FUN ON THE ICE at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Skating and ice are not always fun. A few drawings and prints in the small exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum show this. Yet it is clear, most 17th century Dutch had ‘fun on the ice’.

Only a tiny selection of 17th century prints and drawings from the museum’s extensive collection are shown. The exhibition can be found in room 2.7. This is between 2.6, showing two winter-scenes by Avercamp, and 2.9 which contains items recovered from Nova Zembla.

The Dutch 1596 expedition to Nova Zembla was a disaster. Team-members were forced to winter there, with few returning to the Netherlands. Later, archaeologists recovered items which are now shown in room 2.9. A nice reminder, winters are not always fun.

The next room contains the ‘fun on the ice’ exhibition. Look at the two owls, complete with killed mice, skating happily together. Turns out this print offers advice: marry within your own class.

There are more such moralizing prints. A beautiful castle in the distance, with someone who has had a skating accident? This print warns against the uncertainties of life.

No fun to be had at all? Have a look at the booklet, showing two pages. The left page shows a skating scene. The right one contains music and a song text. Try humming the tune.

A nearby text explains the skating fun. It allowed men and women to hold hands, ‘accidentally’ touch, skid and hold on to each other. In short: display the kind of behavior unacceptable in 17th century Holland – especially among unmarried men and women.

Like people all over Europe, 17th century Dutch lived during a short ice-age. Most winters canals, rivers and lakes froze over. Even the Zuiderzee (now IJsselmeer) and the Waddenzee were covered by a thick layer of ice.

Some drawings and prints not only show various sleighs and people skating – there are sailing vessels, mounted on long skates, gliding across the ice. Such mounted sailing boats, resembling modern beach sailing carts, reached considerable speeds.

No skating or sleighing contests are exhibited, but other seasonal sports are shown. Well-off gentlemen on skates, are playing ‘kolf’. It is an early version of ice-hockey and golf.

Avercamp drew sketches of poor people. They wear patched-up gowns, rags, no clogs nor shoes nor skates. Will they survive? He included an even worse scene: gallows with frozen corpses dangling in the winter light.

Seen enough? Then walk into the next room with Avercamp’s two wintry paintings. His Landscape with ice skaters shows the gallows again.

In his other painting, a lot goes on. After admiring it, take a plasticized sheet with further explanations to learn more. You must have detected those two having found a ‘quiet spot’ in the hay-stack? What about the naked bum, elsewhere? You spotted two?

And the spectral dog? Won’t tell where his ghost can be found: go visit this exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Don’t  forget to include the two Avercamp winter scenes as well: have fun!

Want to skate in Amsterdam? The Rijksmuseum is Official Culture Partner of “De Coolste Baan van Nederland”: the skating rink at the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam. From the 18th of January till the 28th of February you can buy tickets to skate here.  Kate Den   16th January 2018

The exhibition Fun on the Ice continues until 31st of March.

Landlieden met sleden op het ijs by Hendrick Avercamp (1595-1634) reproduced courtesy of and © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam