers  More >


Publishers link up with techies to ‘renew the book’

E-readers, tablets, blogs and even online video have shaken up book publishing over the past decade. Esther O’Toole has been finding out about a Dutch competition that seeks to drive innovation in the industry and is backed by publishers themselves. It seems almost unthinkable that it was less than 10 years ago that the first effective e-readers came on the market, followed swiftly by the first iPhone and other smart phones with e-reader capacities. Now, reading on your phone, tablet or laptop comes as naturally to many people as picking up a book. However, the question of whether digital books and magazines mean the end is nigh for traditional print media has still to resolve itself. As smart phones have become bigger and better, e-reader sales have begun to slow. The number of e-book sales in comparison to hard copy sales is still steadily increasing though, with 7% of the Dutch consumer market being in e-books at the end of 2014. Traditional publishers are aware of the need for innovation in their industry and have now teamed up with the start-up gurus of Rockstart to stimulate further change. ‘Everywhere in the world publishers, whether in news, music or books, struggle with the internet,' says Wiet de Bruijn, chairman of the Dutch publishers' association GAU. 'With the Renew the Book project we say we want to stimulate change and we are not afraid to admit that the best ideas might come from outside the publishing industry.’ Challenges Digitised reading has affected the business models of publishers, book marketeers, libraries and book shops. The global book market is worth in the region of €89m  annually, so there is plenty at stake and a big incentive for rejuvenation. ‘The first big wave of disruption has hit its peak, so this is a good time for Renew the Book and to start looking for new, long term, sustainable methodologies in publishing,' says Rockstart's Christoph Auer-Welsbach, who is running the competition. 'It’s clear from changes in the music industry that a lot can go wrong if you’re not prepared to innovate.’ ‘Publishers need to re-examine their value proposition and think where they can improve upon it for the industry, authors and readers. The experience of reading a book needs to shift. I want different reading experiences for different times in my day, in my life,’ says Auer-Welsbach . Rockstart is putting its very best publishing gurus and years of experience in the hands of the Renew the Book winners. In turn, the publishers are providing a €15k non-refundable grant to allow the winning team to build a solid and sustainable foundation for their new business. So, what are they looking for? Renew the Book aims to be low risk for entrants and thereby as accessible as possible. The aim is to find ‘revolutionary ideas’ so the scope is wide open. Ideas might range from new forms of marketing that help book stores reinvent themselves and encourage in-store purchases, alternative ways to manage the publication process from start to finish or how gaming could be used to encourage children to keep reading. 'While the ways we publish and consume books are changing due to technology, the stories themselves help us understand the world we live in,' says Auer-Welsbach. 'We strongly believe books have been and will stay important for us as human beings. For more information, visit the Renew the Book website. Deadline for applications October 12.  More >


Words, words, words: celebrating languages in Utrecht

Words, words, words: celebrating languages in Utrecht

Boasting over sixty stand holders, key note speakers from all corners of the world, and children’s activities, the fourth Drongo Language Festival took place in Utrecht this weekend. Esther O’Toole went along to take a look. The Drongo Language Festival started in 2012 as a small event, at Amsterdam central library, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. When over four hundred people turned up the organisers knew that they were on to something. Maaike Verrips, the festival director, talks about language so passionately it’s easy to see how her contagious enthusiasm kick-started the festival. Placing language in a wide context of culture, science, business and technology, she emphasises the many varied ways in which it is relevant to our daily lives, and how it makes them better. ‘What I like best about Drongo is that it brings together a wide variety of people who love language. A wide variety: singers, translators, language experts, businesses. They never get to meet each other except at Drongo and here they get the opportunity to look into each other’s house, as we Dutch like to do. It’s a chance to meet the neighbours!’ The organisers have taken a conscious decision not to focus on one aspect of language exploration but to keep the scope broad and so ‘stimulate and motivate’ the cross pollination of ideas. Zora the robot Introductions to key note speakers were made by Zora, the humanoid robot developed by Belgian company QBMT for use in health care, which speaks nineteen languages. The speakers’ varied radically, from Mamokgthi Phakeng, a maths professor dealing with the complexities of teaching in nine South African languages, to Mark Lesun, the localisation expert from Google. ‘I’m here out of pure curiosity. It’s not to do with work. I’m interested in the variety the festival has on offer. All different aspects of language learning and investigation are here,’ says Nell Van Otterdijk. Some visitors had come to attend lectures and language crash courses, such as Rachel Rubin who studies linguistics at the University of Leiden: ‘I’m originally from the States and potentially want to teach English here so I’ve come for the resources.’ Language speed dating The event is not all serious and academic. There were hands-on activities like rap workshops and testing yourself in the EU translator cabin. For those who are more theoretically minded, the festival was host to the first ever specifically language orientated Researchers Night in the Netherlands, including: live language experiments, readings, workshops and speed dating. Odette Scharenborg, a researcher at the Radboud University, and PhD student Polina Drozdova led games and quizzes to do with speech perception. ‘The idea is to entertain people and let them know more about what language really is. We take it so for granted’ Scharenborg says. ‘I love bringing our knowledge to the general public. Maybe we’ll attract a few new students in the process.’ Couch-surfing Other stand holders were more actively recruiting, with translation agencies on the look-out for new freelancers. It was tangible how new technology’s effect on the globalisation of work has made for huge and rapid growth in that sector. European Commission official Hugo Keizer said they too are always looking for new colleagues.‘Getting to work as an official is a bit of a hurdle,' he said. 'So, we’re here to promote multilingualism, transfer knowledge and let people know how it is to work at EU institutions.’ Even the members of Esperanto Nederland were hoping to draw new people to their cause. ‘First off we want to let people know we exist!’ said Ronaldo Nobel. ‘Then, we want to show them the egalitarian aspect of Esperanto and that we have our own version of couch-surfing!’  More >


10 things you might like to know about the Goldfinch

10 things you might like to know about the Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, painted by Carel Fabritius in 1654, is small but perfectly formed and is one of the most popular exhibits at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Hanneke Sanou takes a look at this intriguing little bird and discovers some interesting facts about it. 1 Who’s a clever bird? The small wooden panel (it measures 33.5 by 22.8 cm) is a portrait of the painter’s pet goldfinch. The Dutch name of the painting is ‘Het Puttertje’ from the verb ‘putten’, or to draw. It refers to the fact that the ingenious little finch was able to draw water from a reservoir using a tiny bucket. 2 Obsession The Goldfinch became the obsession of French journalist and art collector Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who was also largely responsible for the rediscovery of Vermeer. Thoré-Bürger was bequeathed the painting by a relative of his friend the Chevalier Joseph-Guillaume-Jean Camberlyn in 1865. He wrote to him: ‘Felix, look at those feathers! The colours are as fresh as on the day he painted them…’ (Source: Deborah Davis’ Fabritius and the Goldfinch) 3 Restored But by 2003 the Goldfinch didn’t look quite as chirpy and its yellowing varnish was removed, revealing the ‘deadly pale wall’ described by Thoré-Bürger on which the finch’s perch is mounted. The whole restoration process was transmitted live via the internet. 4 What's its function? The function of the wooden panel is unknown. Was it a little door concealing another painting, or a very clever trompe l’oeil to take people in? Nobody knows. 5 Vermeer Carel Fabritius lived from 1622 to 1654 but managed to carve out quite a reputation for himself during his short life. He studied under Rembrandt, was favoured by the court of Orange and praised for the cunning perspective in his murals. Fabritius is said to have turned away from the darker tones of Rembrandt to introduce the lightness and stillness which also characterise Vermeer, who owned several paintings by him. 6 Blast In 1654 it all came to a very sudden and noisy end when the gunpowder arsenal near the painter’s house in Delft blew up just as he was working on a portrait of church deacon Simon Decker. Decker, Fabritius’ mother-in-law, his brother and one of his pupils all died in the blast. Fabritius was dug out alive after seven hours but perished shortly afterwards. 7 Phoenix When the Mauritshuis gave the painting its overhaul in 2003 curators noticed a number of small indentations in the painting’s surface ‘as if it had been pelted with something’ (Davis) giving credence to the story that the Goldfinch had indeed miraculously survived the blast and had been recently painted when it took a shower of debris. 8 Symbol The goldfinch is a widely used symbol in early religious paintings. There it represents endurance and salvation. Later artists, such as writer Charles Dickens, used the fettered goldfinch to symbolise slavery. Fabritius’ goldfinch sitting quietly on its perch does not invite such an interpretation, although Thoré-Brüger described it as sitting on its ‘case d’esclave’, its slave hut (Davis). 9 Donna Tartt In 2014, writer Donna Tartt won a Pulitzer prize for her novel The Goldfinch, in which the painting survives another blast, this time as a result of a terrorist attack. In an interview Tartt said she hadn’t known about the painting’s history and commented: ‘When coincidences like this start happening you know the muses are at your side.’ The publication of Tartt’s novel coincided with an exhibition at the Frick Collection in New York of which the Goldfinch was a part. The book caused a sensation and a record 61,000 people came to see the Goldfinch for themselves. 10 More work? Today, 15 of Fabritius’ paintings remain but according to art critic Cees Straus more may come to light. There are a number of potential candidates which may yet be added to the artist’s oeuvre.  More >