Viewing the bountiful treasures in the PEM’s new exhibit, “Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age,” it is not difficult to imagine how the newly discovered luxuries from the east arriving in Amsterdam from the spice trade route delighted, engaged and excited 17th century Amsterdam. Fueled by a new class of consumers, the import of colorful porcelain, shiny lacquerware, mother-of-pearl embedded furnishings and bright and light cotton and silk fabric from the Far East – not to mention spices such as nutmeg, cloves and pepper – transformed the monochromatic life of the city into its Golden Age.
Today’s viewers will be equally as enthralled by the exhibit, which is on display through June 5 and is co-organized by the Rijksmuseum.
As museums in port cities boasting collections linked to historical international trade, the PEM and Rijksmuseum, founded one year apart in 1799 and 1798 respectively, were perfect partners for this collaboration. More than 200 varied works are on display, including some from the PEM’s renowned Asian export art collection, as well as pieces on loan from 60 collections worldwide, including the British, Swedish and Dutch royal households. Through great works of art, maps, furniture, weapons, ceramics and clothing, the exhibit examines and illustrates the history and impact of a unique moment in history.
The Dutch were quick to take to the exotic Asian goods. Fashionable men of the time began to wear silk Japanese robes, and women began to drink Chinese tea and collect and display porcelain, a habit that has continued for centuries. Rembrandt and other Dutch painters of the Golden Age who had begun to develop the art of the still-life, began to incorporate the imported luxuries into their works. Dutch artisans attempted to imitate the art of the east, which led to the development of the quintessentially Dutch Delft.
The ripples of the cultural, artistic and economic waves of this era can still be felt today, and the exhibit successfully unveils the layers of the movement, delighting every step of the way.