Detail Work, Dutch Style


Author: Noel Hemphill

I, like many students who study abroad, have taken this time to not only study in a foreign country, but to explore the other foreign countries surrounding it. Studying in Europe offers a special advantage, as the many beautiful, proud countries that make up Western Europe are short flights away. Being situated in England – home of five airports just outside of London – and armed with the cheap airfare courtesy of EasyJet, it is delightfully simple to jet from city to city on a weekend. This past weekend, I had the chance to visit Amsterdam. Most people know the city for it’s infamous Red Light District, where tourists and locals alike can partake in all sorts of questionable activities.

I now know the city as something quite different. Canals float above glassy water ways all over the city, and long, wide diner boats slide effortlessly through these waterways. Couples share a bike ride home, and kids race each other down the narrow streets. The crisp, clean air of the museum district encourages you to enjoy a warm latte in the park before perusing works by Van Gogh. Perhaps best of all, the city is absolutely filled with beautifully designed buildings and cathedrals of all styles, and next door you will likely find a busy restaurant serving waffles, crepes or pancakes. No wonder bikes and walking are preferred modes of transport!

In arguably the most impressive building in Amsterdam, one finds the Rijks Museum. This museum is massive, with a total collection estimated to be one million objects of Dutch history and art, dating back to the year 1200. Currently, the museum displays over 8,000 pieces of their collection; these pieces represent a wide array of dutch works, from modern items such as a full scale airplane, to dollhouses and miniature furniture, to masterpieces by Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. It is almost overwhelming to see so many incredible items in one place.

I found myself incredibly struck by an image by Bartholomeus van der Helst. The image, entitled “Militia Company of District VIII under the Command of Captain Roelof Bicker” is enormous size, measuring 24 and a half feet wide. The image is not what one might typically expect of a military scene. Instead of all the men in dark, drab uniforms, the prominent figures sport light pastels, coral accents and rich metallics. Van der Helst took special care to put detailed work into each of these elaborately dressed men; they have gold fringe on their hems, gilded lace and beading around their waists and down their legs – they even have rosettes on their stockings! I am positively jealous of their wardrobes. How can I get my hands on the number of their couturier?

Many fashion designers say they have found their inspiration for a collection through artwork. Botticelli’s work has been cited by various designers, and the recent Fall collection by Dolce and Gabbana is a celebration of the ornate Byzantine and Medieval religious imagery. I suspect if people took a moment to really examine just one of the figures in Van der Helst’s image, they would find the masterful designs to be utterly inspiring.

I hope that I can emulate, in even a small way, the detailed, precise beauty of their attire. But let’s also be honest – too much fringe, beading and bejeweled accents can be tacky. There is a harmonious medium for this. Some women follow the idea that before leaving the house, they ought to remove one item of jewelry. I feel a little differently: simply dress for the occasion. A pile of gold and jewels around your neck and wrists for class? Hardly appropriate. Don’t waste your best stuff on your professors – they would prefer you put that effort forth on your papers. However, for an event requiring more formal attire, a simple cocktail dress goes from flattering to fabulous when accessorized well. Make yourself the masterpiece that Van der Helst or Rembrandt would have been proud of.

I wouldn’t suggest trying to pull off the impressionist look of Van Gogh. It’s a beautiful effect on a canvas, but dotted, unblended makeup is so not a good look. Save that idea for Halloween when “slutty cat” stops being a fun costume.


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