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Which Artwork Is A Metaphor For The Current Global Condition?

<em>The Threatened Swan</em>, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images/Getty Images
Heritage Images/Getty Images
The Threatened Swan, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
<em>Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem</em>, 1630, Rembrandt
Universal History Archive / Getty Images
Getty Images
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630, Rembrandt
<em>For the Love of God</em>, by British artist Damien Hirst, shows a diamond-encrusted human skull and was unveiled in 2007.
AFP / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
For the Love of God, by British artist Damien Hirst, shows a diamond-encrusted human skull and was unveiled in 2007.

President Obama is doing serious work in Europe this week, meeting with the G-7, NATO and the EU to discuss Russia's actions in Ukraine. He's also joining leaders from more than 50 countries in The Hague to talk about keeping nuclear weapons away from terrorists. But before the intense negotiations got underway, he launched this trip with a bit of culture.

Moments after Air Force One touched down in Amsterdam, the president toured the Rijksmuseum, Holland's temple of fine art. As Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte led Obama through the museum's grand hall with high vaulted ceilings, I asked on Twitter and Facebook:

"What legendary piece of art in the museum (and there are many) is the best metaphor for today's global situation?"

Here are a few of the responses: On Facebook, Harold Levine weighs in with Rembrandt's iconic Night Watch, the crown jewel of the Rijksmuseum's collection.

Visitors look at <em>The Little Street</em> by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.
Gabriel Bouys / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Visitors look at The Little Street by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.

"All those overdressed, puffed-up men in their military costumes who can't really make anything happen. Crimea, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan..."

The painting is at the top of the page, with Obama meeting the Dutch prime minister standing in front of it.

On Twitter, Robert Vente @bvente suggests The Threatened Swan, by Jan Asselijn.

"Swan aggressively defending its nest against threats/enemies-seems relevant to several situations in the world."

Laura Hoogstraten@LauraH00goffers Rembrandt's Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem.

"Jeremiah has predicted the destruction of Jerusalem; so can we predict the consequences of nuclear weapons."

A Twitter user who goes by @Vollyrocks chooses a piece that is not a painting: For the Love of God, by Damien Hirst, which was displayed at the Rijksmuseum a few years ago. Vollyrocks describes it as:

"A skull with diamonds, representing the death of capitalism."

Then there's this suggestion from Ak Palmer on Facebook. She recommends The Little Street, by Vermeer.

" 'The Little Street' lonely, quiet houses due to the people inside isolating themselves with electronics. We are the most 'social' antisocial society."

Finally, more than one person suggested Edvard Munch's The Scream. This painting is actually in Oslo, not Amsterdam, but since it seems to be such a popular choice we'll include it here anyway. No explanation necessary.

<em>The Scream</em>, 1895, Edvard Munch.
Sotheby's Auction House / AP
The Scream, 1895, Edvard Munch.

You can view the Rijksmuseum's entire collection here and offer your suggestions in the comments thread below. Which piece of art do you think best reflects world events today?

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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