KWAB – Dutch Design in the Age of Rembrandt at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

Kwab? This does not sound very enticing. Nevertheless, this exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum will amaze you. If the display does not enchant; the complete design will. If design and display do not impress: imagine having to polish the over 100 objects on display.

On entering, visitors are shown a video of one of the most important works in this exhibition. The surf sounds in the background, while details blow up or diminish on a huge screen, while a camera zooms in and out.

The sound of the sea is aptly chosen, as this silver lidded ewer is composed of sea monsters, weird creatures, distorted images. What is shown, is the ultimate example of what the Dutch call Kwab. In English, this ornament style is usually called auricular or lobate.

This style was created by a Dutch master silversmith. In the early 17th century, Paulus van Vianen left Utrecht. In Prague, he worked for Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. This emperor seemed to have been fascinated by monsters and odd art.

When van Vianen returned to the Low Countries to visit his brother, he took Kwab examples and designs with him. Brother Adrian introduced the style in the Netherlands, inspiring other silversmiths.

Soon, it were not just silversmiths creating works using Kwab designs. The wonderful, fluid style was applied to create dishes, candle-holders, leather wall hanging, expensive furniture, church screens and much more.

The style conquered fashionable Europe, merging into full-blown Baroque. Plenty of works are in display-cases enabling visitors to walk around them. With this weird, fluid style, one step changes the way a work of art looks: new plants, monsters, creatures emerge.

The most stunning work remains Paulus van Vianen’s lidded ewer. It was created using one single sheet of silver; no welding. His creation was admired by Dutch Golden Age artists. Paintings by Rembrandt and other Dutch Golden Age painters nearby, show this very jug.

As mentioned above, it is not just the 130 masterpieces on display which impress. The design, created by visual artist Keso Dekker of this exhibition is spectacular. He is better known as creator of sets and costumes for over 500 theatre productions and stunning ballet settings.

The shining silverware, expensive exotic wooden furniture – everything combined, makes this a dazzling exhibition.   Kate Deni    10th July 2018


Kwab, Dutch Design in the Age of Rembrandt continues until 16th September.

Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam