I was fortunate enough to be a part of the CAES: Flowers and Photography study abroad this May. This program took us through three European countries, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, as we learned about the cultural and horticultural history of those nations. As someone with a vested interest in Art History, I looked forward to the opportunity to see firsthand the many buildings, works of art, and artifacts that help compose the storied history of Europe.

The Low Countries, partly consisting of the Netherlands and Belgium, are artistically notable for their contributions to the early modern visual traditions. Artists such as Jan van Eyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Johannes Vermeer each occupy a special place in the regions history. In Amsterdam, you can visit the national gallery of Holland, the Rijksmuseum. This was one of the first items on my museum checklist of places I wanted to visit. Here I was able to see a special Vermeer exhibition that brought together a large percentage of his works, my personal favorite being Woman Holding a Balance. Also in this museum is a large collection of Rembrandt’s works, including his famous Night Watch, which is under restoration due to the warping of the panels underneath the large canvas. Just a few miles from the Rijksmuseum is the Rembrandthuis, the historic home where Rembrandt lived and worked in the city for a decade. I learned all about his painting process, his style of living, and his time in the city at the height of his contemporary popularity. An unexpected surprise was the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, which was decorated with a great number of neoclassical sculptures. I would highly recommend touring this palace.

After Holland, our class visited a few cities in Belgium: Antwerp, Bruges, and Brussels. In Antwerp I was able to see three large-scale works by Peter Paul Rubens, which are held in the Cathedral of Our Lady. These are The Raising of the Cross, The Deposition of Christ, and The Assumption of the Holy Virgin. Each of these works are monumental, and breathtaking to view in person. Later, in Bruges, I visited the Church of Our Lady, which houses one of the very few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy. The Madonna of Bruges’ peaceful stone visage rivals that of the Pieta.

There is something uniquely special about visiting cultural works in their own place, there is a feeling of completeness that is absent when viewing on a screen or in a book. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the culture of the Low Countries.