Monday, July 31, 2017

there was a secret chord

We took a day trip from Amsterdam to The Hague, to see the paintings at the Mauritshuis. If pressed, Mighty Reader might tell you that our Netherlands trip was inspired by the fact that there are paintings by Vermeer at the Mauritshuis and at the Rijksmuseum that she had not yet seen in person. Vermeer's paintings emit an almost gravitational force that pulls constantly at Mighty Reader. I don't feel that force about Vermeer but I understand it.

The Hague is a pretty town, which for some reason surprised me. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe it's simply that we visited on a lovely summer day, the weather mild, the train ride was simple enough to arrange and carried us through picturesque farmlands in South Holland. The Mauritshuis is a good museum; not too large, not too small, with masterpieces around nearly every corner and a decent restaurant (with excellent coffee).

The main attraction of the collection is Jan Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," which everyone knows. In the same room as "Girl" is the large painting "View of Delft," a remarkable cityscape with vibrant colors and crisp lines and a whole lot of sky. The big surprise was a third Vermeer, "Diana and her Nymphs," an early work that neither of us knew about. In my opinion (not shared by Mighty Reader), "Diana" was the best of the three paintings, full of movement and color and contrasting light/shadow and a more interesting and challenging arrangement of subjects than either "Girl" or "Delft." It was also the only Vermeer in the room being ignored.

Me and the other, other Vermeer

The Mauritshuis collection has that wee goldfinch painting used as a prop in the latest Donna Tartt novel, too. It's hanging out in a hallway between rooms, I think, like an afterthought, like something someone's mother painted that had to go somewhere in the house.

I'm currently reading the poetry of St. John of the Cross, and one of the poems references Simeon in the temple, holding the Christ child in his arms:
En aquestos y otros ruegos
gran tiempo pasado había;
pero en los postreros años
el fervor mucho crecía,
cuando el viejo Simeón
en deseo se encendía,
rogando a Dios que quisiese
dejalle ver este día.
Y así, el Espíritu Santo
al buen viejo respondía;
­Que le daba su palabra
que la muerte no vería
hasta que la vida viese
que de arriba descendía.
y que él en sus mismas manos
al mismo Dios tomaría,
y le tendría en sus brazos
y consigo abrazaría.
Rembrandt painted this Biblical scene, and the painting is in the Mauritshuis collection. I wasn't particularly moved by the work, but on the adjacent wall of the gallery that contains "Simeon and St Anne" (by Rembrandt's pupil Arent de Gelder) hangs the impressive and large "Saul and David," a painting only recently proved to be a genuine Rembrandt after eight years of restoration. Rembrandt's David looks suspiciously like Bob Dylan, and when I saw the painting I spontaneously began to sing Cohen's "Hallelujah" in a Bob Dylan voice, forgetting that Dylan has actually covered the song. I was not asked to leave the museum but I didn't sing the whole song, either.

David Zimmerman, harpist to the king

After having seen the wares of the Mauritshuis, we wandered around a little in The Hague, spending some time in the dappled light of a small square, looking through piles of stuff at a flea market. I was tempted by a 1922(?) Baedeker of northern Germany, in English, but I did not buy it despite the many full-color fold-out maps. Maps emit an almost gravitational force that pulls constantly at me. Most people don't feel that force.


  1. Lovely, Scott. I enjoy the vicarious meander. I am like you in that I get lost in and transported by maps. Oh, how I miss the old travel maps and ink and paper atlases. One of my treasures for browsing is a book entitled Cartographia. What splendid stuff!

    1. We have a good number of framed maps in the house, by way of wall art. I can look at the right map for hours. And the more we travel through parts unknown, the more highly opinionated I am becoming about how maps are being made. Though likely I'm just becoming more highly opinionated in general as I get older. Hard to say.

      "Meander," yes. I seem to have moved into a blogging phase where I'm just waffling around, like Proust but without any point to make. Hopefully I can transition from "waffling around" to "wide-ranging" at some point. I don't feel much of an impulse to focus or analyze. So welcome to my rich interior life, I guess.