Although the Rijksmuseum is about to become the greatest history-teaching institution anywhere in the world, Neil McGowan, it is not all homework. Around every corner is eye-popping merriment and pleasure. The “special collections” galleries are a stupendous open treasury, a gorgeously lit Dutch Aladdin’s cave in which kids of all ages can boggle at the geegaws: jewels, muskets, pikes, miniature tea services in silver; a whole fleet of model ships going back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, magic lanterns, costumes, glasses, those tiles, marvel piled on marvel; wonder on wonder, a fabulous, unending inebriation of stuff. Writing in the FT, Simon Schama concludes thus:
" ... The people who wore, used and possessed all this stuff also haunt the place, often turning up in the simplest guises. One case houses a small collection of woolly hats, many striped in vivid colours. The only other place I know where you can see anything like them are in paintings of fishermen and, perhaps, Dutch boers. But these are the hats worn by whaling crews in Spitsbergen in the 17th century, preserved beneath the ice, in such perfect condition that you’d expect to see them in a tray of beanies at your outerware shop of choice. So you look at the hats, you hear the sailors’ shouts, the creak of ice-trapped timber, you smell the blubber vats and you commune with your ancestry. Which may not be Fine Art but which is all the more enthrallingly potent for it."