In the Catholic regions of Europe, the Counter Reformation gave religious art a new spirit through Baroque style. However, after decades of religious war, many of the Protestant countries such as England and the newly independent Netherlands began moving towards a more secular society. Here is a website about the Dutch war of independence from Spain. The Dutch Republic supported a rich merchant class that created a strong art market in the region. Instead of painting for commissions as many artists had in the past, most Dutch artists instead sold their pieces to dealers for art buyers of all classes. Subjects of Dutch art shifted away from elaborate religious art and moved towards landscapes, still-lifes and the Genre Paintings that depicted daily life. In general, Dutch art revolved around subjects that were important to the people of the Netherlands. Many artists specialized in a specific type of painting to ensure an income. Here is a Genre Piece by Dutch artist Thomas Wyke titled Kitchen interior. It completely ignores the drama of Southern European Baroque, and merely shows a domestic scene.
The most famous of the Dutch Baroque artist is Rembrandt van Rijn. While many Dutch and Flemish artists of the period were very specialized, focusing on only one type of painting, Rembrandt had great success painting many different types of works. He created paintings and prints of portraits, militia paintings, landscapes and religious scenes. His style changed much over the years, featuring realistic paintings, ornate Baroque style works, and expressive painterly works. Here is one of his most famous works, popularly called the Night Watch because of a thick varnish that made the painting appear to be a night scene. It was a commissioned portrait of a small Dutch militia. This shows the dynamic portraiture of the best Dutch artists.
Here is one of Rembrandt’s famous landscapes. It titled The Mill, which is housed at the National Gallery in Washington. It shows a country scene of a windmill in a rural landscape. It has a subdued tone that many say represents the tough times that the artist went through when he made the painting. During the late 1640′s, Rembrandt lost many family members and lost most of his wealth.
His landscapes became the basis of the genre for artists in centuries to follow. His landscapes are realistic and in a contemporary setting. Unlike landscapes from earlier periods, most Dutch landscapes were based off real life studies. If there are people in the painting, they are simply part of the scenery, not the subject. These “Classical” Dutch landscapes featured subtle tones which have become valued for their lifelike colors. Many of the Dutch landscape painters focused on scenes of the countryside of Holland and other Dutch counties because art buyers wanted landscapes of their homelands. There are countless landscapes featuring the archetypical Dutch windmill.
Similar to the landscapes are the famous Dutch seascapes. The Dutch excelled at maritime trade, and the Dutch navy and trade companies became immense sources of pride in the Netherlands. This painting by Jacob Adriaensz depicts several warships approaching a city in rough water. According to the Walters’ website, the subject of ships in bad weather is often a symbol of life’s fragility. The orange, white and blue Dutch flags show their national pride.
To see more Dutch and Flemish Baroque art in their original context, go to the Walters’ Chamber of Wonders. The gallery is designed after a house of a rich Flemish merchant, and does a good job of illustrating the habits of art and archeology collection in the Low Countries.
Here are links to the art of other famous artists of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. (artchive.com)