AMSTERDAM (AP) — In the Netherlands, the intimate gaze of the Girl with the Pearl Earring can once again startle and entice visitors. Down in Spain, the rusty maze of steel sheets by Richard Serra is a wonderland anew for art lovers. And at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's Creation of Adam can drop jaws like it has done for ages.
As Europe slowly emerges from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed well over 150,000 in the continent and crippled some of the world's biggest economies, Monday let a brilliant ray shine through the gloom as several of the top museums globally reopened to flaunt their riches.
All of the Netherlands rejoiced in a relaxing of the lockdown measures that have kept people away from bars, restaurants, cinemas — as well as some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world.
“Welcome back," said Rijksmuseum General Director Taco Dibbits as the first visitors filed into the vast museum in central Amsterdam
At the adjacent Van Gogh Museum the welcome came with — what else? — sunflowers. Any visitor leaving the museum was given one of the yellow flowers famously depicted by the Dutch painter's brush to celebrate the re-opening.
Across the continent, museum officials rejoiced as visitors were let in again.
“Today is a day to celebrate, a day of great joy, said director Barbara Jatta, as her Vatican Museums reopened on Monday. “The significance of this reopening is hope. It is a great hope that we can return to the normality.”
Some 1,600 people reserved tickets in advance to see the Sistine Chapel and its sublime walls and ceilings on the first day the Vatican Museums opened to the public after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.
The show of people delighted Jatta. “I must say today is also a day of double celebration."
During peak summer months, the Vatican Museums routinely would have an hours-long line of tourists waiting to enter since there was no advance reservation system to schedule visit times.
In so many museums now, the phenomenon of over-tourism is making space for cultural tourism, especially since so few foreign visitors can come in.
Now, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, only able to gaze upwards at Michelangelo's ceiling, visitors had space to move and explore the exquisite details of the high Renaissance master.
Where suffocating throngs once forced everyone along in a sweaty shuffle, the only sensory impediment was a protective mask.
In Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum there were, for once, more people depicted in Rembrandt's Night Watch itself than visitors looking at them.
At the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, the price of one ticket bought this month will include a 3-month museum membership.
Museums all over the world have been struggling to get through the pandemic crisis and UNESCO has said that one in eight might have to close their doors for good. Some of the major institutions in Europe have been losing over 2 million euros ($2.2 million) a month.
Steadily, ever more of Europe's main museums will reopen.
In Madrid, the Prado and Reina Sofia open again on Saturday.
In Paris, the Impressionist palace that is the Musée d’Orsay will open from June 23 and the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa — perhaps the Girl with the Pearl Earring's strongest rival — will welcome visitors again on July 6.
Casert reported from Brussels