Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Wooly Hats In The Rijksmuseum



Now that it's been re-opened , beautifully refurbished and reorganised , I decided to go down to Amsterdam and  have a day in the Rijks Museum .
And loved it all , of course . No , not the queues or the crowds ... it's apparently best to go early on Monday mornings , difficult unless you live round the corner ... but the excellence and variety of the collections is stunning .
And therein lies the problem . Even after a pause for lunch , by Floor 2 and the Seventeenth century  I was slightly overwhelmed . Bewigged gentlemen , tapestries and silver , Renaissance angels and Greek gods , pomegranates , hunting scenes and men-of-war had become  indistinguishable ....
Then I turned a corner and , under a large painting of  another stormtossed boat  , I found a small cabinet of wooly hats .



In 1980 , while excavating the graves of 185 Dutch whalers who had died while working in Spitsbergen in the seventeenth century , archaologists found that the bodies were still wearing their woolen caps . In the bitter cold of an Artic winter , the caps , all different ,  had been the only way to distinguish one sailor from another , muffled up as they all were to the eyes .
And , for me , nothing made the past more real than this little group of wooly hats , stocking-stitch stll clear and colours fresh . You could picture them all : lanky Piet with his stripey stovepipe , pompous Hendrijk in his brimmed hat and little Jan in his beige bunnet . And the wives and mothers who'd knitted each cap and waited for the boat's return .


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8 comments:

Friko said...

Isn’t it always the case that the most modest exhibits are also the most touching? Nothing brings the conditions of these whalers more home to modern man than items of clothing meant to protect from the bitter cold.

The humble wooly hat, knitted by mum, sister or wife gave men their identity.

It’s getting cold, I must bring out my wooly hats too; I’ll wear a nice bright one, then people will know it’s me they see looming out of the rain and mist.

Marcheline said...

Reminds me of the shoes, eyeglasses, and dolls they brought back from the wreck of the Titanic.

rachel said...

What a wonderful find - so poignant. I shall look out for them when I'm in Amsterdam next time.

Shandy said...

I recall visiting the Rijksmuseum in the early 70s - can it have been? Everything focused on "The Night Watch" then. How lovely to see a bit of homely knitting there - if a bit macabre.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Those are perfect. It is hard to believe that they weren't made last year. They made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Lucille said...

How modern they look and how arresting to see them exhibited this way.

Monica said...

oh wow, what a wonderful thing!

Moving, very moving.

colleen said...

Lovely, lovely.

My cousin has been encouraging me to visit her in the Hague all year. I think these hats may have swung it.