Cuypers was also Catholic, and that helped determine how the Dutch thought about their national museum for decades. The building, with pointed towers, long, vertical windows animated by Gothic stonework, and a richly decorated interior with vaulted ceilings, was seen by many critics as a Catholic monstrosity in a culturally protestant and democratic country. The Dutch king at the time refused to attend, deriding it as an “archbishop’s palace.”
Over the past century and more, directors and designers of the museum have fought the building, filling in its interior courtyards with a warren of exhibition rooms, whitewashing and covering over its rich ornament, and cluttering its grand spaces, including the dramatic Great Hall (replete with soaring stained windows), with a bookstore and information booths. For a while, after the Second World War, when overt nationalism was out of favor, they even hung “Night Watch” on a sidewall, to deemphasize its quasi-sacred power. That 90-degree turn mimicked the classic Dutch reorientation of Catholic churches, with the pulpit facing the congregation, perpendicular to the length of the nave.