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European decorative arts: Positioning a discipline and the Rijksmuseum collection


Admission requirements

Similar to the admission requirements for the MA Arts and Culture.


This MA course investigates the position of the decorative arts within the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. There is no independent museum of decorative arts in the Netherlands, unlike most other European countries. Instead, the ‘national collection’ of European decorative arts is housed within the Rijksmuseum. This part of the Rijksmuseum finds its origins in the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, founded at the beginning of the 19th century. Through a number of case studies, we will study the way the collection of decorative arts at the Rijksmuseum is determined by its peculiar history.

What was the nature of the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, and how does it compare to the National Museums of Decorative Arts that were established in most European countries during the 19th century? How did the collection of decorative arts evolve during the 20th century, and why? Important chapters are the establishment of a Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts in the 1920s; the history of the great collections formed, mostly by Jewish collectors, in the Netherlands between the two World Wars and their subsequent fate; the growth after World War II of a large, international Department that could compare to decorative arts museums elsewhere; the integration of all the various collections in the Rijksmuseum after the re-opening in 2013.

In many countries and cities, the position of museums of decorative arts and design is being challenged. How does this compare to the present-day situation at the Rijksmuseum?

We will largely approach these questions through an object-based investigation of groups of works of art at the Rijksmuseum, of exhibitions that have been held during the last decades, and of acquisitions made during that same period. Dutch auricular silver, masterpieces of Dutch seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furniture, French decorative arts of the eighteenth century, European historicism – but also ornament engravings and design drawings for works of art will be scrutinised, not only for themselves, but for the role they play in a major museum.

Course objectives

  • Students will get insight in the position of the decorative arts in the Rijksmuseum and in independent Museums of Decorative Arts established in most European countries

  • Students will have obtained an insight in how the collection of decorative arts evolved during the 20th century

  • Students will be able to compare the present-day positions of the Rijksmuseum with museums of decorative arts

  • Students will have learnt to recognize and produce productive research questions regarding our central theme starting forom an object-based investigation

  • Students are able to initiate and carry out a modest research project in which they frame their own reading explicitly, and situate themselves critically within modern and contemporary scholarly and artistic debates.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Assessment method

Please indicate here how the course is assessed.

  • Paper (80%)

  • Abstract, oral presentation (20%).

each ResMA student must fulfil an extra assignment, in order to demonstrate their ability to work with more advanced theoretical and disciplinary questions beyond the normal MA level, to be decided by lecturer and student.


The final grade is the average of the two grades (20%, 80%). A student passes the class course if the weighted average is a 6.0 or higher (marks under 5 are not allowed). The paper should be marked with at least 6.0 and obtained at least a 6.0 for the Paper.


The re-sit consists of two parts: a remake/rewrite of the Paper (80%) and/or an alternative assignment (20%).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.

Literature will be announced on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Contact information

Prof.dr. S.P.M. Bussels