Memento Mori

Off to Rotterdam, a contemporary metropolis in a country of windmills and 17th century canal-side houses.

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by two former colleagues of Esmée who were our guides to the city.

First stop – Market Hall.

Market Hall

20170714_103603Market Hall is a turned U-shaped building of offices and apartments, with a market hall underneath.

Some have called the Market Hall the Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam because the large cavernous inside apparently reminds people of a Cathedral and the art on the inside walls mirrors that on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. To me, these proud descriptions of the Market Hall are a bit exaggeration in comparison to one of the greatest works of architecture and art in all of human history.

But yes, the Market Hall was quite impressive and was a lovely venue for a market. It reminded me of the markets in China where people set up stands and try to sell you all kinds of food. However, here in Rotterdam it was significantly more clean (and they provided free samples!).

The architecture of Rotterdam will be a reoccurring theme. During World War 2, Nazi Germany bombed Rotterdam and threatened to bomb further cities, contributing to the quick surrender of the Dutch to Germany. The bombing destroyed a large number of buildings and started a fire destroying more of the city center.

We did happen to see one piece of old architecture – the Grote of Sint Laurenskerk, the only remains of Rotterdam’s medieval city. The church was heavily damaged but survived the bombing and today it looks as good as old.

Trees in the 21st Century

20170714_114245I desperately hope this isn’t what replaces trees in the 21st century, but it is a neat architectural idea that actually works.

After the bombing, so many new buildings needed to be designed. The architects of Rotterdam decided to experiment and create new things.


One of these projects was the Cube Houses, designed by architect Piet Blom. The houses are seen as trees and the ground filled with tiles shaped like flowers, forming a kind of village within the forest of the city.

I traveled up one of the houses and it was surprisingly nice. There is a good amount of space and the triangular cube shapes actually provide ample light. Especially int he kitchen I noticed the light was coming up into the kitchen rather than down a regular window. Thus, there was no glare of the sun but the area was extremely well lit. The bedroom was cozy and the rooftop patio looked like a nice place to relax (albeit it was warm).

One issue is the high number of stairs needed to get around. I think the house would be perfect for a young couple but for a family or older people the design would be immensely impractical.

Het Witte Huis

witte huis.jpgOn our tour of the city we stopped by the Het Witte Huisi, which is Europe’s first skyscraper in 1893. It is one of the few buildings to survive the bombing of the city in 1940.

In a stunning turn of events, it started to pour. There is a bit of sarcasm there but really the rain in the Netherlands can be so erratic. A hurricane one minute and five minutes later it can be sunny.

We survived the rain, and crossed the harbor. The bridge is such a contrast to the cute idyllic bridges that I have seen across canals in the Netherlands. But it provided interest in itself.

Boat Taxi

Let’s not forget the best part of crossing the bridge – going back where we started on a boat taxi! It actually traveled surprisingly quickly though the walls of the boat blocked the spray of rain and sea.

Museum Square – Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

My ambitious intention was to go through all the museums but the Boijmans proved to be quite fascinating. And by fascinating, I mean awe at the work of Rembrandt and confusion at the work of office lamps.

I very much enjoyed the museum because it had such a variety of pieces. And while some absorbed more of my intention than others, it was still interesting and a nice breath of fresh air to be introduced to things I hadn’t seen yet on the program.

20170714_153904There was a section on surrealism which came a surprise. I was well acquainted with Salvador Dali and René Magritte but it was nice to see these works in person. I particularly like A Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds because it captures to my mind an idyllic setting of a couple enjoying dinner by a picturesque beach. But it does this in such a unique and strange way – showing the outline of the couples and their landscape view inside each outline. Oh and apparently the contours are borrowed from the peasants in the painting “The Angelus” by Millet. I looked up the painting by Millet and I could see the resemblance to the outline.

20170714_153939And sometimes the strange works make you think. The “Not to Be Reproduced” by Rene Magritte shows a man from the rear, looking into the mirror, which reflects again the same image of the man viewed from behind. This incongruity makes you search for a deeper meaning in the painting. Sometimes I think the painter doesn’t aim for a specific deeper message but creates strange environments and incongruences in order to force the viewer to think and question and come up with some meaning for themselves.

Then I wandered into a room with lawn chairs and strange devices. I had tried to keep an open mind but at a certain point I will spend more time admiring a Rembrandt other than office chairs and desk lamps and a plastic nose.

20170714_154204Ah I did spot a Mondrian. It’s not that I’m a particular fan but my aunt told me about his work and likes his progression from landscapes to modern art. And then I saw Mondrian motifs throughout all of the Hague so at last I see the real thing. Truly a work like no other. How did he master the straight line? Almost all previous artists worked with curved lines, such as the curve of the face or the structure of Mona Lisa’s lips. This new art of straight lines, one-dimensional boxes, and simple primary colors reveals the truth about your soul. (Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit about my love for Mondrian’s lines)

Another theory I have for certain modern art is that the goal is to repulse. I saw two Charley Toorop paintings and I was impressed with the sharp expressions on the faces which were so characteristic in each face he painted (even across paintings) yet he still managed to create a unique facial expression in each face. Perhaps his goal was to create something repulsive as a stylistic challenge or a commentary on the person he was depicting. The painting Three Generations from Toorop is almost scary when you look deep into the eyes of the painter wielding a brush at you.

The Impressionism section of the museum I particularly enjoyed. I really love some impressionist paintings for the loose, unfinished style of painting that still captures the something so realistically if you only look at the colors and the overarching image. For example, Van Gogh’s Portrait of Armand Roulin can be considered to be quite ugly. At the same time, however, it captures nuanced expression so well. The face is serious though young and seems to capture the insecurities of the young Armand. Considering more beautiful paintings, De hut van de visser by Claude Monet is a beautiful depiction of a small cottage above the sea. The light bounces each element in the painting and it all comes together for a colorful, sunny seaside day.

Also one of my favorite paintings I saw was Titus at His Desk, also included in the Impressionism collection. The boy has a such a “lost in thought” expression on his face, representing curiosity and innocence. Also the lighting is really well done. When you go close to the painting, all the brush strokes are course and messy but taking a step back the whole image comes to life as if it were real.


As the museum tour was coming to a close I saw a knocked cloth hanging on the wall with plaque informing me it was art – a piece called Memento Mori which suddenly made the whole situation extremely morbid. I’ll leave it to the Latin readers among us to decipher. Almost all the artists depicted in that museum have been long dead, but there names and memory lives on through a mixture of skill and chance. Yet the masses of each century remain largely forgotten.


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