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Justin P.

Behind the Scenes - Rijksmuseum

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Very happy to see that also after I left the museum people go on taking care of the task of keeping this model in a good condition. I had the honor to unrig and to rig the model twice, when it had to be moved to other locations. Dismasting (together with all the rigging in place) too me two and a half days, rigging took four. I had the help of a professional Amsterdam rigger Floris Hin and we had a wonderful time with this wet dream of every modelbuilder. Kudo for the two patient ladies and the Rijksmuseum.

Ab Hoving

Retired conservator of shipmodels.

Edited by Ab Hoving

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5 hours ago, Ab Hoving said:

Very happy to see that also after I left the museum people go on taking care of the task of keeping this model in a good condition. I had the honor to unrig and to rig the model twice, when it had to be moved to other locations. Dismasting (together with all the rigging in place) too me two and a half days, rigging took four. I had the help of a professional Amsterdam rigger Floris Hin and we had a wonderful time with this wet dream of every modelbuilder. Kudo for the two patient ladies and the Rijksmuseum.

Ab Hoving

Retired conservator of shipmodels.

Ab, did you know Davina at all?   I met her at AIC a few years ago when she gave a talk on ship model conservation at the Rijks.   I myself am a European trained rare book and medieval manuscript conservator in Seattle.   Cheers!

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There must be an interesting story about how this model came to be displayed in the Rijksmuseum rather than in the 

Scheepvaartmuseum. I had the same question about the 1,800 ship models the Rijksmuseum has in their collection, along with naval weapons, and other maritime-related items. At present, their website says only 34 of these ship models are on exhibit. Unfortunately, I missed the Rijksmuseum ship model exhibit when I was there 25 years ago due to some sort of reconstruction project at the museum, as I recall. The Scheepvaartmuseum across town is spectacular. Probably second only to Greenwich, in terms of exhibits, at least. I suppose there are limits to what they can exhibit, but I never figured out why they didn't exhibit all the maritime items in the maritime museum instead of spreading them around. When you are looking for ship models in the Rijksmuseum, all those Rembrandts and Vermeers can become an annoying distraction. :D 
 
I found this collection of Rijksmuseum ship model porn here: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/2217046--janzwart/collections/scheepsmodellen
Edited by Bob Cleek

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Just to anwer the questions raised in this thread, not to highjack your post here Justin...

 

This collection of about 1400 maritime items (not all ship models, but also parts of ships, designs for improvements, inventions, trophies, and so on) was collected by the the Dutch Navy after 1815 on the basis of already existing collections, raised by the admiralties. There were five admiralties in the Netherlands, united to be the Dutch Navy in 1789. The nineteenth century was an age of inventions and every new idea that might have been of interest for the Navy was executed in models to show the government how they worked. Drawings were not considered to be clear enough for our politicians.

Around 1880 the Navy stopped collecting at the same moment the Rijksmuseum was founded. Thus the 'Marinemodellenkamer' moved to Amsterdam to be exhibited in the 'war on the water wing' of the museum, serving as a pendant of the 'war on land wing'. The Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam was founded in 1929, when the collection in the Rijksmuseum had been exhibited there for years. The Scheepvaartmuseum collection is mainly based on private collections, with a strong emphasis on merchant ships.

Over the years the Rijksmuseum has become more and more a museum explicitly for art. The collection of the Department of Dutch History is scattered all over the museum, but in the lower bowels of the museum if you can find the energy to look for it, there is room for 'special collections', of which the Navy Collection is one.

I wrote a book on this collection with over 50 stories about the backgrounds of the models as a goodbye gift to the museum when I retired in 2012: Message in a model (Seawatch Books).

 

Why no glass case around this William Rex model? For several reasons. First of all: it must be awful to have a 5 x 5 x 3 meters ice-cube in an exhibition which is mainly pointed at art. But apart from that, try to imagine this huge glass plates being handled over a priceless 400 years old model. It is better to let qualified people handle the object with love and care and let the public enjoy to be able to get that close to such a work of art.

 

No, I never met Davina (who seems to have been working in my place for one or two years if I remember well), though she sent me a mail with an invitation to meet.  For several reasons I had to turn her down.

 

The link with the models of the collection show the wide spread in time and functions of the models I have taken care of for 23 years, together with a small crew. When I joined the museum the collection was in a very bad state (dirty, dusty, broken, incomplete and deformed as a result of careless storage), due to the fact that the appreciation for historic objects had been very low for decades in the museum, that had changed her optics from a 'museum for history and art' into an art museum with only a small and rather unpopular department of Dutch history. Nowadays the museum has succeeded in finding a mixture of the two, often in the same halls. In my days historic objects were not appreciated standing between top art objects.

Times change and so do museums....

 

Edited by Ab Hoving

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Ab - your comments on 'art' versus 'models' in public galleries are interesting. We had a similar state of affairs here at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, a few years ago. Ken Thomson (the newspaper magnate) very generously donated his lifetime collection of art to a new building extension, also funded by him. One of the conditions of the donation was that the entire collection had to be placed on permanent public display. Not only were there conventional artworks and statuary of various kinds, but a very extensive miniatures and ship model collection. The latter was not considered 'this is like that'. There had to be considerable effort into educating folk within and outside the institution that ship models were indeed a form and expression of art. Amongst others, I was invited to give a public talk on why this should be the case. Today the entire model collection is on display (also in the basement, I might add!) although unfortunately not as well lit as it could be. 

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The new galleries at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich are a beautiful example of integrating “conventional” works of art with ship models.  The paintings are more meaningful when displayed alongside the ship models.

 

Roger

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I think the merging of "art" and "models" has been a good thing.  As a young lad, I lived near the Air Force Museum on Dayton, Ohio.  It was a hodpog of airplanes, models, pieces of equipment.  The last time I was there (20 years ago?) it was blended.  Paintings and statuary along with the airplanes, space craft and bits and pieces.  When done right, it can really present things well to the public.  I've seen that in a lot of museums and the mixing of art forms and history works well.

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Thanks for your fascinating explanation, Ab! Much appreciated. I very much enjoyed the museums in Amsterdam. Considering the stature of the fine art they hold, it's understandable that ship models have to struggle to get the attention they deserve. All the guided tours want to see the Rembrandts, Vermeers, and Van Goghs, and they certainly aren't to be missed. One can only imagine the outcry if they only displayed the same percentage of the Masters paintings as they did their ship models!

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Ab, we would truly appreciate a topic where you can share your stories from the museum. There is a whole audience of grateful enthusiasts here, who will read it with a glass of wine and nice music in the background :)  Can you tell us more about the models your restored? Some interesting findings? Most unexpected issues? Anything!

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O dear, Justin, it looks more and more like I did highjack your thread. Sorry for that.

But exchanging ideas about the difference between the appreciation of art versus historical or technical objects is interesting in my opinion.  Personally I don't see ship models as a sort of art. There is a high amount of technical knowledge, manual skills and taste involved, but they can hardly be used to express or raise human emotions. I have always seen them as a source of information (the original ones I mean) and a challenge to build (the new ones obviously). Nevertheless I think it is insulting to make such a huge difference in estimated value like we see in some examples. The example Druxey mentions and my experiences in the museum world speak for themselves. I remember a head of an art department in the museum who openly suggested to throw away 'all that historic rubbish'. Literally.

 

Mike Y: thank you for you appreciation of my clumsy intrusions in this forum, but I think my publisher would not be very happy if I would expose my short stories about a considerable number of maritime historical objects from the Navy Collection here. As mentioned, I wrote a book on that subject, which is still available at SeaWatchBooks and I can modestly recommend to read it. The book is beautifully presented with the artwork and design done by my son Emiel. So far the commercials :-).

That said I won't be stopped to pass through items of interest if the situations calls for it. At least if you allow me...

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9 hours ago, Ab Hoving said:

O dear, Justin, it looks more and more like I did highjack your thread. Sorry for that.

But exchanging ideas about the difference between the appreciation of art versus historical or technical objects is interesting in my opinion.  Personally I don't see ship models as a sort of art. There is a high amount of technical knowledge, manual skills and taste involved, but they can hardly be used to express or raise human emotions. I have always seen them as a source of information (the original ones I mean) and a challenge to build (the new ones obviously). Nevertheless I think it is insulting to make such a huge difference in estimated value like we see in some examples. The example Druxey mentions and my experiences in the museum world speak for themselves. I remember a head of an art department in the museum who openly suggested to throw away 'all that historic rubbish'. Literally.

 

On the contrary, thank you for making what started as a mere piece of curiosity into a larger conversation!   In fact, a conversation that rarely occurs among the professionals involved in such work.   In my experience, particularly in cultural heritage conservation, "art" and "other" have always been at odds, those in the "art" often being the artibiter of what is the "other."   Being a book and paper conservator and not an "art on paper" conservator I am keenly aware of the line drawn between the archival and art worlds; the museum and the library worlds.   But I will say that I disagree as to whether a ship model can be art or not.  Expression or emotion, Im not sure...  when I see bone models Im often moved in different ways then I am when I see yet another boxwood.  When I see bow carvings on models (which are almost NEVER truly a model of something that existed) I can appreciate the expression.  It is a style of expression bound by rules, but it is still expression.  The time, the research, and intensity....   when I walk into a modelers house and see the devotion, the care -  I am moved by that.   How can this NOT be art?   

 

Ship models, to me, can be at home in both contexts.   They are artifacts to be studied and are examples of rich craft tradition (some elaborately embellished - creatively) that goes back hundreds of years.   Craft in my mind, is not so separate from art.   Books and bookbinding are, in a way, very similar.   They are made often within a complex set of rules at play and are intended for only one purpose.  There are of course, as there are in the ship modeling circles, avenues for creative expression - so long as the context of the piece is wholly understood by both the creator and the viewer.  These contexts can get confused, which is where I think much of the later curatorial conflict occurs.  There are plenty of ship models, historic or otherwise, that are not strictly representations of an actual ship in complete detail.   As well, there are numerous books,  historic or otherwise, which are/were intended as creative expression through the tight rules of bookbinding more than they were as a vessel for some authors pontificating.   

 

I think value - as much as beauty - is in the eye of beholder.   One mans boring old ship model is anothers entire chapter on 17th century modeling technique.   One mans .25c garage sale book, is another mans 1st Edition.   Make of it what you want.

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Very well spoken Justin!

I think the universal definition of art will never be given by no one. I think nowadays with prices of millions of dollars for a painting we more or less have lost our way.

In the seventeenth century the people who made paintings and sculptures were no 'artists' as we know them. They were craftsmen and the way they mastered their trade is the sieve for what was  really well done and what appeared to be 'just craft'. The best things stay on top, the rest falls through.

The way we look art today is as if it is something done by super humans so the artists must be super humans. But the van de Veldes simply ran a shop selling their paintings. They produced a lot of 'genre pieces', because that was what sold best. A commission for the depiction of a battle was something they fought for. Art historians want to make us believe that what they call art is the top of what a human being can produce. That might be right, but that is just as true for a piece of furniture or.... a ship model. In the end it is just a matter of knowing the craft or not. And wether or not it is art is something only time will tell.

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3 hours ago, Ab Hoving said:

Art historians want to make us believe that what they call art is the top of what a human being can produce. That might be right, but that is just as true for a piece of furniture or.... a ship model.

I wonder if Vermeer considered himself as an ordinary craftsman? Just a thought.

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Perhaps my engineering education and business background is showing but I personally find fine art divorced from its historical contex to lack interest.

 

To me it is highly significant that much Dutch high art was painted when the Netherlands were an economic powerhouse and wealthy merchants could afford to commission these works.  Exhibiting these works of art along side examples of the ships that made this wealth possible only makes sense.

 

Roger

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