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Museums in Lockdown: Rijksmuseum

It may have felt like the world came to a grinding halt for large parts of 2020. But against the backdrop of COVID-19, creativity still found a way to express itself and lift our spirits.

2020 has been a tumultuous year for the arts and culture sector. With galleries, theatres, museums and more forced to close their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions took creative action in order to share their collections with the world.

From interactive “walk-through” tours to slideshows with informative voiceover descriptions, culture vultures have been offered the opportunity to enjoy many of the world’s greatest works from the comfort of their own home, travelling around the globe without ever leaving the front door.

While some museums have long been advocates of digital technologies and were well positioned for the challenges of the Coronavirus, others have been forced to pivot quickly in response to the restrictions on movement and prolonged lockdown periods.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Spread across 80 galleries, this grand museum houses a vast collection of art and historical treasures. In 2019 the museum attracted more than 3 million visitors, but faced with closure for the first time since World War 2 the Rijksmuseum pivoted to digital as the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe.

Nanet Beumer, the Head of Digital at the Rijksmuseum said that they looked to their most popular digital channels to reach people in their homes during the pandemic. Creating the video series Rijksmuseum from Home. This series took the public into the homes of some of the experts who work in the museum to share stories of some of their favourite objects in the collection.

While the Rijksmuseum has created a lot of pioneering content on YouTube (see RijksTube and RijksCreative) this content was different in that it was filmed mostly with phones and the quality wasn’t highly produced.

The content proved popular with the public, which Beumer puts down to the authenticity of the films and the timing, in that it was launched just as museums closed their doors.

One of the reasons for ‘Rijksmuseum from Home’ was that staff could not gain access to the museum during the first Covid-19 lockdown. As restrictions eased the digital team looked to create a 360 virtual tour of perhaps the most iconic gallery in the Rijksmuseum, the Gallery of Honour.

The Masterpieces Up Close tour that they created puts the public face to face with some of the museums most famous works. The museum also looked to add in a fun gamification element with a treasure hunt which challenges visitors to find hidden keys around the gallery.

These keys revealed a fact about the artwork.

As well as offering on-demand virtual tours on the Rijksmuseum website, the museum also offered live tours on TikTok.

Some of these tours were focused on local audiences while others looked further afield, like a tour in Japanese aimed at potential future visitors who can’t currently travel to the Netherlands.

The reopening of the museum also gave the opportunity to follow up the popular Rijksmuseum from Home YouTube series with Rijksmuseum Unlocked. This looked to share more stories from the collection, but this time from inside the museum.

With the museum now reopened, visitors could once again walk the galleries and see the iconic works of art. But the Dutch Government still recommended that vulnerable groups such as older audiences avoid public spaces. With this in mind the Rijksmuseum took their art to the public.

A life size replica of The Night Watch was taken to nursing homes and hospitals, offering an uplifting encounter with the Rijksmuseum’s most iconic painting.


Through their pivot to digital the Rijksmuseum have reached hundreds of thousands of people at a time when they have been either closed or open but with restrictions on visitor numbers.

When asked about the feedback the museum have had to this work, Beumer shared a comment from their YouTube channel, ‘This is the response we wanted’.

Interested in how museums have responded to Covid? We’ll be hearing how museums around the role have pivoted to digital during the pandemic at the MuseumNext Digital Summit. Find out more about the event and get your tickets here.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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