Art in History, History in Art

Studies in seventeenth-century Dutch culture
Edited by David Freedberg and Jan de Vries

Painters and paintings:

Demand for paintings was very high in the mid 17th century. The estimated production of paintings in Holland was between 5 and 10 million. Some 300,000 very nice paintings were exported to other countries, during the 17th century.

At the end of the 17th century, the average number of paintings per household varied between:
- 41 for the highest class income (with taxable property of over 12,000 guilders)
- 7  for the lowest class of income (taxable property of less than 300 guilders).
Rural farmers with 10 milking cows had an average of 3.6 paintings per household.

In the 400 years, between 1380 and 1780, there were a total of 4,250 painters in the Northern Netherlands and 2,950 painters in the Southern Netherlands.

At the height of the Golden Age, in 1650, there were 800 registered master painters active in Holland, plus many apprentices, copyists and non-guild painters. Apprentices copied master paintings. Two copies per week. They were sold for 6 guilders a piece.

A master carpenter earned 9 guilders per week and an outdoor laborer earned 6.50 guilders per week. Wages did not change between 1650 - 1800.

Top artists like Rembrandt received 500 guilders per painting, but a mean value of 15 guilders for all paintings, not belonging to the cr me de la cr me, implies that a painter had to produce 1.5 paintings per week to reach an income of twice that of a master carpenter (after cost of materials and rent of a studio). This means that between 1580 - 1800, some 5,000 painters x 25 years of productive life x 50 weeks per year x 1.5 paintings per week produced 9 million paintings. These figures tie in with probate and household inventory records during that time period.

In 1650 some 30% of all paintings were landscapes. Portraits took second place with 15%, followed by genre and religious paintings.

The average size of a painting was 46 x 46 inches. The average size for a mythology and allegory painting was 69" x 69", for portraits 44" x 44" and for still lifes 31" x 31".

It all fizzled out after the French invasion of 1672 and the wars with England. By that time there was an enormous stock of accumulated art. After that, the French invasion destroyed many homes in several Dutch cities. Also, because Dutch homes did not have cavity walls and the effect of open fires, cooking and the high humidity, 90% of all paintings had been lost a hundred years later.

Today less than 1% of all these paintings have survived.

Some specific points, abstracted by Willem van Osnabrugge, Ringling Museum Docent.
Book is in Ringling Museum Library, N 72. S6 A746 1991