A Worldly Art
The Dutch Republic 1585 - 1718
By Mariet Westermann

States Bible took 20 years to produce. Published in 1637 from original Greek and Hebrew text. There were some translations before this. See Gerard Dou's portrait of Rembrandt's mother reading the bible of c.1630.

In 1585 the Spanish army captured Antwerp. In 1579 the Netherlands declare independence from Philips II. The nobles had been rebellious since 1568. William of Orange (1533-'84) was murdered in 1584.
The 80 years' war ended in 1648 with the "Peace of Munster" accord. From 1609-1621 there was the "12 year truce". After Peace of Munster Amsterdam and the States General tried to curb the power of Willem II (1626 -1650). He died of small pox. His baby son Willem III (1650-1702) was too young to take over, so Johan de Wit, the highest official in the States General became ruler of the Netherlands. When the English and French navy jointly attacked the fleet in 1672, de Witt (and his brother) was arrested and torn apart by an angry mob. Then Willem III was elected Stadholder at the age of 22. He then married princess Mary and assumed the English throne alongside her in 1689 (39 years old), after Catholic James II had fled the country.

In the mid 1600's the stricter Calvinists controlled the highest public offices, but they continued to allow diversity of worship. In c.1650 only a third of the population was Calvinist, while more than a third was Catholic, in part because of the 1629 capture of some southern Netherlands towns, back from the Spanish. The remaining third belonged to other Protestants sects (Lutheran, Mennonite, Anabaptists and Jews). Catholics were not allowed to worship in public, but could do in private houses. Vermeer and Steen were Catholics, who sold to Protestants.

Seventeenth century painters did not paint outside; only in studios. But they made dozens of sketches and some watercolors. The portraits were done in the sitter's home as sketches and worked out later.

Oil painting was invented in 15th Century. Jan van Eyck did meticulous work, without leaving any brush strokes. Van Eyk got credit inventing it. He was named a "realist". Italian Renaissance theorists said that the primary purpose of painting was the imitation of nature in all its aspects. The Dutch painters did not always idealize people and nature e.g. Jan Steen. In the mid 1650's life-like paintings without brush strokes were very expensive. Gerard Dou and Frans van Mieris became famous for this technique.

In the mid 1650's two point perspective became popular. They were trying to put the viewer in the space of the painting. Landscapes were often done without a fixed viewpoint. This made it look like an objective record, without human intervention. At this time landscapes were the most widely produced and collected category of paintings and most affordable. Carrots and cauliflower were new vegetables.

The stock exchange in Amsterdam was the most sophisticated in the world. Frenzy tulip bulbs in 1630's -from 1600 (1610) till 1637. Between 1607-1640 engineers drained vast lakes in Holland. Between 1606-1672 Amsterdam rebuilt itself on a plan of concentric canals. The Republic became very prosperous around 1600 and especially after the Truce of 1609.

Rembrandt lived from 1606-1669. In 1624 he trained in Amsterdam under Lastman. In 1631 he moved to Amsterdam permanently. He became well known for portraits (he made good money doing this) and history paintings. History paintings were the most prestigious and portraits lowest. Genre paintings were also rated low.

The opening words of Ecclesiasts are: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity (the futility of earthly goods and its persuit). This text was well known at that time. It became a special painting genre: vanitas still lifes, to mark the transience of life. The mentality of the 17th century Dutch was that they reveled in their prosperity, yet were anxious about the moral consequences of wealth. A constellation of beliefs that celebrated Dutch enterprise but obsessively acknowledges its independence in God's benevolence.

In the 16th century it was generally agreed that only those with a claim to nobility were worthy of portrayal. Nobility was inherited or given to famous public servants or artists. In the 17th century it had become accessible to a wider social layer. Portraits were often done as "pendants", one of the man the other of the woman. Woman's portrait would hang on the right, the man on the left. This places the woman on the man's left side (sinister) or lesser side, according to theological and social formulas, which valued the dexter (right-hand) position more highly.

Dutch historians presented their nation as the new people of Israel, small but selected by God for moral leadership. They favored legends about Jewish heroes and heroines, such as Moses and Esther, who saved God's chosen people from destruction.

Eastern Brazil was under Dutch control from 1630-1654. Surinam was a Dutch sugar colony. It became notorious for its unparalleled abuse of slaves.

Lapis Lazuli pigment (very expensive) gives ultra marine blue color, when ground. It was imported from China. Most painters used cheaper and less stable blue pigments.

Hunting was reserved for nobility and the high regents, through a system of permits. There was a good market for hunting imagery, especially in Amsterdam and Haarlem. You could only hunt deer one day per year (even for the aristocrats).

If men had their mouths open on a painting, they might be eloquent speakers. Women had to have their mouths closed. Talking for them was associated with gossiping.

Abstract by Willem van Osnabrugge, Ringling Museum Docent. October 1999.
Book is in Ringling Museum Library, ND1452.N43W28 1996