Category Archives: Europe

Rietberg Museum: Ars Una

Relatively close to my home, is a museum dedicated to artworks from afar. Zürich’s Rietberg Museum is one of my favourite places to explore when in the city. Don’t be misled by the reference to “ars una,” (a new phrase to me – one I came across when researching the Rietberg’s history, which lead to — more research). The museum’s collection is wonderfully diverse. I stopped in one recent rainy Saturday and took some photos to share with you. I’ll tell you about a little scandal, too.Rietberg Zurich Street Entrance - photo Sara Lynne Moffatt


Originally opened in 1952, the museum’s foundation is a collection donated to the city of Zürich by Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964). The Baron, born in Germany and later became a Swiss national, was a banker with a passion for visual art. To him, “ars una” (or one art) meant all art – art embodying the diverse expressions created by people from around the globe.

The Rietberg complex consists of several buildings. Villa Wesendonck houses Indian sculpture, pre-Columbian art, works from Tibet, South East Asia and Oceania, and a collection of Swiss Carnival masks. The Remise Atelier, seen in the photos above, contains a Japanese tearoom and craft studio. Villa Schönberg holds a reference library. Park-Villa Rieter, a short stroll from the other buildings, displays paintings from India.Rietberg Museum Blossoms and a Cyclist Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Villa Wesendonck, the main building, is a grand neo-classical structure, built for Otto Wesendonck and his wife, Mathilde in 1857. Both were originally from Germany. He was a silk merchant and she, a poet and author. They enjoyed hosting artists in their home. Among them was Richard Wagner. For a time, Wagner and his wife, Minna, stayed in the Wesendonck’s Villa Schönberg, located across the street from the house Otto and Mathilde lived in.

You enter the museum through a modern green glass pavilion, suitably named Emerald. The triangle pattern decorating the glass is reminiscent of the lush hill the complex sits on. This greenhouse-like cube is the only visible marker of the substantial museum expansion completed in 2007. Its architects, Alfred Grazioli (Berlin) and Adolf Krischanitz (Vienna/Berlin), cleverly created a spacious, two-level subterranean display area; leaving the original character of the villas and grounds intact. The underground section houses artworks from Africa, China and Japan, along with special exhibitions.

Looking Out Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Ready to go in? Before we get to the artwork, I’ll fill you in on the scandal. The entrance way is a discrete nod to it.

During his stay with the Wesendonck’s, Richard Wagner became enamoured with Mathilde. He wrote many letters to her professing his love. It’s said, that his affair with Mathilde inspired him to compose Tristan and Isolde. The opera includes five poems written by Mathilde, one being “Im Treibhaus” (“In the Greenhouse” or “In the Hothouse”). You can read an English translation of the poem here. Including the writing of others in his work was uncharacteristic for Wagner. Does it suggest that they had an illicit liaison? More certainly, Wagner thought highly of Mathilde’s writing. Affair or no affair, Tristan and Isolde is considered a magnificent opera. Now let me show you some of the Rieteberg’s magnificent artworks.

Rietberg Japanese Watercolour - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Japanese watercolour, Woman with Brush and Poem Card. Japan, Edo period, 1832. By Totoya Hokkei (1780 – 1850).

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Sculpture Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of the Hindu Goddess Durga Fighting with a Demon. Indian, Karnataka, probably Mysore, Dynasty, 11th century. The Goddess protects her believers from evil.

Rietberg Maori Carving Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Detail of a carved wooden house post depicting a tattooed figure. Of Maori origin, New Zealand, pre-1900.

Rietberg Chinese Silver Box Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Silver melon-shaped box with a mouse. China, Tang Dynasty (618-907). This intricately detailed box is about 5 centimetres tall.

Amorous Couple Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sandstone relief sculpture of an amorous couple. Central India, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century. The Rietberg’s literature notes, “according to the shilpashastras (ancient art manuals), the main purpose of an artwork is to create emotions (rasa). In this context eroticism, the queen of all rasas, plays a central role.”

Rietberg Ganesha Sculpture - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of Ganesha, the Hindu deity of beginnings. Ganesha also aids believers in overcoming obstacles. India, Bundelkhand, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century.

I hope that you enjoyed the mini-tour. Do you have a favourite piece? As a collector of boxes, I’d love to add the silver melon-shaped box to my stash. Better yet, wrap them all up, please! A little something did make its way home with me. I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

You can view more of the Rietberg’s wonderful collection online. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts a number of special exhibitions. Until June 1, 2014, you can see a wonderful display of carvings, sculptures and masks by artists from the Ivory Coast. The works span 300 years and include a number of contemporary pieces.  From mid-May through early August, works by the Zen master and painter Sengai will be on display.

If you visit, allow time to stroll through Rieterpark, a picturesque park overlooking Lake Zürich. On sunny days, pick up a bite to go from the Rieterberg’s café, head into the park, choose a shady spot under one of the majestic trees and enjoy a picnic. It’s almost as lovely to visit the park on rainy days.
Magnolia Blossoms Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees

Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
this tree has no comparison.

-Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234)

Photographs by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Additional Articles of Interest
Museum Rietberg Press Release: From Buddha to Picasso: The Collector Eduard von der Heydt
Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim (

Amsterdam’s Canal Houses: More than Just a Pretty Facade

A while back, I was chatting with friends about things we could make using a 3D printer. Having a 3D printer at home could be quite handy.  Just realized that the unimportant-looking thingamajig you tossed out is an essential component of the juicer/ steamer/whatnot? Don’t worry, simply sketch, then 3D print a new one. Amsterdam’s DUS Architects firm is thinking bigger, much BIGGER. After years of planning, they recently started to 3D print a modern version of the traditional canal house; a life-size, 13-room version. You can follow the build here.

I like that DUS’s future-focused design includes a classic stepped gable. During my visits to Amsterdam last year, I spent hours meandering and taking in the details. While the predominately 17th and 18th century canal houses are fairly uniform in shape, their varied architectural elements add incredible charm and character to the city.

Canal Houses Amsterdam - Bell Gable Through their designs, from the simple bell-shaped neck-gables, elegant cornices and mouldings…

Canal Houses Amsterdam …to the rhythm of windows spanning building facades, Amsterdam’s early architects helped to create a jewel box of a city.

Doors with Figurative Detail Amsterdam

Urban Landscaping Along the Amstel Canal Amsterdam With most gardens hidden from view behind the narrow, deep buildings, it was a pleasure to come across this lush urban oasis when walking beside the Amstel Canal.

Why are the canal houses narrow and deep? Effective urban planning.

Between the 13th and mid-17th century, Amsterdam grew from a humble trading post for commodities such as herring and beer to a bustling multinational centre of commerce. There are a couple of key reasons for the city’s growth. Firstly, tolls were low. The prospect of earning higher profits attracted traders. Higher profits then allowed them to invest in new technologies and expand their businesses. Secondly, people fleeing from the persecution and violence taking place in other parts of Europe were welcomed by the Dutch. Many of the refugees were wealthy and used their wealth to fund sea expeditions to India; eventually, organizing the Dutch East India Company. Later, the Dutch West India Company was established and undertook trading expeditions to the New World.

In 1300, Amsterdam had 1,000 inhabitants.  By 1600, the population stood at 54,000. Relative to today’s mega-cities, that seems small. However, the city was bursting at the seams. To accommodate the rapidly increasing population, in 1613, city planners developed a grand plan to expand the canal ring. Its implementation was a success. By 1675, over 200,000 people comfortably lived and worked in Amsterdam.

The GIF images give you an idea of how the city grew. They depict layouts dating about 1340, 1425, 1585, 1613, 1663 and the end of 19th century.

By substantially expanding the canal system in the 1600’s and creating narrow building plots, the city planners maximized the number of businesses that could be established along Amsterdam’s waterways. The long plots stretched between the canals and allowed for generous backyards.

The typical canal house provided both commercial and residential spaces. The architectural renderings shown below are of a canal house designed by the Golden Age Dutch architect Philip Vingboons. The front of the building was used for retail, office, warehousing and/or trading activities. The residential area was located at the rear of the building, offering respite from the busy waterways and opening into a gorgeous garden. Each zone was serviced by its own staircase.  The famously narrow footprint of the staircases maximized floor space. Furniture and other large items were (and still are) hoisted to the upper levels using hooks attached to the exterior of the building.

VingboonsOver time, many of Amsterdam’s canal houses were converted into hotels, condos, and office buildings. However, the type of work/live buildings conceived by Vingboons and other early Dutch architects could be ideal for today’s expanding entrepreneurial and small business sectors.

DUS’s 3D-printed house concept considers the building needs and environmental impacts of rapidly growing 21st century cities. DUS Architects partner Hedwig Heinsman speaks to this during an interview by Blouin ARTINFO which you can view here.

Canal Houses Amsterdam Neck Gables and Flat RoofedIs a 3D printed home in your future? The potential of this emerging technology is quite intriguing. I’m working on a sketch of the canal houses shown in the photo above. I may start sketching out my ideal home next. By the time I finish it, 3D printed neighbourhoods could be popping up everywhere.

Amsterdam canal house sketch

Illustration Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Additional Sources:

Amsterdam Canal Houses (some information is available in English)
Amsterdam City Archives
Amsterdam: Historical Population
European Architecture: Essential Architecture – Amsterdam
Holland History
UNESCO: Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam Inside the Singelgracht

Eleven Travel Souvenir Ideas Based on Maps

Working on blog posts is a bit like ambling around a new destination. Start in one direction, keep your eyes open and soon you’ll find yourself among unexpected delights. I was putting together a post on Amsterdam’s canal houses, which grew into a larger research effort. In doing the research, I looked at old maps of the city, which led me to a surprising array of items made using maps.

Map of Amsterdam by cartographer J Blaeu, 1649.

Map of Amsterdam by cartographer J. Blaeu, 1649.

Antique, vintage and reproduction maps make great travel souvenirs. Not when tucked away in drawers, but when put on display, or turned into fun and useful items. Here are some of the ideas that I came across, along with one item that I quickly made myself.1 - 9 Handcrafted
With the holiday season coming up, these items could make wonderful gifts for the traveller or want-to-be traveller on your list. Or perhaps as bon voyage or welcome home gifts.1 2 3

  1. DIY magnetic board covered with a vintage map. This easy-to-do project is by graphic designer Michael Jon Watt. The instructions are via Apartment Therapy.
  2. Drawer pulls or cabinet knobs created by Kristy and Matt of Daisy Mae Designs. Use a different destination for each drawer or cabinet. In addition to the knobs, you’ll find a variety of other items in this Etsy shop, from cuff links to wine stoppers, that incorporate original vintage maps.
  3. Certified organic cotton cushion cover printed with a map of Amsterdam. Created by Cath of My Bearded Pigeon. Cath is an Etsy featured seller, you can read an interview with her here.4 5 6
  4. Canal-house shaped cushions in cotton printed with maps of Amsterdam from the Fanatica Barcelona Etsy shop. Shown is a set of three different gable styles, single cushions are also available.
  5. DIY six-sided block puzzle using old maps, as seen on a blog here. For inspiration only as no instructions are available via the link.
  6. My own 20-minute DIY project, a map-covered box. Mini-instructions are at the end of the post. I’m using this box to store paper clips. Larger boxes could be covered with actual maps.7 8 9
  7. Custom-made photo album created by Ali Manning of Vintage Page Designs. Ali also creates travel and other journals which she will personalize for you.
  8. Handcrafted coasters made by Jonathon Wayne Sopotiuk, an artist and designer studying at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada. The coasters shown display a map of The Netherlands. Coasters showing many other destinations along with custom options are available through his Etsy shop (click through link provided on his name).
  9. DIY decoupaged glass trays. You can find instructions here, the image that I used is from here. If you aren’t a DIYer, search Etsy for handcrafted ones.

10 Framed Maps Banner
Maps on Floating ShelvesFramed antique and vintage maps of places you’ve visited or are on your wish list would make a wonderful art collection. A relatively low-cost version would be to frame reproductions using coordinating stock frames. By placing them on floating shelves, you could mix the maps in with other pieces as you add new travel destinations over the years. Or perhaps combine the maps with photographs taken while travelling.

The image is via the Majesty Maps and Prints online shop. Among their offering of reproductions are large-scale and black-out maps.

When searching for online sellers of original antique and vintage maps, I was surprised at the range of prices. At the lower end are maps taken from old atlases.
11 Folding Screen BannerMap Screen

As a DIY folding screen option, you could decoupage flat boards with a single large map cut into strips or with a collage of smaller maps. The sides and back of the boards could be painted or covered with fabric. For a more durable option, cover the decorated boards with Plexiglas, cut to size, and frame the edges with decorative moulding. The image above is also via the Majesty Maps and Prints site.

These are just some ways to keep travel memories using travel maps. What sort of travel souvenirs do you collect? Have you used maps to decorate your own home?

Steps I followed to make my map-covered box:

  • Scaled an image of an antique map of Amsterdam (more about the map in my next post) to fit on A4 paper.
  • Printed it out using a colour printer.
  • Rummaged around the house for a suitable box. An A4 sheet was the perfect size to cover the lid of an old iPhone box.
  • Used an acid-free glue stick to adhere the image to the lid. Folded and trimmed the paper on the short sides of the box.
  • To further secure the paper to the box, I ran a strip of 38mm wide binding tape (purchased from my local paper shop) around the lid edge. I placed it so that 5mm was on the outside of the lid, folded the tape over and adhered the rest to the inside.
  • Added pull tabs to the bottom of the box, by applying two strips of binding tape to the sides of the bottom, making the tab by folding the tape back on itself. The tabs make it easier to pull the box open.
  • Gave the paper a coat of a matte lacquer to protect it.