White House Notebook: Obama Praises Art Backdrop

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Forget about the White House East Room. President Barack Obama says a famous Dutch art work provided one of the best settings ever for one of his statements to the media.

Towering behind him as he spoke at the Rijksmuseum, the recently renovated Dutch national art house, was Rembrandt’s 17th-century masterpiece known as the “The Night Watch.” The enormous canvas, painted in 1642 at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age, is nearly 12 feet by more than 14 feet. It portrays a company of Amsterdam volunteer militiamen preparing to mobilize.

Obama and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed reporters Monday in front of Rembrandt’s signature work of art.

“Of all the press conferences I’ve done, this is easily the most impressive backdrop that I’ve had to a press conference,” Obama said.

Obama also said he was proud to be with some of the Dutch masters he studied in school.

During a brief museum tour, Obama also saw a little-known historical document that played a small but noteworthy role in U.S. history.

The 1581 “Plakkaat van Verlatinghe,” or Abjuration Act, was a statement by provincial leaders in the Netherlands – then little more than a collection of provinces – that cited a list of grievances and declared they would no longer be subject to the rule of King Phillip II of Spain due to his “tyrannical” behavior.

The act was in fact a declaration of independence, and led to the establishment of a Dutch republic. It is seen as a forerunner to the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776.

More controversially, it may have been one of the sources Thomas Jefferson or other members of the Continental Congress drew on when drafting the American declaration.

Rarely on display, the “Plakkaat” was retrieved from the Netherlands’ national archives for Obama’s visit.

Michelle Obama was out of sight but clearly was not out of mind as Obama and Chinese President Ji Xinping had a bit of fun at her expense, near the end of the first lady’s weeklong tour of China with her mother and two daughters.

Before their one-on-one meeting at The Hague, Obama thanked Xi for the hospitality he and his wife had shown the Obama family. Obama said his wife met with a number of young people in China and he praised the people-to-people exchanges she is promoting during her visit.

“She also played some table tennis,” Obama said, “though I think it was not the high level Ping-Pong diplomacy we saw in the past.”

Xi poked fun at the Obamas for taking separate foreign trips. He said that when he bid Mrs. Obama farewell after their meeting last week in Beijing “she asked me to fully convey her best wishes to you.”

Sports seems to always find its way into Obama’s conversations with world leaders, and Rutte was no exception.

“I’d be remiss if I did not mention that I’m proud of both of our teams at the Olympics,” Obama said at the museum. “So in addition to painting, you really know how to speed skate.”

Obama was referring to the recently concluded Sochi Olympics, where the Dutch led the leaderboards for quite a while and wound up with eight gold medals, out of 23 medals overall. All but one medal was in speed skating.

The Dutch won more speed skating medals than all other countries combined. The U.S. did not medal in the sport.

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