The Dutch Republic


Justus D. Doenecke

Professor Emeritus of History

New College of Florida.


If one looked at Europe in the 17th century,

one would find on a northwestern corner of the European continent a nation of some

3 million people that could well have been the wealthiest country,

certainly of Europe

It was the greatest industrial nation of Europe

It was the richest commercial nation of Europe

Its exchange was the leading trading mart of the world

Its bank dictated the currency values of the world

Its empire stretched from Java to the Hudson River

And in a sense nothing could be more surprising,

for this nation--

known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands--

had just been through a very bloody revolt against Spain

And to appreciate what one can call the Dutch miracle,

one has to know just a bit about the Dutch revolt

For centuries,

the Netherlands or Low Countries roughly were comprised of what we today call

the Benelux nations--

that is the modern kingdoms of the Netherlands and Belgium

and the grand duchy of Luxembourg

And for these centuries neither a Dutch nor a Belgian nationality existed

In the 11 northern provinces,

the people spoke German dialects,

which evolved into the Dutch language

The word Dutch itself comes from the Dutch word Duits,

meaning "of the people"

In the 6 southern provinces, the people spoke French dialects

But neither here nor elsewhere in Europe did the language boundaries have anything

to do with political borders

The Netherlands consisted of 17 provinces

But the northern provinces felt no tie with each other,

no sense of difference from the southern provinces

Each was a state or country unto itself

Holland originally was one province among these 17

Only later was Holland used informally for the entire nation

By the 15th century,

one by one,

they had been inherited or purchased or conquered by the dukes of


an area between today's France and Switzerland

In 1477 Duchess Mary of Burgundy married Maximilian I

Maximilian is emperor of Europe's most powerful dynasty,

the House of Hapsburg

The Hapsburgs ruled the Holy Roman Empire,

a jerrybuilt structure that had Germany at its core

Maximilian and Mary produced a son, Emperor Charles V (1500-58)

The portrait you see here of Charles (1548) is by the Venetian painter Titian

(c. 1490-1576)

It's hanging in Munich gallery, the Alte Pinakotek

It shows him aging,

afflicted with gout

Charles is of the Hapsburg dynasty

He himself had been born in the Netherlands,

in the city of Ghent

As long as Charles ruled,

the Dutch could exercise a good deal of local autonomy,

that is they had much self government

The Dutch nobles controlled the countryside

The Dutch merchants controlled the cities

In other words, Charles ruled with a relatively gentle hand

But once Charles split his empire,

which he did in 1556,

and once he gave the Dutch portion of it to his son Philip II (1527-98),

trouble began

Here is a portrait, again by Titian

It's located in Madrid's Prado (1551)

Philip was the most powerful prince in Europe

He headquartered his branch of the Hapsburgs in Spain

He saw himself as a Spaniard

He always spoke Spanish

And unlike his father,

he was ignorant of the 2 main languages of the Netherlands--

Dutch and French

And Philip looked at the Netherlands in two ways

First, the Netherlands was a great cash cow for Philip,

who lived primarily in Spain

They were the richest jewel in the imperial crown

They were the source of 2/5 of the enormous revenue Philip needed to

fight his many expensive wars

Indeed, Philip spent so much that he declared bankruptcy 3 times

Second, in Philip's eyes,

the Netherlands housed a religious 5th column,

a growing Protestant movement centering around the teachings of

John Calvin (1509-64)

Calvinism is very similar to Lutheranism,

but with more of a theological system

and with more religious involvement in secular society

Calvinism had first been brought into the southern part of the Netherlands,

that is to such cities as Tournai and Antwerp,

brought in by French-speaking Huguenots

It then moved into the cities of the northern Netherlands,

where it mixed with Anabaptists already there

Philip was a militant Roman Catholic

He desired nothing more than to stamp out what he saw as rank heresy

Now Philip soon does certain things that maximize his unpopularity

Some of Philip's actions were religious

Philip brings the Inquisition into the Netherlands

Hence special courts are established to try heretics,

to execute heretics

The Inquisition was so hated that even the city council of Bruges,

all of whose members were Catholics,

denounced the leading inquisitor

Philip transferred positions in the Roman Catholic church from Dutch nobles

to Spanish officials

The majority of Dutch people were not yet Protestant

Most of the Dutch nobles were not yet Protestant

But all classes resented what they saw as foreign interference

Other actions of Philip were political

Philip took away the local autonomy that Charles V had permitted

That is, he exercised direct rule from Spain

Spanish officials came in to rule the country directly

Philip made his half sister Margaret of Parma (1522-86) regent of

the Netherlands [Parma: area in northern Italy]

Hence the Dutch perceive the Spaniards as a hostile occupying power

Philip also levied backbreaking taxes

He knows the Netherlands are prosperous

He sees them as vital to Spain's prosperity

So he wants to bleed this nation dry

In a sense Philip wants to Dutch to pay for their own occupation

Therefore from 1672 to 1609,

the Dutch fought a very bloody war of rebellion

Heading the Spanish armies was the Duke of Alva or Alba (1508-1582),

who had long called for a crackdown on the Dutch,

who came accompanied by an army of 10,000 men in 1567

Alva a figure straight out of the world of El Greco

He's straight, tall, thin,

with dark eyes, yellow skin, silver beard

He's 59 years old when he goes to the Netherlands

Alva was given dictatorial powers and he used them

In 1567 he established what the Dutch called the Council of Blood to

root out religious heretics and political rebels

Within 1567 and 1573,

the council tried over 12,000 people

Of these 12,000, 9,000 lost some or all of their property

Over 1100 were executed

Alva also raised taxes ever further--

1% on all real or personal properly,

5% on the sale of landed property,

10% on the sale of all movable goods

Heading the Dutch nationalists was William of Orange (1533-1584)

According to Marvin O'Connell's study of the counter-reformation

(The Counter Reformation, 1559-1610-- 1974),

William was religiously tolerant as no other public man of his time

William had been born a Lutheran, in Germany by the way

He was raised a Catholic

He became a Lutheran again

He ended up a Calvinist

Here we have a painting of William of Orange (c. 1588) by Adriaan Key

It's located in Amsterdam's Reijksmuseum

Key (1544-1589) lived in Antwerp at the time he painted

this portrait

So did William himself

So it's likely William sat for this

It's the portrait of a troubled man

And we'll see that William has reason to be troubled

William is tall, athletic, eloquent, courteous

He's no great military strategist but he's able in politics

He has persistence

He is courageous

He had first gotten along with Philip

Indeed he had named a son Philip William

It's Alva that turns William into a rebel

Now this war involves tremendous bloodshed,

tremendous destruction

You had anarchy

You had revolution

You had civil war

Protestants seized Roman Catholic churches and turned them into Calvinist ones

Catholic land was taken

Even gold and silver plate was seized

Dutch nationalists flooded the area of Alkmaar (Alek-mahr) to guard Amsterdam

so the Spanish army could not operate there [1573]

Conversely the Spaniards massacred the inhabitants of two towns,

Zutphen and Naarden [1572]

They killed all the Dutch soldiers in the town of Haarlem

Unpaid Spanish troops rioted in Antwerp [1576],

looting and pillaging and stealing on a massive scale in the wealthiest urban

trade center in Europe

Professor Andrew Fix, in his lectures for the Teaching Company,

calls Antwerp one of the worst atrocities of the 16th century

("The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations"-- 2005)

In 1584 a religious fanatic killed William of Orange

William himself had been in a bind

He wanted to unite all the Dutch people

If you're Protestant,

if you're Catholic,

it doesn't matter

Spain is the real enemy

Get the Spaniards off our backs

William wanted a broad nationalist consensus,

a kind of popular front

Before he converted to Calvinism, he said:

"I am no Calvinist but it seems to me neither right,

nor worthy of a Christian,

to seek for the sake of religious differences to have this land swarming

with troops and inundated with blood

There must be a compromise"

He proclaimed religious freedom for Catholics as soon as his troops took a territory

But his leading naval force, the so-called Sea Beggars,

and many of his troops, the so-called Wild Beggars, were militant Calvinists

Protestants murdered Catholic clergy in several cities,

including Ghent

They ousted Catholic magistrates in such cities as Ghent (1577) and Amsterdam (1578)

All this puts William in a bind

If William wanted to maximize his military strength,

he needs the militant Protestant armies but he antagonizes the Catholics

If William wanted to create a political consensus,

he needs the Catholics but antagonizes the militant Calvinist Protestants

He tried to be as comprehensive as he could

He was so quiet about the reasons for his conversion to Calvinism he was given

the nickname William the Silent

The Spanish finally adopted the strategy of breaking up the Dutch coalition

They appeased the southern provinces which were more Catholic

and which often spoke French, not Dutch

Here the aristocracy still saw itself as ruling over a feudal area

It was far less nationalistically oriented

By what was called the Union of Arras (Ar-ah) of 1579,

the southern provinces gave their allegiance to the Spanish Hapsburgs

They agreed to make Catholicism the official religion

In return they received much political autonomy

And they had their taxes reduced

Henceforth this southern region was called the Spanish Netherlands

In 1713 it was transferred to Austria

In 1830 it became the independent nation of Belgium


Even now half the population of Belgium are Flemish,

of German stock close to the Dutch

Antwerp, for example, is a Flemish town

Bruges is a Flemish town

Ghent is a Flemish town

The other half of this area is Walloon

People there speak French

Brussels is am example of a Walloon town

Look at Belgian postage stamps

You'll see the nation is bilingual

It is in response to the Union of Arras that the 7 northern provinces formed a military alliance,

the Union of Utrecht or Atrecht (Oot-rect) in 1579

This union was modeled on the Swiss confederation

Each province gave up powers concerning war and defense to a central body

Each of the 7 provinces had considerable autonomy in all other matters

The opening statement of the Union said,

"The people are not created by God for the sake of the Prince...

but, on the contrary, the Prince was made for the good of the people"

Each province also had the power to decide the religious question for itself

What was the result?

Each of the 7 provinces banned Roman Catholic worship

William of Orange was opposed to this

He saw this action as terribly divisive,

as burning bridges

He waited 4 months before signing on himself

Now in 1581 this Union of Utrecht formed a brand new country,

the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands

or more simply the United Provinces of the Netherlands

So the Netherlands were divided

There was a rebellious north

There was a Spanish-controlled south

The big rivers of the area divided the 2 nations

Many Calvinists in the south moved north so the south--

that is the modern Belgium--

became solidly Catholic

At the same time,

the United Provinces were not a totally Protestant people

Probably as many as 1/3 remained Catholic

Fighting still continued for close to 20 years

But Spain bit off more than it could chew

It took on the British who were raiding their shipping

and who were encouraging the Dutch rebels

But in 1588 the British defeated the Spanish Armada

This defeat ended Philip's dream of bringing northern Europe back into the

Catholic fold

But for the Dutch things were still uneasy

For Spain could not be dislodged from the southern Netherlands

So in 1609 a military truce was declared

As a result of this truce,

the United Provinces received de facto independence

Holland was never again threatened by Spanish armies

In 1618 war broke out again,

but on far less a scale

In 1648, at the end of the 30 Years War,

the independence of the United Provinces was recognized by treaty

The agreement was called the Treaty of Munster

During all this time,

the United Provinces became a republic

Indeed it was the first republic of any major nation in Europe

But the Dutch had not planned it this way

The move was strictly by accident

Indeed we have a kind of accidental republic

Now as the United Provinces had broken from Spain,

had refused to recognize Philip II as monarch,

it sought a monarch for-- after all--

all governments were headed by monarchs

It asked the Austrian archduke, one Mattias, to take over

Mattias accepted

But once he arrived in Holland,

he found himself unacceptable to the population

The United Provinces then asked a Frenchman,

Fran ois, Duke of Anjou

But it was soon apparent he did not have the ability

It even asked Queen Elizabeth of England to be the Dutch queen

But she already headed a powerful Protestant nation

She did not want to get entangled on the continent

So this new nation drifted into republic status

And like many modern republics,

there is a division of power

There are checks and balances

There is an assembly, a legislative branch, called the States General

It met in the Hague,

which was the de facto capital of this new republic

The States General is made up of deputies chosen

by the local assemblies of the 7 provinces

These local assemblies are called Provincial States

And these deputies get orders from the Provincial States on just how they should

vote in the States General

Indeed, every time a new issue arose in the States General,

the deputies had to go home to the Provincial States for instructions

One is not empowered to vote one's conscience

One takes orders from the local elites

There is also an executive branch,

composed of 2 offices

First is called the Grand Pensioner

First the Grand Pensioner was lawyer and adviser to the States

Later he became leader of States General

The Grand Pensioner is the de facto prime minister

He is in charge of the government

And he is always an educated, middle class professional,

that is a lawyer or a scholar

And he represents a distinct economic group in Holland,

the city governments, the middle class commercial leaders

The second office is that of the Stadtholders-- plural

For there is no stadtholder for the United Provinces as a whole

Each province has its own executive,

its own elected stadtholder

The holder of this office commands the province's military forces

The post evolved from the office of the Spanish governor of the


But most provinces usually elected the same man as stadtholder

This man is usually the head of the House of Orange

William of Orange had been a stadtholder,

but only for 2 provinces--

Holland and Zeeland

William's son, Prince Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625; Nah-sow),

was the big stadtholder from 1584 to 1625

During much of this time,

he commanded Dutch armies against Spain

William III (1650-1702), who became king of England in 1688,

had been a stadtholder

Now in contrast to the Grand Pensioner,

who represented the cities,

the stadtholder represented the nobles

He represented the rural areas

Jonathan Israel,

in his massive book The Dutch Republic;

Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806 (1995),

shows something of the complexity of this office

Now given the different constituencies of the two offices,

you almost have a situation similar to that of political parties

There is a unique balance in this government

Power is always shifting back and forth

For a while, one office would be dominant

Then the other office would be the more important

And remember the Grand Pensioner represented the merchants, commerce;

the Stadtholder the nobles, large estates, agriculture

But one element does not grow at the expense of the other

The nobles tended to seek the renewal of war with Spain

Historically nobles in Europe are a warrior class

The urban merchants are more likely to want to bury the hatchet with Spain

They want peace

Why? Because they believe peace is needed for trade, for industry

Now one great earmark of the Dutch republic is the fabulous economic boom,

one based on shipping

As early as 1600 the Dutch had 10,000 ships

By 1620 Amsterdam is the busiest port in all Europe

Throughout most of the 17th century,

they owned most of the shipping of Western Europe

They sailed on every sea

They explored the waters around Spitzenberg at the top of Norway

They almost monopolized Arctic whaling

They would enter the Pacific by way of South America

They would round Cape Horn,

which by the way is named after the Dutch port of Hoorn just north of Amsterdam

In 1602 they organized the East India Company

In 1919 they founded the city of Batavia in Java,

now the city of Jakarta

Not long after 1600 they reached Japan

In 1912 they founded their first settlement on Manhattan Island

I grew up in Brooklyn-- itself a Dutch name--

with reminders of the Dutch everywhere in greater New York:

New Utrecht, Flatbush, Flushing, the Bronx,

Stuyvesant High School

They were also Dutch colonies at Bahia in Brazil,

at Curacao in the Caribbean,

at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa

It's little wonder that the Dutch play a major role in geography

They are cartographers, navigators

They make nautical instruments

Look at Vermeer's painting The Geographer (c.1668) (1632-1675) (ver-mayr)

It's in the major art gallery of Frankfurt

Robert Palmer in his History of Modern World (9th ed.; 2002) tells us to

take a good look at this painting

You've got an immaculately scrubbed and dusted Dutch interior characteristic

of Vermeers' stress on purity,

on a sense of calm

But you also have nothing less than a symbol of the modern world in its youth

There is the pale northern sunlight streaming through the window

There's the globe, the map

There are the dividers in the right hand

There is the cross square used to measure the elevation of the sun and stars

There is the sea chart on the wall

There is what could be a tapestry flung over the table or is it an Oriental rug

brought in from the east

There is the geographer's head lifted up in thought,

his eyes resting on an invisible world of fresh discoveries,

of opening horizons

Look also Vermeer's The Astronomer (c.1668), a companion piece

It's in the Louvre

The painting shows a celestial globe and this globe is quite accurate

This work too reveals the limitless scope of Dutch inquiry,

moreover the whole scientific impulse found in the early modern period

This shipping boom is fostered by control of the carrying trade and the Baltic trade

The Dutch dominated the cargo trade

That is, they were most successful in carrying the goods of other nations

in Dutch ships

Half of Europe's trade was carried in Dutch freighters

The English author Daniel Defoe said the Dutch were-- and I quote--

"the waggoners of the waves,

the carryers of the world,

the middle person in trade...

They buy to sell again,

take in to send out"

And the Dutch were able to do this because they had very low freight rates

And they had low freight rates because they designed a special new kind of ship, the fluyt

The fluyt is a huge tub-like vessel that has a large hull

Hence it can contain much freight

But the rigging system of the fluyt is very simple and deck is very narrow,

very small

So you don't need a large crew to sail the boat

You are cutting crew costs

At the same time,

you are maximizing the amount of freight to be carried

And when your crew runs away in a foreign port,

as it is likely to do as it had been Shanghaied in the first place,

you can easily bring another crew on

Also the fluyt is small enough so it can go long distances without putting in to


The Dutch also monopolized the Baltic grain trade

Massive amounts of grain is produced in such eastern European regions as the


Once this grain reaches the Baltic Sea,

Dutch vessels would carry this grain to such nations as France

But this grain would not reach France immediately

Rather it would be stored in such ports as Amsterdam

If you ever visit Amsterdam,

you notice 2 things

First, the many canals there are wide enough to give ships access to the

center of the city

Second, there are narrow high buildings on these canals that serve as warehouses

The Dutch would store this grain in the warehouse

They would let the price of this grain grow higher and higher

Finally the price would be high enough for the Dutch to make a tidy profit

And the Dutch take this money and they go into banking

In 1609 they found the Bank of Amsterdam

They found it at a time when European money is in chaos

There were a lot of different coins throughout Europe

The great monarchs of Europe minted coins

Small states in Germany and Italy minted coins

Even private persons minted coins

But, under inflationary pressures,

many of these people debased their coins

That is, they added more alloy while still leaving the old coins in circulation

Therefore, anyone handling money would get a mass of coins whose value was


Now what the Bank of Amsterdam does is accept deposits of all these coins from all

these peoples and all these countries

It would assess their gold and silver content in all these coins

It would allow depositors to withdraw equivalent values in gold florins minted by the

Bank of Amsterdam

for the Dutch florin had an unchanging weight and purity

Thus Dutch currency became sought after everywhere

It was an international measure of value

And of course there is a capitalist ethos everywhere

The philosopher Ren Descartes wrote,

"Every man thinks only of himself and his business interests,

and whoever has nothing to do with business and completely


When the British Ambassador, Sir William Temple,

reported on his visit to the Hague in 1668, he said:

"The merchants and tradesmen are of mighty industry

Never any country traded so much and consumed so little

They buy infinitely, but 'tis to sell again

They are the great masters of Indian spices and Persian silks,

but wear plain woolen and feed upon their own fish and roots

They sell the finest of their cloth to Europe and buy coarse out of England for their own wear


They send abroad the best of their own butter and buy the cheapest out of Ireland for

their own use

They furnish infinite luxury which they never practice,

and traffic in pleasures which they never taste"

And Temple notes the capitalist ethos involved here

"Their common riches," he writes, "lie in every man's spending less than he has

coming in"

Not only did their frugality,

their asceticism exclude any idle indulgence

Temple writes, "the general intention every man has upon his business" appears

to leave the Dutch no time for love

Temple says of the Dutch,

"Their tempers are not airy enough for joy nor warm enough for love

This [love] is talked of sometimes among the younger men,

but as a thing they have heard of,

rather than felt

I have known some that impersonated lovers well enough,

but none that I ever thought were at heart in love"

Temple sums up his observations by saying,

"Out of such a nation can come neither good conversation nor great statesmanship"

There is another way of getting at this ethos--

Rembrandt's Masters of the Cloth Hall (1662)

It's in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Robert Palmer analyses this work too

Here you have a group of men who are about to speak from the canvas

They are inclined slightly forward

They appear as intent on their business as a courtroom judge would be concerning a hearing

They are stern

They have the look of intelligence

But they are not entrepreneurial hucksters

They are calculating but not cunning

They are determined to drive a hard bargain but are honest

And I think one can say that it is men of this kind who conducted the commerce and government of Holland

And note their sober black cloaks and their clean white collars

Note how these are set against the finely carved woodwork and the rich table-covering of the cloth hall

What is this work saying?

Is it not saying that personal vanity must yield to collective undertakings,

that personal simplicity must be maintained in the midst of material opulence

But all this does not mean that the Dutch businessman lacked enjoyment in their everyday life

Look at the families of the merchant class


They tended to spoil their children,

at least it seemed so to the less indulgent French,

for there was no corporal punishment at home or in school

Their adolescent daughters appeared to be saucy

Their wives seemed independent and self-assured

They were often well-heeled in their own right

These families treated their servants amiably

And their houses reflected an individualistic spirit

If the Florentine merchant princes erected places,

and if the German millionaires erected cluttered townhouses,

the Dutch patroon built a more modest but comfortable dwelling

At the beginning of the 17th century,

not much had changed from the middle ages

You have a few tables

You have cupboards

You have a linen closet

You have several beds built into the walls

You have a desk

But, as the century went on,

some luxuries are introduced

The decor becomes more refined

Walls are covered with tapestries,

with gilded leather

Satins come in

So do rugs

So do porcelains

Houses became full of pictures

In the brief essay on your CD disk "Art in History, History in Art,"

David Freedberg and Jan de Vries note that those of the highest

income averaged 41 paintings per household

Those of the lowest income average 7 per household

You can see the difference by looking at two pictures of Pieter de Hooch


In 1560 he paints very clean simple interiors

This work is titled A Woman Drinking with Two Men

It's in the Louvre

Within a few years the interiors are very elaborate

Here we have another work by de Hooch

It's called The Card Players (c. 1664)

It's also in the Louvre

Here's where you start getting the gold Spanish leather on the walls

But there is one thing about the house of any Dutch merchant

It was neat

It was functional

Its inside was absolutely spotless

There was no carpet but the tile was gleaming

It was scoured daily

One Frenchman wrote,

"Dutchwomen pride themselves on the cleanliness of their house and

furniture to an unbelievable degree

They never seem to stop washing and scrubbing all the wooden furniture

and fittings'

You've got high wide windows affording a maximum of sunlight

You've got groves of precisely planted trees surrounding this house

Now, although the Dutch were so successful in commerce,

agriculture was far from forgotten

Holland was most productive in farming

Farming was a source of great wealth

Indeed, Holland was one of the first nations to develop a really prosperous commercial


Before the 17th century,

most farming in most countries was carried on at a subsistence level

That is, people raised what they could consume personally

There was no market for any surplus

But Holland was different

In the northern Netherlands, no farm was far from a city

So it was easy to transport farm produce and sell it close by

This puts cash in the hands of peasants

It creates a new demand for commercial and industrial products

But do not think that everyone is rich or everyone is middle class

This rich world of art can be somewhat misleading

Painters during this time did not focus on poor people

There were plenty of workhouses and poor houses and slums

There was much child labor

A laborer could work over 14 hours a day for a few pennies

An able bodied seaman might run a 50-50 chance of not returning from the Indies

But his salary was 2 to 3 guilders per week,

about $15 in today's terms

As Hans Koningberger notes in his book The World of Vermeer, 1632-1675 (1967),

the Dutch Golden Age was no Golden Age for half the population

Robert Wallace notes the same thing in The World of Rembrandt, 1606-1669 (1968)

For example, in 1640, in Rembrandt's birthplace of Leiden,

most of the city's 20,000 textile workers lived in huts furnished

only with straw litter

Incidentally, as Arnold Hauser notes in his Social History of Art ( Amer. ed., 1951),

most Dutch painters, even the prominent ones,

lived in miserable circumstances

They needed to supplement their income

Van Goyen traded in tulips

Hobbema was a tax collector

Van de Velde was the proprietor of a linen business

Jan Steen and Aert van der Velde were innkeepers

At times Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer all worried about money

Now underlying all this prosperity was religious toleration

There is far greater toleration than in any other European state

Calvinism, also called the Reformed faith, was the official church

To hold government office you have to be a Calvinist

But no citizen is forced to belong to the Reformed church

The state church is not imposed on anyone

In fact, one need not profess any religion at all

Indeed Calvinism grew very slowly

Until well into the 17th century,

Calvinism was a small minority

At the beginning of the century,

only about 10% of the population was Calvinist

And Brad Gregory notes in his lectures for the Teaching Company

("The History of Christianity in the Reformation Era," 2001),

many magistrates did not want to replace a severe Catholic society

with a severe Calvinist one

Conversely, many Calvinist preachers wanted to be darned choosy about

who are let into full membership in the congregation,

that is they don't want nominal Christians with what they see as

worldly standards

And clergy and the magistrates fought over all kinds of things

Who is to appoint the parish clergy, the church or the state?

Who is in charge of the schools?

What should be the content of religious instruction?

Who administers poor relief?

Indeed early in the 17th century,

Dutch Calvinists officially divided,

as some sought to tone down the doctrine of double predestination

What double predestination simply means is that God has not only

foreordained some people for salvation from eternity

He has foreordained some people for damnation from eternity

This doctrine was challenged by a theologian at the University of

Leyden named Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)

Arminius says God wills the salvation of all and will give salvation

to all who truly repent and believe in Christ

In 1618, at the Synod of Dord,

Arminianism was repudiated

The more rigid Calvinist party won out

One old man was put to death

But in 1632 Arminianism was tolerated

Roman Catholics could not have official churches

But they could meet in homes

Theoretically these meetings were secret

In reality, these house churches were quite above board

Indeed, in 17th century Amsterdam,

there were twice as many admitted small Catholic house churches as

there were Calvinist churches

We tend to forget that Vermeer was a Roman Catholic,

that Jan Steen was a Catholic

Mennonites also prospered

These are followers of Menno Simons (1946-1561) (Mean-oh),

an Anabaptist reformer from Frisia who preached pacifism

Unlike other Dutch Anabaptists,

these Mennonites were seen as assets to the community because

they proved to be so constructive,

so skilled,

so useful

By the 17th century,

the Mennonites were one of the largest groups in the Netherlands

In the national museum of Berlin,

one can see Rembrandt's famous painting The Mennonite Minister

Cornelis Claesz (1641)

Note the rhetorical gesture of the preacher as he expounds the word

as his wife listens attentively

Note also the sacred books on the richly carpeted working table

Jews prospered as well

As early as 1657 Jews were recognized as Dutch citizens

Most Jews were from Spain or Portugal

Amsterdam held an important Sephardic community

Note Rembrandt's famous picture The Jewish Bride (c. 1665),

a portrait commissioned by a Sephardic family

And this religious toleration lead to broader intellectual toleration,

to an open society

One manifestation of this is seen in printing

Amsterdam could well have been the leading printing center in all Europe

Books are printed in huge numbers,

some of them books that were not allowed to be printed elsewhere

People will come to the United Provinces just to write their books and have

these books printed

Another manifestation is found in universities

In 1675 the first Dutch university is established at Leiden

Leiden became the intellectual center of northern Europe

It was almost on a par with the universities of Paris and Oxford

It was particularly famous for its oriental studies

And foreign intellectuals find they can work in Holland without intimidation

Take the Frenchman Pierre Bayle ("bell") (1647-1706) who taught at Rotterdam


Bayle propounded the idea that morality was independent of religion,

not a popular teaching at the time

Take the philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704),

the father of British empiricism,

the author of the famous treaties on civil government

In 1683, he had to flee Britain

Amsterdam and Rotterdam gave him refuge

Take another philosopher, Ren Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes was a Frenchman who served in the army of Maurice of Nassau

Descartes commented,

"There is no country in which freedom is more complete,

security greater, crime rarer,

the simplicity of ancient manners more perfected here"

But the United Provinces also had plenty of homegrown intellectuals

Take Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677),

who came from a family of Sephardic refugees from Spain

His writings were deemed so heretical that they were banned in most countries

But Spinoza works in total freedom in Holland

Then there is Anton van Leewenhoek (1632-1723),

like Spinoza a lens grinder

Leewenhoek did much to develop the microscope

The authors of the web gallery of art suggest that Leeuwenhoek might have

been the model for Vermeeer's The Geographer

There is Christian Huygens (1629-1695),

a scientist who may be regarded as the connecting link between Galileo and


Huygens made clocks that worked with pendulums

He discovered the rings of Saturn

He launched the wave theory of light

There is Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) (groo-shi-oos),

the great pioneer of international law

Of course, the artist of the Netherlands need no introduction to this audience

No period in Dutch history has produced so many outstanding artists

Now as Calvinism banned all imagery from the churches,

there was little demand for religious paintings

Look at this slide of Hendrick van Vliet's (1611/2-1675) work the Interior of the

Pieterskerk in Leiden (1653)

It's right here at the Ringling Gallery

This is the church, by the way, in which the Mayflower pilgrims just before

they departed to Plymouth, Massachusetts

Notice how stark the interior is

Certainly there are no paintings around

Also, as the United Provinces were a republic,

you did not get pictures of court ceremonials

Dutch art was often secular

It focuses on every daily life

Hence it's a wonderful source for the historian

Sir Kenneth Clark says we knows more about what the 17th Dutch looked like than

we do about any other society (Civilisation, 1969)

Here we get tavern scenes, pastures, farms, seascapes, ships

The success of an art work is not determined by a church or by a court or by a monarch

It's determined by a prosperous middle class wanting to see familiar objects on

the canvas

But what is not painted?

Possibly the most important influence on the new nation--

the war of liberation

The war was the traumatic event of the Dutch experience

But except for a few battle scenes,

a few sea battles,

the war was ignored

Certainly we have plenty of pictures of plenty of soldiers

But these soldiers are shown enjoying themselves

It's as if the Hollanders had seen all the fighting,

all the violence they could stand

They wanted no more of it in their art

Every wealthy burgher family had its portrait gallery,

its collection of paintings

Now why does this empire decline,

because decline it does

The empire peaked around 1650

Then it started to decline,

slowly at first towards the end of the 17th century,

then more rapidly after 1700

There are two major factors

First, for much of the early 17th century,

England and France had been distracted by religious and political dissension

But by mid-17th century,

things had calmed down

England and France could look outward a bit

They could vie for what they see as their rightful share of the world's trade

They could build their own merchant marines,

their own carrying fleet

And the English in particular start to move in on the Dutch

They absorb much of the Dutch commerce with Sweden, with Denmark,

with Portugal, with Brazil

Second, the Dutch enter into wars with the English in 1652 and again in 1654 and again in 1672

These are primarily naval wars,

though in 1672 the Dutch lost New Amsterdam,

which was then named after the British successor to the throne,

James II, the Duke of York-- New York

In actual fighting,

the Dutch remained a match for the English

But England had the greater resources and Dutch commerce was spread too thin

I 1672 and 1701 The Dutch also fought the French

The French were repulsed but such efforts are always costly

In this exposition, "Time and Transformation in 17th Century Dutch Art,"

there is a wonderful picture called The Destruction of Bodegraven

and Zwammerdam (1672)

The artist is Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708)

The work centers on two cities just north of the Hague

The work shows the French as literal savages

Never again does Holland attempt to play a major role in European politics

Yet if the Dutch ceased being a great political power or even a major industrial center,

they were still prominent in commerce,

in shipping, in finance

They were middlemen, common carriers for other people

Their freight rates remained the lowest in Europe

They continued to grow rich on imports from the East Indies

And to a large extent,

they simply lived on their investments

They had accumulated capital for over 200 years

they simply lent it out to French entrepreneurs,

to English entrepreneurs

A fact: in the mid-18th century,

1/3 of the capital of the Bank of England belonged to Dutch shareholders

And the Bank of Amsterdam remained the chief clearinghouse,

the financial center of all Europe

But if the Golden Age was over,

the contribution was lasting,

and nowhere is this contribution more lasting that in its art

and what we will be seeing here at the Ringling this summer