Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is home to over 8,000 priceless artworks, including the masterpieces of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and Steen… but did you know about the secret library? There is a magnificent art history library inside one of the galleries that is easy to miss unless you know where to look!
The Rijksmuseum is located in central Amsterdam, adjacent to the Van Gogh Museum on the Museumplein. It’s a beautiful Victorian-era building, designed by Pierre Cuypers, which opened in 1885. The Rijksmuseum is one of the most popular places to visit in the Dutch capital, receiving over two million visitors every year. Just like the Louvre in Paris, The Met in New York, and The National Gallery in London, you could easily spend your entire lifetime soaking up the incredible collection, but the average Amsterdam tourist usually has only an hour or two to explore, with most beelining to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.
Even though we live in Australia, my partner is Dutch, so I’ve been to the Rijksmuseum a number of times. On my most recent visit, I rushed past the Dutch Masters to check out the library. Even after multiple visits, I had never actually found the elusive library. The Cuypers Research Library is the largest art history library in The Netherlands and one of the most extensive in the world, where scholars can peruse a vast collection of art-related resources, books, periodicals and catalogues.
As the library is a real working space, students can be found working at the desks on the bottom level, while there is a purposely built mezzanine balcony on the second floor that overlooks the library from above, providing visitors with a place to appreciate the beauty of the library without disturbing the patrons in the reading room.
Upon entering the mezzanine, my eyes took a moment to adjust to the contrast of bright sunlight filtering through the cathedral windows and glass ceiling. When my eyes focused, they were met with a green, crimson and gold palette, wall to wall bookshelves, ornate colonnades and arches adorned with rosettes. Any avid bibliophile will be awestruck by this impressive library with its symmetrical layout and 20 metre high bookshelves that traverses four stories – and of course, no world-class library would be complete without a cast-iron spiral staircase connecting the levels.
You can find the Cuypers Library by following signs through the galleries in the 18th-century wing on level one of the main building. The signs say Bibliotheek, the Dutch word for library. You have to enter through glass double doors, which block out the noise of the bustling galleries just outside.
If you do ever find yourself in Amsterdam, definitely carve out some time for the Rijksmuseum. Although my photos of the museum include the infamous iAmsterdam sign, it has since been removed from the square, a measure taken by the City of Amsterdam to curb the excessive number of tourists flocking to the sign and climbing all over it.
The Rijksmuseum Cuypers Research Library
Afterwards, if you are looking for somewhere to enjoy a nice lunch, you could try Café Américain in the Leidseplein nearby, a gorgeous Art-Deco style brasserie serving Dutch specialities, like freshly shucked oysters and croquettes.