Dutch Golden Age  

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Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665, Het Meisje met de Parel) by Johannes Vermeer
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Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665, Het Meisje met de Parel) by Johannes Vermeer

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The book The Embarrassment of Riches (1987) by Simon Schama is a portrayal of the period.

Contents

Culture

The Low Countries witnessed a cultural development that stood out from neighbouring countries. With some exceptions (notably Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel) the Baroque movement did not gain much influence. Its exuberance did not fit the austerity of the largely Calvinistic population.

The major force behind new developments was formed by the citizenry, notably in the western provinces: first and foremost in Holland, to a lesser extent Zeeland and Utrecht. Where rich aristocrats often became patrons of art in other countries, because of their comparative absence in the Netherlands this role was played by wealthy merchants and other patricians.

Centres of cultural activity were town militia (Dutch: schutterij) and chambers of rhetoric (Dutch rederijkerskamer). The former were created for town defence and policing, but also served as a meeting-place for the well-to-do, who were proud to play a prominent part and paid a fair sum to see this preserved for posterity by means of a group portrait. The latter were associations on a city level, that fostered literary activities, like poetry, drama and discussions, often through contests. Cities took pride in their existence and promoted them.

Causes of the Golden Age

In 1568, the Seven Provinces that later signed the Union of Utrecht started a rebellion against Philip II of Spain that led to the Eighty Years' War. Before the Low Countries could be completely reconquered, a war between England and Spain, the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604, broke out, forcing Spanish troops to halt their advances and leaving them in control of the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent, but without control of Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world. Antwerp fell on August 17, 1585 after a siege, and the division between the Northern and Southern Netherlands (the latter mostly modern Belgium) was established.

The United Provinces (roughly today's Netherlands) fought on until the Twelve Years' Truce, which did not end the hostilities. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War, brought the Dutch Republic formal recognition and independence from the Spanish crown.

Migration of skilled workers to Netherlands

Fishing for Souls

Under the terms of the surrender of Antwerp in 1585, the Protestant population (if unwilling to reconvert) were given four years to settle their affairs before leaving the city and Habsburg territory. Similar arrangements were made in other places. Protestants were especially well-represented among the skilled craftsmen and rich merchants of the port cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. More moved to the north between 1585 and 1630 than Catholics moved in the other direction, although there were also many of these. Many of those moving north settled in Amsterdam, transforming what was a small port into one of the most important ports and commercial centres in the world by 1630.

In addition to the mass migration of natives from the Southern Netherlands, there were also significant influxes of non-native refugees who had previously fled from religious persecution, particularly Sephardi Jews from Portugal and Spain, and later Huguenots from France. The Pilgrim Fathers also spent time there before their voyage to the New World.

Culture

The Low Countries witnessed a cultural development that stood out from neighbouring countries. With some exceptions (notably Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel) the Baroque movement did not gain much influence. Its exuberance did not fit the austerity of the largely Calvinistic population.

The major force behind new developments was the citizenry, notably in the western provinces: first and foremost in Holland, to a lesser extent Zeeland and Utrecht. Where rich aristocrats often became patrons of art in other countries, because of their comparative absence in the Netherlands this role was played by wealthy merchants and other patricians.

Centres of cultural activity were town militia (Dutch: schutterij) and chambers of rhetoric (rederijkerskamer). The former were created for town defence and policing, but also served as a meeting-place for the well-to-do, who were proud to play a prominent part and paid well to see this preserved for posterity by means of a group portrait. The latter were associations at a city level that fostered literary activities, like poetry, drama and discussions, often through contests. Cities took pride in their associations and promoted them.

Painting

Dutch Golden Age painting

Dutch Golden Age painting followed many of the tendencies that dominated Baroque art in other parts of Europe, such as Caravaggesque and naturalism, but was the leader in developing the subjects of still life, landscape, and genre painting. Portraiture were also popular, but History painting — traditionally the most-elevated genre struggled to find buyers. Church art was virtually non-existent, and little sculpture of any kind produced. While art collecting and painting for the open market was also common elsewhere, art historians point to the growing number of wealthy Dutch middle-class and successful mercantile patrons as driving forces in the popularity of certain pictorial subjects.

This trend, along with the lack of Counter-Reformation church patronage that dominated the arts in Catholic Europe, resulted in the great number of "scenes of everyday life" or genre paintings, and other non-religious pictures. Landscapes and seascapes, for example, reflect the land reclaimed from the sea and the sources of trade and naval power that mark the Republic's Golden Age. One subject that is quite characteristic of Dutch Baroque painting is the large group portrait, especially of civic and militia guilds, such as Rembrandt van Rijn's Nightwatch.

Today, the best-known painters of the Dutch Golden Age are the period's most dominant figure Rembrandt, the Delft master of genre Johannes Vermeer, the innovative landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael, and Frans Hals, who infused new life into portraiture. Some notable artistic styles and trends include Haarlem Mannerism, Utrecht Caravaggism, the School of Delft, the Leiden fijnschilders, and Dutch classicism.


Literature

See also: Dutch Renaissance and Golden Age literature

The most famous Dutch men of letters of the 17th century were

  • Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), poet and playwright, who wrote more than 30 plays, many of those based on biblical stories. After The Gijsbrecht (see above) his best known drama is Lucifer (1654). He translated many French, Italian, Latin and Greek works. A recurring theme is man's inner conflicts, on the one hand rebellious, on the other hand pledging obedience to God.
  • Gerbrand Adriaensz. Bredero (1585-1618), poet (sonnets) and dramatist (comedies), his most famous comedy, De Spaanse Brabander (English: The Spanish Brabanter), describes the seamy side of life in Amsterdam
  • Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft (1581-1647), historian, poet and dramatist, who wrote Nederlandsche Historiën (English: Dutch History), which was never completed, but highly valued. His poetry was of high standard as well. He introduced French and Italian lyricism into Dutch poetry.
  • Jacob Cats (1577-1660), poet, famous for his moralistic writings. Houwelijck and Trouringh (English:Marriage and Wedding ring) are two major volumes to educate the Dutch about these serious affairs. Indeed his all too serious tone, lacking humour and esprit, made him a lesser writer than the three named above, and sometimes the object of mockery. His Kinderen zijn hinderen (English: Children are a nuisance) is still a Dutch saying, often followed by the remark that Cats probably had forgotten that he had been a child himself.

Less famous literary men from this period were

See also




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