Jan Vermeer. The Geographer . 1668-69. 20-1/8" × 18-1/4”.
Jan Christaensz-Micker. View of Amsterdam . ca. 1630. 39-3/8" × 54”.
What forces were at work in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century? As Holland asserted its independence from Spain at the end of the sixteenth century, Amsterdam replaced Antwerp as the center of culture and commerce in the north. Its commercial ascendancy was underscored by the wealth at the city’s disposal during the tulipomania, or tulip madness, of 1634 to 1637. How were the forces that drove the tulip craze balanced by the conservatism of the Dutch Reformed Church?
Map: The United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1648.
Illustration from the Tulip Book of P. Cos . 1637.
Pieter Saenredam. Interior of the Choir of Saint Bavo’s Church at Haarlem . 1660. 22-7/8" × 21-5/8”.
How did developments in philosophy and science underpin the Dutch attention to visual detail? Developments in philosophy and science challenged the authority of both the Catholic and Protestant churches. In England, Francis Bacon developed the empirical method, a process of inductive reasoning. Bacon’s writings circulated widely in Holland, where, for over 20 years, René Descartes developed a separate brand of philosophy based on deductive reasoning. What is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning? Why would the Church— Catholic and Protestant alike—feel threatened by the philosophies of both Francis Bacon and René Descartes? Scientific discoveries supported the philosophies of Bacon and Descartes. Johannes Kepler described functional properties of the human eye, the optical properties of lenses, and the movement of the planets in the solar system. His friend Galileo Galilei perfected the telescope, described the forces of gravity, and theorized the speed of light. How would the Church react to Galileo’s discoveries? Meanwhile, in Holland, the microscope had been developed, and soon Antoni van Leeuwenhoek began to describe, for the first time, “little animals”—bacteria and protozoa—sperm cells, blood cells, and many other organisms.
Frans Hals. Portrait of René Descartes . 1649. 7-3/8" × 5-1/2”.
Illustration from René Descartes, Optics (La Dioptrique) , Leiden, 1637: The theory of the retinal image as described by Johannes Kepler. 1637.
An artist drawing in a large camera obscura.
Illustration from Robert Hooke's Micrographia, London, 1665: A flea . 1665.
Illustration from Robert Hooke's Micrographia, London, 1665: A slice of cork . 1665.
How does the vernacular manifest itself in Dutch painting? Still lifes, landscapes, and genre paintings, including many like Vermeer’s that depict domestic life, were especially popular. Most popular of all, however, were portrait paintings, including large-scale group portraits, such as those by Hals and Rembrandt, commemorating the achievements of community leaders, civic militia, and the like. How does the Dutch taste in painting reflect Francis Bacon’s philosophical principles? How do you account for the popularity of portraiture in Dutch society? How might you connect it to Descartes’s sense of self? Rembrandt van Rijn’s paintings are especially notable for their dramatic liveliness. How does his mastery of light and dark contribute to this?
Johannes Goedaert. Flowers in a Wan-li Vase with Blue-Tit . ca. 1660.
Jacob van Ruisdael. View of Haarlem from the Dunes at Overveen . ca. 1670. 22" × 24-3/8”.
Jan Steen. The Dancing Couple . 1663. 40-3/8" × 56-1/2”.
Judith Leyster. The Proposition . 1631. 11-7/8" × 9-1/2”.
Jan Vermeer. Woman with a Pearl Necklace . ca. 1664. 22-5/32" × 17-3/4”.
Jan Vermeer. The Little Street . 1657-58. 21-1/16" × 17-1/8”.
Frans Hals. Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard . 1616. 68-7/8" × 137-1/2”.
Rembrandt van Rijn. Captain Frans Banning Cocq Mustering His Company (The Night Watch) . 1642. 11’ 11" × 14’ 4”.
Rembrandt van Rijn. Christ Preaching (the “Hundred-Guilder Print”) . ca. 1648-50. 11" × 15-1/2”.
Rembrandt van Rijn. Closer Look: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp . 1632. 5’ 3-3/4" × 7’ 1-1/4”.
Rembrandt van Rijn. Slaughtered Ox . 1655. 37" × 27-1/8”.
What are the characteristic features of Baroque keyboard music? Keyboard music was a prominent feature of Dutch domestic life. What role did it play in the home? In Amsterdam, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, organist for 40 years at the Oude Kerk (Old Church), developed the distinctly Baroque brand of keyboard work known as the fantasy, or alternately, the prelude. These works were widely imitated across Europe, reaching a height in the composition of Johann Sebastian Bach in Germany. How would you characterize these keyboard works? Bach’s many compositions reflect one of the distinct features of Baroque music, the drive to create new and original compositions at a sometimes unheard-of pace. What did his Well-Tempered Clavier contribute to secular musical history?
Rembrandt van Rijn. Self-portrait . Signed and dated on the arm of the chair at right: Rembrandt/f .1658. 1658. 52-5/8" × 40-7/8”.
Jan Vermeer. Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman (The Music Lesson) . ca. 1662-64. 29-1/8" × 25-3/8”.
Dirk Stoop. Clavichord with painted images. ca. 1660-80. 4" × 32-1/2" × 10-3/4”.
Rembrandt van Rijn. Continuity & Change: Descent from the Cross . ca. 1633. 35-1/4" × 25-5/8”.
Peter Paul Rubens. Continuity & Change: Descent from the Cross . 1611-14. 13’ 9-5/8" × 10’ 2”.
Calvinist Amsterdam: City of ContradictionsWhat forces were at work in Amsterdam in the seventeenthcentury?• Gaining Independence from Spain — From Spain, Philip II triedunsuccessfully to impose Catholic rule on the north, but the Calvinistsroundly rejected this move. The United Provinces of the Netherlandswas formed after the “Spanish Fury.” The northern provinces felt thatAntwerp was too closely associated with the Spanish, Amsterdamclosed the port of Antwerp thus halting commerce. What Antwerp hasbeen to the sixteenth century, Amsterdam would be to the seventeenth.• Tulipomania — Amsterdam’s commercial success and the wealth atits disposal is captured in the great tulip “madness” of 1634-1637.During those years, frenzied speculation in tulip bulbs nearly ruined theentire Dutch economy.
• The Dutch Reformed Church: Strict Doctrine andWhitewashed Spaces — The excesses of Dutch society so evidentin the tulip craze were strongly countered by the conservatism of theCalvinist Dutch Reformed Church, which actively opposed speculationin the tulip market. The doctrinal rigidity of the Reformed Church isreflected in the austerity of its churches.• Discussion Question: What does the Tulipomania episode suggestabout the mindset and values of a commercially-oriented society?
The Science of ObservationHow did the developments in philosophy and science underpin theDutch attention to visual detail?• Francis Bacon and the Empirical Method — One of the mostfundamental principles guiding the new science was the idea that,through the direct and careful observation of natural phenomena, onecould draw general conclusions from particular examples. The leadingadvocate of the empirical method was Francis Bacon.• Rene Descartes and the Deductive Method — Descartesproceeds to his conclusions through deductive reasoning. He beganwith clearly established general principles and moved from those to theestablishment of particular truths. At the heart of Descartes’ thinking isan absolute distinction between mind and matter, a system ofoppositions that has come to be known as Cartesian dualism.
• Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and the Telescope — Keplermade detailed records of the movements of the planets, substantiatingCopernicus’s theory that the planets orbited the sun, not the Earth.Galileo improved the design and magnification of the telescope. Heproposed that all objects, regardless of shape, size, or density, fall atthe same rate of acceleration.• Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Robert Hooke, and theMicroscope — At the end of the sixteenth century, it was discoveredthat if one looked through several lenses in a single tube, nearbyobjects appeared greatly magnified. This discovery led to thecompound microscope. Van Leeuwenhoek was able to grain a lensthat magnified over 200 times. He was inspired by Robert Hooke.• Discussion Question: What are the most important scientific discoveriesduring the seventeenth century in the north?
Dutch Vernacular Painting: Art of the FamiliarHow does the vernacular manifest itself in Dutch painting?• Still Lifes — Paintings dedicated to the representation of commonhousehold objects and food. Their subject is also the foolishness ofbelieving in an apparent ease of life.• Landscapes — Landscape paintings reflect national pride in thecountry’s reclamation of its land from the sea.• Genre Scenes — Paintings that depict events from everyday life aretypical of genre scenes.• Johannes Vermeer and the Domestic Scene — Vermeer was akeen observer of his world. His paintings illuminate—and celebrate–the material reality of Dutch life. His paintings of interiors are acelebration of Dutch domestic culture.
• The Group Portrait — A large canvas commissioned by a civicinstitution to document or commemorate its membership at a particulartime.• Rembrandt van Rijn and the Drama of Light — In the hand ofRembrandt, the group portrait took on an even more heightened senseof drama such as The Night Watch (Captain Frans Banning CocqMustering His Company). Of all the artists of his era, Rembrandt wasthe most interested in self-portraiture; over 60 survive.• Discussion Question: What are the important characteristics ofseventeenth century northern painting?
The Baroque KeyboardWhat are the characteristic features of Baroque keyboard music?• Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s Fantasies for the Organ —Sweelinck was the official organist of Amsterdam. He was famous forhis preludes and postludes to church services, which were virtuosoimprovisations. He was especially noted for his fantasias, keyboardworks that lack a conventional structure but follow the composer’s freeflight of fantasy.• The North German School: Johann Sebastian Bach — Bachsought to convey the devotional piety of the Protestant tradition throughhis religious music. He wrote most of the music for the Lutheran churchservices in Leipzig and he also composed a cantata, a multimovementmusical commentary sung by soloists and chorus usually accompaniedby the organ. Bach wrote instrumental music for almost all occasions,including funerals, marriages, and civic celebrations. The sixBrandenburg concertos are among his most famous instrumentalworks.
• Discussion Question: How do the composers of this era reflect thevision of the church and at the same time become innovators of a newand original music?