Thursday, 6 March 2014




In December 2003, The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam closed its main building for much needed renovations and restoration. For nearly ten years, only 400 artifacts and artworks — of their one million object collection— were on display for public view in the museum. During this extended closure, the collections department embarked on a massive project in which they digitized thousands of works of art intended for viewing on their newly designed museum website. Taco Dibbits, the head of collections at the Rijksmuseum (as of 2008), was instrumental in this groundbreaking initiative.

Dutch Prince Constantijn (Left) with Taco Dibbits

Dibbits studied Art History at the Amsterdam Free University and the University of Cambridge before joining the Rijksmuseum as a curator of 17th-century painting, in 2002. He eventually became the head curator of the Fine and Decorative Arts department at the museum in 2006. Dibbits played an important role in the development of the new layout for the museum, as well as the wonderful award-winning digital application called “Rijksstudio”. 

Rijksstudio account
Screenshot of my Rijksstudio account


This application, available on their website, showcases over 125,000 works of art from the Rijksmuseum collections. These digital renditions are constructed using high-resolution technology that enable users to zoom into artworks, thus revealing intricate painterly detail. Furthermore, users can download, share, and manipulate these high-quality images of artworks. Many users have even re-purposed them through designs for bedding, cell phone cases, cars, and tattoos. Make sure you create a Rijksstudio profile in order to take advantage of this wonderful application! And don’t worry fellow academics, these digitized artworks can be legally obtained and manipulated as they predate copyright laws. The Rijksmuseum has embraced the open-source movement. 


In an interview from 2012, Dibbits discusses the transformation of the Rijksmuseum and its motivation to embrace digital technology. He strongly believes that the internet is a toy that is all “about a playful use of material”. Because he considers the museum as “a place of inspiration, learning, and knowledge”, he has modelled the Rijksstudio “on the idea of connection and [the] exchange of [this] knowledge”. He has basically invited the public to play with the collection and to seek a personal creative outlet. Talk about interactive and inspirational! It is individuals like Dibbits and the Rijksstudio development team that will help breach the divide between art and technology (read Brittney’s posts here and here that address this concept).

While I strongly believe that digital technologies in museums should never take precedence over material collections, they should facilitate interactivity and public participation. Rather than attempting to replicate a physical visit to a museum, digital technologies can present content and objects through a different lens. The Rijksstudio enables users to intimately engage and interact with artworks in a way that is not possible to experience in the museum setting — most notably on tablets and iPads. This application allows the museum to assert their role as an innovative cultural institution that has embraced the intersection of art with technology. Furthermore, I believe it acts as a democratizing medium that enables further access and circulation of museum content. What do you think? Do you like this application? Do you believe it has a place within the museum model? 

I will leave you with another wonderful iPad application (completely unrelated to the Rijksmuseum) that will put you in a trance!


  1. In EIC last semester, we talked quite a lot about the role of museums in promoting a specific way of looking which is culturally and socially constructed to reflect larger ways in which contemporary visitors look at objects (in this case, at virtual objects). It is interesting to see what types of looking are online collections and apps such as the ones you mentioned, Jaime, are constructing for us, the (hyper) modern visitors. Great post - made me reflect on practices of looking again!

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