Dutch Golden Age painting
There was a period in the 17th century, where Dutch trade, science and art were among the most advanced in Europe. The period is known as the Dutch Golden Age. In general, this period started in the second half of the Eighty Years' War. After the war, there was the Dutch Republic which was the most propsperous nation in Europe. The historical period of the time was called Baroque. Many of the paintings of this period show the scenes more pretty than they really were. This is called 'idealisation'. The Dutch paintings of the time often lack this feature. Artists of the movement include Peter Paul Rubens, Johannes Vermeer, Bartholomeus van der Helst, and Jacob van Loo.
There were relatively few paintings with religious themes during this period. The reason for this was that most Dutch were Calvinist. Calvinism forbade religious painting in churches. Even though such subjects were acceptable in private homes, they were not very popular. The other traditional classes of history and portrait painting were present, but the period is more notable for a huge variety of other genres, sub-divided into numerous specialized categories, such as scenes of peasant life, landscapes, townscapes, landscapes with animals, maritime paintings, flower paintings and still lifes of various types. The development of many of these types of painting was decisively influenced by 17th-century Dutch artists.
There was a theory in painting, that some types of painting were more prestigious than others. This theory is known as hierarchy of genres. Because history painting was at the top of the list, many painters wanted to produce historical paintings. The problem with this was that historical paintings were the most difficult to sell. To be able to live from their painting, many painters were forced to produce portraits or genre scenes, which sold much more easily. The hierarchy was as follows:
- history painting, including allegories and popular religious subjects.
- Portrait painting, including the tronie
- genre painting or scenes of everyday life
- landscape, including seascapes, battlescenes, cityscapes, and ruins.
- still life
The Dutch concentrated heavily on the "lower" categories, but by no means rejected the concept of the hierarchy. Most paintings were relatively small – the only common type of really large paintings were group portraits. Painting directly onto walls hardly existed; when a wall-space in a public building needed decorating fitted framed canvas was normally used. For the extra precision possible on a hard surface many painters continued to use wooden panels, some time after the rest of Western Europe had abandoned them; some used copper plates, usually recycling plates from printmaking. In turn the number of surviving Golden Age paintings was reduced by them being overpainted with new works by artists throughout the 18th and 19th century – poor ones were usually cheaper than a new canvas, stretcher and frame. There was very little Dutch sculpture during the period; it is mostly found in tomb monuments and attached to public buildings, and small sculptures for houses are a noticeable gap, their place taken by silverware and ceramics. Painted delftware tiles were very cheap and common, if rarely of really high quality, but silver, especially in the auricular style, led Europe. With this exception, the best artistic efforts were concentrated on painting and printmaking.
Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid (1658–1660)
Paulus Potter, The Young Bull (1647); 3.4 metres wide. An unusually monumental animal painting that challenges the hierarchy of genres.