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A Weekend in Utrecht (exhibition Abraham Bloemaert at the Centraal Museum)

A Weekend in Utrecht (exhibition Abraham Bloemaert at the Centraal Museum)

Georges Rouzeau - 2012-01-16

Utrecht celebrates Abraham Bloemaert, father of the Utrecht school of painting, with an exhibition entitled The Bloemaert Effect – Colour and Composition in the Golden Age featuring 45 works by the master known as the Rubens of the North (through 5 February, 2012).

The art of Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) is present in all of the great museums of the world, from the Hermitage of St. Petersburg to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Louvre owns three of his works: Allegory of Winter, Adoration of the Shepherds and The Preaching of St. John the Baptist. At least 200 of his paintings are catalogued, as well as 1,500 drawings and around 600 engravings. A painter of history, he also illustrated scenes from the Bible and mythology and produced a few landscapes.
Bloemaert trained in the Mannerist style in France before becoming influenced by Caravaggism through former pupils who had studied in Italy. Toward the end of his career, he embraced a more academic classicism; his influence was considerable in the Dutch Empire. The ‘Rubens of the North’, as he was known, created a school of art and printed a collection of engravings to be used for study that was a reference in the field until the 19C. His sons, painters all, largely contributed to making his work known.
While he may not rival a Rubens or a Rembrandt, Bloemaert’s considerable talents merit more notice than he has generally received. The Centraal Museum has great hopes for this exhibition which presents 45 paintings, most of which have been entirely restored, by the father of the School of Utrecht. Better yet, the whole city has made a concerted effort to ‘own’ Bloemaert, presenting him as one of its most illustrious natives as with the Amsterdam-Rembrandt tandem.
Another must-see: Museum Catharijneconvent
Together with a neighbouring house dating from the 18C, this Late Gothic-style convent of the order of St. John of Malta features collections of religious art which evoke Christianity in the Netherlands from its beginnings to the present. Amongst innumerable masterpieces, from reliquaries to sculptures, the art of the Dutch Golden Age has pride of place here, with paintings by Jan van Scorel, Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Pieter Saenredam.
A few 20C paintings are also displayed, such as work by Jan Toorop, Shinkichi Tajiri and Marc Mulders, bearing witness to the survival of religious art well into the present. With a pleasant cafeteria at the entrance, this museum is one of the finest of its genre anywhere.
Utrecht, the city                                          
The city of Utrecht, an ancient Roman garrison at the far reaches of the Empire, is Holland’s fourth largest urban agglomeration and a vibrant university town. The small centre - historic and perfectly manicured (like just about everything Dutch, actually) - is terribly charming. If pedestrians pay heed to the bicycles that whip about silently at top speed (accidents can be deadly), they can fully enjoy the town’s mazes of alleyways, pocket-sized courtyards, flowery balconies, ancient hospices-cum-residences and especially the unique canal system that even rivals that of the capital.
Traversed by bridges and lined with lovely old buildings, the canals of Utrecht have both upper quays – the ‘street’ – and, especially, lower quays at water level. These latter, planted with trees that give welcome shade in summer and handsome foliage in autumn, are home to a series of restaurant and café terraces and even small shops set in ancient vaulted cellars. Boat trips are organised along the waters year ‘round.
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Practical Information
Preparing your trip
Getting there
Via Eurostar, a journey from London to Rotterdam with a connection in Brussels takes around 4 hours. There are four trains per hour from Rotterdam to Utrecht; plan on approximately 40 additional minutes.
There are also many air links from the UK and Europe to Rotterdam, as well as ferries from Harwich to Hook of Holland on Stena Line; Hook of Holland-Utrecht is just over an hour’s drive.
Grand Hotel Karel V
Geertebolwerk 1
3511 XA Utrecht
The Netherlands
Tel: (31) 30 233 75 55
Just a ten-minute walk from the train station, this historic building used to be a monastery, part of which was built in the 14C. Set in the middle of a park, the hotel offers large, classic rooms in the Napoleonic wing. From the 4th floor, the view of the city’s bell towers and roofs urges travellers to go down and explore the city. In addition to its fitness room and nice spa with a small pool, the Karel V is also known for the quality of its restaurants, Le Grand Restaurant Karel V, which was recently awarded a Michelin star, and the Brasserie Goeie Louisa, excellent value for money.
Centraal Museum d’Utrecht
The Bloemaert Effect – Colour and Composition in the Golden Age until 5 February 2012.
Museum Catharijneconvent
More articles about the Netherlands:
– A weekend in Maastricht. TEFAF, Europe’s largest art and antiques fair, is held here from 16 to 25 March 2012

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