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  • Writer's pictureSteven Heller

Marcel Wanders and the Rijks Masters

Four years in the making, Marcel WandersRijks, Masters of the Golden Age (2016) pays homage to the 17th-century Dutch masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum’s prestigious Gallery of Honour. With over 65 iconic paintings, the book includes 30 interviews lettered with beautiful calligraphy. Weighing 77 pounds, the limited edition comes with a wooden stand. It also features a silver-plated, embossed cover in Italian cow leather, is printed with the finest high-pigmented inks on custom-made paper, and is manually bound by the binders of the Vatican. All the paintings are also shown in their original 1:1 size, displaying the power and detail of the brushstroke, the vibrancy and complexity of colors, and highlighting the painter’s genius. Aside from the limited edition, an 11-pound “Unlimited Edition” is also available—as is a bespoke “Unique Art Edition” with a gold-plated emblem and handwritten calligraphy in your native language. Wanders, a designer, art director, product and interior designer who oversees a multi-disciplinary team of 40, works with premium brands such as Alessi, Baccarat, Bisazza, Christofle, Kosé Corporation, Flos, KLM, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Louis Vuitton, Morgans Hotel Group, Puma and Swarovski. Many of his designs are celebrated in some of the most renowned museums in the world. I asked him to wax excitedly about this bibliophile’s treasure.

Your book is an oddity in a world of digital noise. It is a contemplative approach to masterworks yet approached with the same exuberance as your interior and furniture design. What inspired this project and the manner in which you made it? Whenever I think about the 17th-century masterpieces that emblazon the walls of the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honour, a deep sense of pride envelops me. I have a profound appreciation for the outstanding cultural heritage these artists represent and their timeless significance to our world. Walking though the Gallery, I find myself captivated by the transcendence of each piece, and I am reintroduced to the foundations of my own passion. It is an honor to share these masterpieces from the past through the finest printing techniques and insightful perspectives from some of the renowned critical thinkers in the book with the world. It’s a remarkable experience to invest three years of your life into one art publication. Therefore, I wanted the sincere reverence and affinity I have for the masterworks to be reflected in every inch of this volume.

There is a purity to the paintings—or rather a kind of no-nonsense economy to the work—that seems to conflict with the formal decoration of the book design. Do you agree? Do you see a conflict between your book and what it celebrates? While the paintings featured within the book are, as you say, pure, I would not say that the design of the book is in conflict with the masterworks. What I would contend is that the design is meant to reflect and connect to the passion of the works and the artists featured within. While the paintings have an economy or a simplicity to them, the fire behind them is anything but simple. Creativity is about celebrating our freedom of expression. I did not want the design to be minimalistic but rather a glorification of the paintings’ complexity and the painters’ drive to create. Their struggle and their dedication to creativity resonates within me. I wanted the design of the entire volume to express that admiration, that sense of belonging, and at the same time be a powerful homage in its own right.

The calligraphy highlights your personal relationship with these paintings. What is the stylistic and expressive connection between the letterform design and painterly content? I chose to include calligraphy because, much like art, it is unique to the person handcrafting it. The curves will have slight different weights to them and each letter will finish in its own way. The original paintings within this groundbreaking volume were done with the same one-of-a-kind artistic process. There is a beauty to the form, much like a painter who pours himself into everything they create. Each calligraphy is unique and speaks to the painting it is in conversation with. For the Milk Maid, the calligraphy shows a blurring effect achieved by the use of milk, for example.

What is your goal or aim in this production? What do you want the reader to take away from your book? More than a museum for historic education, I believe the Gallery of Honour exists to elevate the Dutch spirit and serve as a manifestation of how all people can be creative. The Gallery of Honour is not simply a place where we can look at beautiful paintings, but serves as an invitation to search for the creativity within ourselves. The masterpieces in this volume still influence how we see our world today, and this tour is about eternally sharing that timeless significance with those who appreciate art, design and books.

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