Black in Rembrandt’s time

Black in Rembrandt’s time

Exploring Rembrandt, we hit upon a hidden treasure in his legacy. Little known until today, the Dutch master reserved an interesting role for black people in his paintings. These portraits are exhibited from March 6, 2020 at The Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam. Although, in all fairness, the museum shows no more than one painting of Rembrandt featuring black people. Other portraits of black noblemen, displayed in the museum, are made by lesser painters, in later time. ‘Although’, curators point out, ‘these artists were of course influenced by Rembrandt.’ Painful confrontation One of these curators, Stephanie Archangel, always thought that black people were missing in Dutch Golden Age painting: ’And if they ever did figure in Dutch portraits, they usually took on obedient roles, being either slave or servant.’ Wondering around in a museum was difficult for Stephanie because painted black models didn’t resemble her: ‘For a black person it’s painful to see blacks only portrayed negatively. Especially since more roles are out there.’ Taking on the concept of racial role-giving on the canvas, the exhibition kicks off with sixteenth and seventeenth century examples of how Dutch artists depicted Africans. The black man is usually portrayed as a noble savage at best, walking around naked, retaining limited intelligence and hungry for human flesh. ‘Native Africans’, in: Carel Allard, ‘Orbis Habitabilis Oppida et Vestititus’, 1685  ‘Even though cannibalism isn’t even mentioned in travel lodges’, says curator Epco Runia: ’Idealising racial prejudices and projecting stereotypes in painting were commonplace. Except, of course, for Rembrandt and his contemporaries. Between 1620-660 these Dutch masters tried closely to depict reality. Therefore they portrayed landscapes...
Football for life or death

Football for life or death

During the darkest days of Nazi occupation of Ukraine, the footballers of Dynamo Kiev gathered all of their courage to achieve their greatest victory. A triumph they paid for with their lives. Fighting the Nazi war machine In September 1941, the German army entered Kiev. While battle troops marched further east, an occupation force stayed behind, clearing the city of Jews and communists. Alarming news for Dynamo’s football players who, playing for a state sponsored club, were automatically registered as member of the Communist Party. And, for their part, the Nazi’s left little doubt about what they would do with communists who would fall in their hands. Communist at heart was Dynamo’s goalkeeper Nikolai Trusevich. Once celebrated for his extraordinary style of defending the goal, Trusevich now was broke and malnourished. The Nazi invasion of his city had caused him to lose everything. At the end of 1941, however, his luck changed. By accident, he walked into well to do quisling Jozif Kodik. Besides collaborating with Germans, Kodik happened to be a great Dynamo fan. Unable to see his former goalkeeping hero in dire straits, Kodik  immediately decided to help, getting Trusevich a job in a local bakery. Within months other former teammates joined the bakery’s workforce. As a matter of fact, by now there were enough Dynamo players to form a football team again. United at the bakery Kodik pulled strings to get these players registered in the national football league under German supervision. For the Nazi authorities a football league in occupied Ukraine seemed to be an original idea to boost popular morale in the country. After...
Sustainability at the Dutch Household Fair 2020

Sustainability at the Dutch Household Fair 2020

Staying in line with global trends towards sustainability, the Dutch Household Fair 2020 highlights companies with innovative ideas. Catching the eye is Vattenfall’s wooden baby box, assembled in truly and entirely sustainable fashion. First and foremost, the box bars are cut from a tree already sick and dying (so, no loss there). For their part, the lumberjacks kept it green by relying on electrical chainsaws. For the bedframe, linen was brought in from the Dutch island of Texel on a sails ship. ‘’As they steered the ship into harbour’’, says Vattenfall spokesman Pieter, ‘’they still held on to durable energy by using an electrical motor’’. Producing steel screws from nature, however, proved to be too difficult. Too costly. “And still,’’ continues Pieter focusing our attention on an iron dot in the bedframe, ‘’we managed to create a tiny amount of green steel. Brought in, by train, from Sweden.  Putting all pieces together, production costs exceed over 20.000 euro. ‘’Too expensive for average consumers’’, knows Pieter, “but a price we gladly pay to prove that it actually is possible to produce a baby box purely from natural resources. At least that’s how I sold it to my wife”. Rightly so. Because at the Household Fair, all executive power is transferred to housewives. Meticulously holding the lines, they forage the exhibition hall, moving at a controlled tempo, accelerating at the stand of Sodastream. This kitchen device turns tap water into a sparkling sensation. “A long waited solution to daily problems”, according to Sodastream’s promotions team. “No more tossing around with bottles of sparkling water from the supermarket. And, of course, you...
Him or me. Canadian and German perspectives on WW II in the Netherlands

Him or me. Canadian and German perspectives on WW II in the Netherlands

On the 14th of February 2020, exactly 75 years after the bombing of Dresden, the Dutch National Military Museum, opened the doors of an unusual exhibition. ‘Him or me’ turns an eye on the Battle for the Netherlands in 1944-45, seen partly from German perspective. Nazi-conscript Hans Kürten figures as one of the main characters in a display of exceptional artefacts, weapons, uniforms and vehicles (such as the V1 Reichenberg and the Tiger II tank). Next to Kürten’s story, the war experience of Canadian soldier Léo Major comes to life. In service of the Régiment de la Chaudière, Major was one of tens of thousands of Canadians who fought and bled for the liberation of Holland. Their sacrifice, however, is not well known. As of today, many Dutch are of the opinion that their country, indeed the whole of West-Europe, has been liberated largely thanks to the American war effort. It were Hollywood movies and TV-series that cultivated the image of Allied victory as an American tour de force, leaving little attention to the struggle (and bravery) of Canadian, British and Polish troops. Their willingness to give their lives for the liberation of Europe is acknowledged by the museum’s decision to set up its exhibition from Canadian point of view. At the same time, attention (though not sympathy) is given to the hardships of war that were all too real for German soldiers as well. Kürsten saw bitter fighting on the Eastern Front before being sent to Normandy. As his 116th  Panzerdivision ‘Windhund’ tried to stop the Allied invasion, Kürsten fell witness to more gruesome scenes. According to one...
In search of the Ruins of Gedi

In search of the Ruins of Gedi

Much is yet to discover about the Ruins of Gedi. The ancient town on the Kenyan coast gained weight as prosperous Swahili city-state throughout Africa’s Middle Ages. The bulk of its wealth Gedi originated by its importance as a coastal town in the Indian Ocean trade system. From the 7th century, trade networks linked this part of Kenya to merchant centres as far away as India and Oman. From these harbours, merchant ships would sail to East Africa, exchanging cotton and ceramics for ivory and slaves. Along the way, Arab and Indian merchants settled down along the Kenyan coast. As a result, exotic exchange gave birth to an unique Swahili culture, characterised by Islam inspired architecture and, for dinner, delicious chipati bread. Typically, Swahili language is a fusion of Bantu speech enriched by Arab, Hindi, Persian and Portuguese loanwords. However, turning back to the ruins, ‘Gedi’ is not a Swahili word at all. It were the Oromo who founded Gedi in the 11th century and gave the city its name (meaning ‘precious’ in their language). Known for being fierce horsemen, the Oromo built this complex as a command centre for future raids. Over the years, as new settlers came in, Gedi was redefined. By the fifteenth century, the city has turned from a military outpost into a luxury resort. Jewellery from exotic places In the centre of the city stood the royal palace. Here the sheikh – alternately Swahili or Arab – housed with his two or three wives. The royal family had their own private toilets – still standing today -, whereas their servants had to use the...
Estonia paves the way for free public transport

Estonia paves the way for free public transport

Next to beautiful beaches, Estonia hides another treasure up her sleeve: free public transport. What started as a political stunt in 2013, worked out to be a nationwide project. As of July 2018, everybody can use regional busses in most counties without paying a fare. Are they living the dream? All in for free transit Aiming on votes for the 2012 municipal elections, Tallinn’s mayor Edgar Savisaar held a public opinion poll to see whether his city was up for free public transport. An idea that didn’t quite bedazzle everyone. Firstly, critics said, the mayor stole the concept from the Social Democrats, who already put forward the idea in 2005. Secondly, opponents argued that the estimated transition costs (€ 60 million) would be a waste of public money. Those who could afford it, would still prefer driving a car. On the other side, 75 % of the voters gave green light to introduce the scheme, making Tallinn the world’s first fare-free transport capital in January 2013. All (and only) legally registered citizens could, after purchasing a green card (€ 2), hop on every means of public transport in the city. Reasons pro were plenty. Low income households saw their mobility increased, allowing them access to jobs. At the same time, the unemployed remained attached to society. Not only poor families with children would now be able to engage in leisure activities, also high income households were aroused to commercial activity in the capital. All in all, the experiment attracted newcomers. And, as more people registered into Tallinn, the city incomes from tax revenues made up for the annual €...