Marcel Wanders’s Rijks, Masters of the Golden Age

A limited-edition art book in which cultural figures reimagine Dutch masters

Dutch designer Marcel Wanders’ work is known for its entrepreneurial ingenuity – he has been dubbed the “Lady Gaga of Design” – and with a design studio filled with 50 creatives in the heart of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district, as well as a book, Amsterdam Creative Capital,on the city’s intellectual, political and creative history, already under his belt, his devotion to his country’s capital is clear.

So it’s welcome news that his latest collaboration is an art publication – launching initially in a limited edition – with Amsterdam’s renowned Rijksmuseum, home to Golden Age artists such as Rembrandt, van Ruysdael, Steen and Hals. A “coffee-table” edition of the book (€125) will be available from September, but a limited edition (€6,500, 70cm x 50cm x 9cm) launches on Friday April 8, crafted in leather with silver plating and printed with high-pigmented inks.

The museum’s Gallery of Honour is the source of the collaboration, a place where “the masters of the Golden Age hang between portraits of unknown craftsmen,” says Dutch art history expert Marko Kassenaar, who explains that the building’s original architect, Pierre Cuypers, “wanted to show that creativity and inspiration are attainable for everyone”.

It’s a design philosophy that chimes well with Wanders’ own – he believes in uniting designer, craftsperson and user and rejecting old dogmas. Moooi, the platform for global design talent of which Wanders is co-founder and art director, is a prime example of how he likes to work. Combining the talents of 30 designers, Moooi is known for its daring, playful but timeless furniture and lighting designs.

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His approach to this latest project – three years in the making – is markedly similar, bringing together the ideas of 30 global designers, thought leaders and craftspeople in Rijks, Masters of the Golden Age. The contributors have turned their attention to iconic paintings from the Rijksmuseum, including Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.

Experimental chef Ferran Adrià comments on a van Dijck still life (second picture) and compares food in a painting to food on a plate – “The plate and the painting share almost everything, except for smell and taste”; cult filmmaker and photographer Anton Corbijn is drawn to the play of light and dark in van Ruisdael’s Winter Landscape; and designer Angela Missoni picks up on the image of the mother in Steen’s The Feast of Saint Nicholas (third picture).

Seeing the contributors’ perceptive reactions to the works has the same thrill as eavesdropping on visitors to an exhibition, except that, instead of craning your neck to see over someone’s shoulder, the works are available close up, in glorious colour, using fine printing techniques (the Italian printer also makes books for the Vatican).

Also available to order is an art edition (price on request, 70cm x 50cm x 9cm), which is crafted completely by hand in leather with gold plating and handwritten calligraphy – essentially your own manuscript. Like the limited edition, it comes with a specially designed table stand, protective sleeve, white gloves and Behind the Scenes book, which will appeal to collectors. Bespoke elements include calligraphy in the buyer’s language of choice, the addition of a family coat of arms and unique artworks by the book's contributors.

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“It’s a book about how the greatest masterpieces influence how we see the world today,” says Wanders. In this, it is on its way to being a work of art in its own right.   

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