MAASTRICHT - Every city has its pride, but tiny Maastricht, the oldest city in the Netherlands with only 120,000 inhabitants, has three of them: its Roman heritage; its world-renowned ceramics; and The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF – the largest, most comprehensive art fair in the world. When you’re in town for the big event (14 – 24 March), there is much to see and do, both at the fair and beyond. The city’s three dimensions are all in full flower.

Van Gogh at TEFAF

Image courtesy of TEFAF.

One very special opportunity is to see fifteen rarely exhibited drawings from the treasure troves of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, on view in TEFAF’s On Paper section. “These drawings are works of art in their own right,” observes Felicia Bakkers, an assistant at the Van Gogh Museum. “Some were made to practise specific techniques while others are preliminary studies for particular paintings.” Specially selected for the event, the works, presented chronologically, range from Van Gogh’s early Nuenen landscapes to color-rich garden sketches from his time in St. Remi, providing an intimate look at the artist’s development over the course of his brief career.

“The Big Change – Revolutions Within Russian Painting” at The Bonnefonten Museum

Image Courtesy of the Bonnefonten Museum.

Housed in the former Sphinx ceramics factory, the Bonnefonten Museum is Maastricht’s largest museum, and one of Holland’s premier institutions, particularly recognized for its collections of Modern, Contemporary and Italian Medieval art. During TEFAF, the concentration is on Russia, with a stunning exhibition of Russian avant-garde art and the lesser-known movements that led up to it. More than 80 works have been assembled from Russian museums, including paintings by Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Natalia Goncharova and Wassily Kandinsky – many never before seen outside of Russia.

“Craeyvanger Family 17th-Century Portraits” At The Bonnefonten Museum

Image Courtesy of the Bonnefonten Museum.

This is a rare opportunity to see a group of ten portraits commissioned from Paulus Lesire and the studio of Gerard ter Borch in 1651. They are the only known example of 17th-century portraits of a family to have survived. Unlike most families of the Dutch Golden Age, Willem Craeyvanger and Christine van der Wart chose to have themselves and their eight children painted individually, rather than as a group, creating ten unique works. For 350 years, they passed from one generation to the next, remaining virtually unknown even to art historians until 2009 when they came onto the market and were acquired for a private American collection. This is the first time the public will have the chance to enjoy them.

“All Glass” at the Centre Ceramique

Image courtesy of the Centre Cereamique.

At the Centre Ceramique, located in Maastricht’s public library, visitors can browse an enormous exhibition of glass spanning the centuries from Maastricht’s Roman era to today. With treasures, from Merovingian ewers to contemporary glasswork, beads, jewellery, candelabras and even telescopes, the exhibition presents the story of Maastricht’s remarkable history as a glassblowing center. Lovers of glass will be hugely rewarded, as will those intrigued by ancient artefacts (the oldest item in the exhibition, a fragment from a cobalt glass bracelet, dates from about 100 BC). For everyone, there is much extraordinary beauty to appreciate. Also very much worth seeing is the Centre Ceramique’s permanent collection of Dutch ceramics, largely assembled from the Royal Sphinx Collection, which alone numbers over 57,000 pieces.

Maastricht Antiquarian Book and Print Fair

Image courtesy of the Maastricht Antiquarian Book and Print Fair.

This annual event, running this year from 15 to 17 March, offers a further chance to explore a rich selection of old maps, rare first editions, Medieval manuscripts and important prints and etchings. Among this year’s many important offerings are a second-state “Seven Angels in Trumpets” by Albrecht Durer and rare photographs of Andre Gide taken during his 1925 visit to the Belgian Congo. The fair itself takes place inside Maastricht’s extraordinary St. Jan’s Church on the Vrijthof, a Gothic cathedral dating from around 1200 AD which is noted for its dazzling red tower.

St. Servaas Basilica

Courtesy of St. Servaas Basilica.

Located directly next to St. Jan’s Church, the St. Servaas (St. Servatias) Basilica is one of the Netherland’s great examples of Dutch Gothic architecture. Championed for its richly ornamented Romanesque portals, the Basilica also displays its magnificent treasury, which includes one of the world’s most significant collections of Medieval textiles. Also not to be missed here is the “Noodkist,” the reliquary shrine of St. Servaas – the first bishop of Maastricht – which is a masterpiece of Limburg goldsmithing ornamented with enamel, precious cabochons, and carvings of the 12 disciples. The 11th-century church was named a basilica in 1985 during a visit by Pope John Paul II.

Aachen Cathedral

Courtesy of Aachen Cathedral.

A bit further afield (about 20 miles away), but very much worth the trip is the treasury of the Aachen Cathedral – a must for people who are interested in Medieval and Gothic art and one of the very few accessible to the public. The cathedral itself, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is among the most significant structures in the history of the Western world, having served as the prototype for Carolingian architecture from the time of its construction, and as the coronation hall for six centuries of Germanic emperors and kings. At least as magnificent as the 9th century building itself are the ecclesiastical jewels preserved there – 100 treasures in all, from Lothar’s gem-encrusted gold cross to the gold bust of Charlemagne. This is rightly considered the most spectacular of church treasuries in Northern Europe.

Empreintes Massai at Theater Aan Het Vrijthof, March 15

Courtesy of George Momoye Dance Company.

For a glorious spectacle of music and dance, treat yourself to the stunning performance of the George Momboye Dance Company’s “Empreintes Massai,” based on the traditional ritual dances of the Massai people of Africa. Born on the Ivory Coast, award-winning choreographer George Momboye moved to Paris in the 1990s, where he founded his own dance company in 1992.  For “Empreintes Massai,” Momboye, who counts his former teacher, the American Alvin Ailey, among his greatest influences and inspirations, has translated ancient African rhythms and movements into a celebration of contemporary modern dance and sound that is as fascinating as it is beautiful, and will have you, too, dancing in your seat.