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West Building Audio Tour: Dutch and European Paintings, 15th–18th Centuries

Use your smartphone to explore a wide range of works through the voices of National Gallery of Art curators. Set your own pace by listening to as many stops as you like in the order you choose.


To listen to information about a work of art, enter the stop number in the box below, select go, and press the play button when the stop appears. Please be mindful of other visitors and use headphones while listening to the audio tour.

  • Stop  221 
    Johannes Vermeer  artist
    Dutch, 1632 - 1675
    Girl with the Red Hat 

    A girl turns outward, her mouth half-opened and her eyes lit with expectancy. The lushness of her blue robes, the flaming red of her hat, and the subtle interplay of green and rose tones in her face give her a vibrancy unique in Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Particularly striking are the light reflections on the right lion-head finial of her chair, which have the diffuse characteristic of unfocused points of light in a photograph. This optical effect is found in a camera obscura, and it seems likely that Vermeer here attempted to capture the impression of an image seen in that device.

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  • Stop  214 
    Willem Claesz Heda  artist
    Dutch, 1594 - 1680
    Banquet Piece with Mince Pie 

    At first sight, Willem Claesz Heda’s largest known still-life painting appears to welcome the viewer to a sumptuous feast. Yet pewter plates teeter precariously over the table’s edge, while a translucent goblet and a silver tazza have toppled over, indicating that the feast has already been enjoyed. A number of objects in the painting, such as the snuffed-out candle, hint at the transience of worldly existence. 

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  • Stop  250 
    Rembrandt van Rijn  artist
    Dutch, 1606 - 1669

    Rembrandt van Rijn painted, drew, and etched so many self-portraits in his lifetime that changes in his appearance invite us to gauge his moods by comparing one image to another. Rembrandt painted this self-portrait in 1659, after he had suffered financial failure despite so many years of success. His spacious house and other possessions had been auctioned the previous year to satisfy his creditors. In this late work, the deep-set eyes that bore into those of the viewer seem to express inner strength and dignity. 

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  • Stop  270 
    Judith Leyster  artist
    Dutch, 1609 - 1660

    Judith Leyster depicted herself at her easel, briefly interrupting work on a painting of a violin player to interact with the viewer. By juxtaposing her hand holding a brush with the hand and bow of the violin player, Leyster cleverly compared the art of creating ephemeral music with the art of creating timeless paintings. She holds the tools of her trade—a palette, a cloth, and no fewer than 18 brushes. In reality she would not have worn the elegant dress and lace-trimmed collar while at work in her studio. As a master in her own right, a rarity for a female artist at the time, Leyster established her own workshop and had paying students. 

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  • Stop  253 
    Rembrandt van Rijn  artist
    Dutch, 1606 - 1669
    The Mill 

    Nineteenth-century connoisseurs considered Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Mill to be one of the master’s greatest creations. They celebrated the dramatic silhouette of the mill against a dark, stormy sky, unaware that the romantic aura and rich golden tone of the scene were caused by discolored varnish. Rather, they attributed the heavy atmosphere to Rembrandt’s frame of mind during a period of severe financial difficulties. Restoration of the painting has since removed the old varnish. Under the blue and steel-gray sky, the bright sails on the vanes draw the viewer’s eyes to the mill, which is symbolically portrayed as a guardian protecting the land and its people.

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  • Stop  232 
    Jan Steen  artist
    Dutch, 1625/1626 - 1679
    The Dancing Couple 

    Jan Steen’s paintings elicit a warm reaction to the lives of ordinary people. All five senses are represented in this work, in which two young musicians play for a dancing couple while other people in the vine-covered arbor flirt, eat, drink, or smoke, and children amuse themselves with their toys. The grinning figure on the left who caresses the chin of the woman drinking from an elegant wine glass is none other than Steen himself. Despite the apparent frivolity of the scene, Steen used emblematic references such as cut flowers, broken eggshells, and soap bubbles to warn the viewer about the transience of sensual pleasures. 

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  • Stop  272 
    Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck  painter
    Dutch, 1606/1609 - 1662
    Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer 

    With great bravura, this fashionably clad member of the Haarlem civic guard stands with one arm akimbo. His proud bearing, accented by the panache of his shimmering satin costume and plumed hat, attests to the great sense of confidence felt by the Dutch at the height of their golden age. The blue standard and sash identify Andries Stilte’s company and rank, but the rest of his outfit displays his personal taste, his family’s wealth, and his status as a bachelor. Stilte commissioned Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck to paint him wearing his sumptuous pink costume right before he resigned his rank to marry. As a married militia officer, Stilte would have worn an elegant black outfit.

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  • Stop  541 
    Jan Gossaert  artist
    Netherlandish, c. 1478 - 1532
    Portrait of a Merchant 

    A merchant is seated in a cramped yet cozy space, surrounded by the tools of his trade. Scattered over the table are such useful items as a talc shaker to dry ink, an ink pot, scales for weighing coins, and a metal receptacle for sealing wax, quill pens, and paper. Attached to the wall are balls of twine and batches of papers labeled “miscellaneous letters” and “miscellaneous drafts.” The sitter’s cautious glance and prim mouth may suggest the insecurity and apprehension that haunted bankers in the 1530s, when the prevailing moral attitude was summed up by the Dutch humanist Erasmus: “When did avarice reign more largely and less punished?”

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  • Stop  514 
    Rogier van der Weyden  artist
    Netherlandish, 1399/1400 - 1464
    Portrait of a Lady 

    Although the identity of the sitter is unknown, her elegantly simple costume, plucked eyebrows, and hairline indicate that she belongs in an upper class of Burgundian court society. The stylish costume does not distract attention from the sitter; the dress almost merges with the background. The spreading headdress frames and focuses attention upon her face. In contrast to the spareness of execution in most of the painting, the gold filigree of her belt buckle is rendered with meticulous precision. The scarlet belt serves as a foil to set off her delicately clasped hands.

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  • Stop  542 
    Hieronymus Bosch  artist
    Netherlandish, c. 1450 - 1516
    Death and the Miser 

    This panel by Hieronymus Bosch shows us the last moments in the life of a miser, just before his eternal fate is decided. A little monster peeping out from under the bed-curtains tempts the miser with a bag of gold, while an angel kneeling at the right encourages him to acknowledge the crucifix in the window. Death, holding an arrow, enters at the left. Oppositions of good and evil occur throughout the painting. A lantern containing the fire of hell, carried by the demon atop the bed canopy, balances the cross emitting a single ray of divine light.    

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  • Stop  532 
    Matthias Grünewald  artist
    German, c. 1475/1480 - 1528
    The Small Crucifixion 

    Silhouetted against a greenish-blue sky and illuminated by an undefined light source, Jesus’s emaciated frame sags limply on the cross. His twisted feet and hands, crown of thorns, agonized expression, and ragged loincloth convey the terrible physical and emotional suffering he has endured. The mood is intensified by the anguished faces and demonstrative gestures of John the Evangelist, the Virgin Mary, and the kneeling Mary Magdalene. Matthias Grünewald’s dissonant, eerie colors are both expressive and rooted in the biblical narrative. The murky sky, for instance, corresponds to Luke’s description of “a darkness over all the earth” at the time of the crucifixion.

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  • Stop  430 
    Canaletto  artist
    Venetian, 1697 - 1768
    The Square of Saint Mark's, Venice 

    Canaletto’s paintings of Venice are among the works for which he is best known. Here, the city’s central square is framed by Saint Mark’s Basilica and the rose-colored Doge’s Palace. In a time before photography, Canaletto painted souvenirs that evoked what tourists likely remembered, rather than what they actually saw. This view includes the Bacino San Marco, the harbor at the city’s entrance, even though in reality it is not visible from this angle. Myriad figures enliven the scene and present a portrait of Venetian society in the waning years of the republic. 

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