Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture






















In 1581, the six northern provinces of the Netherlands, led by William the Silent of Nassau, declared their independence from Spain, capping a rebellion that had begun 15 years earlier against Catholicism and the attempt by Philip II to curtail local power. The southern Netherlands, called Flanders (now divided between France and Belgium), were soon recovered; but after a long struggle the United Provinces (today's Holland) gained their autonomy, which was recognized by the truce declared in 1609. Although hostilities broke out again in 1621, the freedom of the Dutch was ratified by the Treaty of Munster, which ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648.

The division of the Netherlands had very different consequences for the economy, social structure, culture, and religion of the north and the south. After being sacked by marauding Spanish troops in 1576, Antwerp, the south's leading port, lost half its population. Although Brussels was the seat of government, Antwerp gradually regained its position as Flanders' commercial and artistic capital, until the Scheldt River leading to its harbor, which had been periodically shut down during the war, was closed permanently to shipping as part of the Treaty of Westphalia, thereby crippling trade. Because Flanders continued to be ruled by Spanish regents, who were staunchly Catholic and viewed themselves as the defenders of the true faith, its artists relied heavily on commissions from Church and State, although the patronage of the aristocracy and wealthy merchants was also of considerable importance.

Holland, in contrast, was proud of its hard-won freedom. While the cultural links with Flanders remained strong, several factors encouraged the quick development of Dutch artistic-traditions. Unlike Flanders, where all artistic activity radiated from Antwerp, Holland had a number of flourishing local schools. Besides Amsterdam, the commercial capital, we find important groups of painters in Haarlem, Utrecht, Leyden, Delft, and other towns. Thus Holland produced an almost bewildering variety of masters and styles.

The new nation was a nation of merchants, farmers, and seafarers, and its religion was Reformed Protestant. Hence, Dutch artists did not have the large-scale commissions sponsored by Church and State that were available throughout the Catholic world. While municipal authorities and civic bodies provided a certain amount of art patronage, their demands were limited, so that the private collector now became the painter's chief source of support. This condition had already existed to some extent before, but its full effect can be seen only after 1600. There was no shrinkage of output. On the contrary, the general public developed so insatiable an appetite for pictures that the whole country became gripped by a kind of collectors' mania. John Evelyn, during a visit to Holland in 1641, noted in his diary that "it is an ordinary thing to find a common farmer lay out two or three thousand pounds in this commodity. Their houses are full of them, and they vend them at their fairs to very great gain." The collectors' mania in seventeenth-century Holland caused an outpouring of artistic talent comparable only to Early Renaissance Florence. Pictures became a commodity, and their trade followed the law of supply and demand. Many artists produced for the market rather than for individual patrons. They were lured into becoming painters by hopes of success that often failed to materialize, and even the greatest masters were sometimes hard-pressed. (It was not unusual for an artist to keep an inn, or run a small business on the side.) Yet they survivedless secure, but freer.



Although Rome was its birthplace, the Baroque style soon became international. The great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens 
(1577-1640) holds a place of unique importance in this process. It might be said that he finished what Durer had started a hundred years earlier: the breakdown of the artistic barriers between north and south. Rubens' father was a prominent Antwerp Protestant who fled to Germany to escape Spanish persecution during the war of independence. The family returned to Antwerp after his death, when Peter Paul was ten years old, and the boy grew up a devout Catholic. Trained by local painters, Rubens became a master in 1598, but developed a personal style only when, two years later, he went to Italy.

During his eight years in the south, he absorbed the Italian tradition far more thoroughly than had any Northerner before him. He eagerly studied ancient sculpture, the masterpieces of the High Renaissance (see his splendid drawing after Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari, fig. 636), and the work of Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. Rubens competed, in fact, with the best Italians of his day on even terms, and could well have made his career in Italy. When his mother's illness in 1608 brought him back to Flanders, he meant the visit to be brief, but he received a special appointment as court painter to the Spanish regent, which permitted him to establish a workshop in Antwerp, exempt from local taxes and guild regulations. Rubens had the best of both worlds. Like Jan van Eyck before him, he was valued at court not only as an artist, but as a confidential adviser and emissary. Diplomatic errands gave him entree to the royal households of the major powers, where he procured sales and commissions. Aided by a growing number of assistants, he was also free to carry out a huge volume of work for the city of Antwerp, for the Church, and for private patrons.

In his life, Rubens epitomized the extroverted Baroque ideal of the virtuoso for whom the entire universe is a stage. He was, on the one hand, a devoutly religious person and, on the other, a person of the world who succeeded in every arena by virtue of his character and ability. Rubens resolved the contradictions of the era through humanism, that union of faith and learning attacked by the Reformation and Counter Reformation alike. In his paintings as well, Rubens reconciled seemingly incompatible opposites. His enormous intellect and vitality enabled him to synthesize his sources into a unique style that unites the natural and supernatural, reality and fantasy, learning and spirituality. Thus, his epic canvases defined the scope and the style of High Baroque painting. They possess a seemingly boundless energy and inventiveness, which, like his heroic nudes, express life at its fullest. The presentation of this heightened existence required the expanded arena that only Baroque theatricality, in the best sense of the term, could provide, and Rubens' sense of drama was no less highly developed than Bernini's.

The Raising of the Cross (fig. 777), the first major altarpiece Rubens produced after his return, shows strikingly how much he was indebted to Italian art. The muscular figures, modeled to display their physical power and passionate feeling, recall those of the Sistine Ceiling and the Farnese Gallery, while the lighting suggests Caravaggio's. The panel nevertheless owes much of its success to Rubens' remarkable ability to unite Italian influences with Netherlandish ideas, updating them in the process. The painting is more heroic in scale and conception than any previous Northern work, yet it is unthinkable without

Rogier van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross (see fig. 549). Rubens is also a Flemish realist in such details as the foliage, the armor of the soldier, and the curly-haired dog in the foreground. These varied elements, integrated with sovereign mastery, form a composition of tremendous dramatic force. The unstable pyramid of bodies, swaying precariously, bursts the limits of the frame in a characteristically Baroque way, making the beholder feel like a participant in the action.

In the decade of the 1620s, Rubens' dynamic style reached its climax in his huge decorative schemes for churches and palaces. The most famous is the cycle in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris glorifying the career of Marie de' Medici, the widow of Henri IV and mother of Louis XIII. Our illustration shows the artist's oil sketch for one episode, the young queen landing in Marseilles (fig. 778). This is hardly an exciting subject in itself, yet Rubens has turned it into a spectacle of unprecedented splendor. As Marie de' Medici walks down the gangplank. Fame flies overhead sounding a triumphant blast on two trumpets, and Neptune rises from the sea with his fish-tailed crew. Having guarded the queen's journey, they rejoice at her arrival. Everything flows together here in swirling movement: heaven and earth, history and allegoryeven drawing and painting, for Rubens used oil sketches like this one to prepare his compositions. Unlike earlier artists, he preferred to design his pictures in terms of light and color from the very start. (Most of his drawings are figure studies or portrait sketches.) This unified vision, which had been explored but never fully achieved by the great Venetians, was Rubens' most precious legacy to subsequent painters.

777. Peter Paul Rubens. The Raising of the Cross. 1609-10.
Center panel of a triptych
Peter Paul Rubens. Marie de' Medici, Queen of France, Landing in Marseilles.
Oil on panel, 63.5 x 50.3
cm. Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Around 1630, the turbulent drama of Rubens' preceding work changes to a late style of lyrical tenderness inspired by Titian, whose work Rubens discovered anew in the royal palace while he visited Madrid. The Garden of Love (fig. 779), one result of this encounter, is as glowing a tribute to life's pleasures as Titian's Bacchanal (see fig. 670). But these celebrants belong to the present, not to a golden age of the past, though they are playfully assaulted by swarms of cupids. To understand the artist's purpose, we must first realize that this subject, the Garden of Love, had been a feature of Northern painting ever since the courtly style of the International Gothic. The early versions, however, were genre scenes showing groups of fashionable young lovers in a garden. By combining this tradition with Titian's classical mythologies, Rubens has created an enchanted realm where myth and reality become one.

779. Peter Paul Rubens. The Garden of Love, . 1638.
Oil on canvas,
2 x 2.8
m. Museo del Prado, Madrid

The picture must have had special meaning for him, since he had just married a beautiful girl of 16. (His first wife died in 1626.) He also bought a country house, Chateau Steen, and led the leisurely life of a squire. This change induced a renewed interest in landscape painting, which he had practiced only intermittently before. Here, too, the power of his genius is undiminished. In Landscape with the Chateau Steen (fig. 780), a magnificent open space sweeps from the hunter and his prey in the foreground to the mist-veiled hills along the horizon. As a landscapist, Rubens again creates a synthesis from his Northern and Southern sources, for he is the heir of both Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Annibale Carracci (compare figs. 729 and 746).

Peter Paul Rubens. Landscape with the Chateau Steen. 1636.
Oil on panel, 134.5 x 236.7 cm. The National Gallery, London.


Van Dyck.

Besides Rubens, only one Flemish Baroque artist won international stature. Anthony van Dyck
(1599 1641) was that rarity among painters, a child prodigy. Before he was 20, he had become Rubens' most valued assistant. But like Rubens, he developed his mature style only after a formative stay in Italy. Van Dyck's fame rests mainly on his portraits, especially those he painted during his appointment to the English court between 1632 and 1641. Charles I Hunting (fig. 781) shows the king standing near a horse and two grooms against a landscape backdrop. Representing the sovereign at ease, it might be called a "dismounted equestrian portrait" less rigid than a formal state portrait, but hardly less grand, for the king remains fully in command of the state, symbolized by the horse. The fluid Baroque movement of the setting complements the self-conscious elegance of the king's pose, which continues the stylized grace of Hilliard's portraits (compare fig. 725). Van Dyck has brought the Mannerist court portrait up-to-date, using Rubens and Titian as his points of departure. In the process, he created a new aristocratic portrait tradition that continued in England until the late eighteenth century, and had considerable influence on the Continent as well.

It is characteristic of Van Dyck that he proved most sympathetic in rendering women and children. Because he lacked Rubens' vitality and inventiveness, his achievement as a history painter has been overshadowed; yet it was of considerable importance in its own right. He was at his best in lyrical scenes of mythological love. Rinaldo and Armida (fig. 782), taken from Torquato Tasso's immensely popular poem Jerusalem Freed (1581) about the crusades, shows the sorceress falling in love with the Christian knight she intended to kill. The painting reflects the conception of the English monarchy, which found parallels in Tasso's epic. Charles I, a Protestant, had married the Catholic Henrietta Maria, sister of his rival, the king of France. Charles saw himself as the virtuous ruler of a peaceful realm much like the Fortunate Isle where Armida brought Rinaldo. (Ironically, his reign ended in civil war and his beheading in 1649.) Van Dyck tells his story of ideal love in the pictorial language of Titian and Veronese, but with a lyrical tenderness and visual opulence that would have been the envy of any Venetian artist.

781. Anthony van Dyck. Portrait of Charles I Hunting. . 1635. Oil on canvas.
Musee du Louvre, Paris
782. Anthony van Dyck. Rinaldo and Armida. 1629. Oil on canvas, 236.5 x 229 cm.
The Baltimore Museum of Art.


Jacob Jordaens
(1593-1678) was the successor to Rubens and Van Dyck as the leading artist in Flanders. Although he was never a member of Rubens' studio, he turned to Rubens for inspiration throughout his career. His favorite subjects were mythological themes. Jordaens frequently emulated Rubens in depicting the revels of nymphs and satyrs. Like his eating and drinking scenes, which illustrate popular parables of an edifying and moralizing sort, they reveal him to be a close observer of people. These denizens of the woods, however, inhabit an idyllic realm, untouched by the cares of human affairs. While the painterly execution in Homage to Pomona (Allegory of Yruitfulness) (fig. 783) acknowledges a strong debt to Rubens, the monumental figures possess a calm dignity that dispenses with Rubens' rhetoric and lends them a character all their own.

783. Jacob Jordaens. Homage to Pomona (Allegory of Fruitfulness).
. 1623.
Oil on canvas, 180 x 241 cm.
Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels


Jan Bruegel.

Rubens' towering genius dominated Flemish painting. It touched every artist around him, including Jan Bruegel the Elder
(1568-1625), the leader of the preceding generation, with whom he frequently collaborated. Although he was the principal heir to the tradition of his illustrious father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jan was an innovator who occupied a position of central importance in the transition from Mannerism to the Baroque in the North. Allegory of Earth (fig. 784) shows one of his major contributions to Flemish art: the "paradise" landscape. It originally belonged to a series devoted to the tour elements, a common theme in Northern seventeenth-century painting, each with an appropriate biblical or mythological subject. Barely visible in the background is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, a remnant of the Mannerist inverted perspective. Jan's enchanting vision of this innocent realm is made convincing by his meticulous realism. The small copperplate, which he, like many older artists, preferred, offered a smooth, hard surface ideally suited to his jewellike style.

784. Jan Bruegel the Elder. Allegory of Earth, . 1618. Oil on copper, 46 x 67 cm.
Musee du Louvre, Paris


Brueghel also made an important contribution to flower painting. However, the development of the Baroque still life in Flanders was largely the responsibility of Frans Snyders
(1579-1657), who studied with Jan's brother, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Snyders concentrated on elaborate table still lifes piled high with food that epitomize the Flemish gusto for life during the Baroque era. His splendid Market Stall (fig. 785) is a masterpiece of its kind. This early picture appeals frankly to the senses. The artist revels in the bravura application of paint, as seen in the varied textures of the game. The scene is further enlivened by the little drama of the youth picking the old man's pocket and the hens fighting in the tore-ground as a cat looks on.

Even here Rubens' influence can be felt: the composition descends from one Snyders painted with Rubens based on the latter's design shortly after both returned form Italy around 1609. Market Stall updates The Meat Stall of Pieter Aertsen (fig. 728) into a Baroque idiom. Unlike Aertsen, Snyders subordinates everything to the ensemble, which has a characteristically Baroque ebullience and immediacy. There is a fundamental difference in content as well. No longer is it necessary to include a religious subject in the background of this scene of plenty. Although an emblematic meaning has been suggested, it is plainly secondary. The painting also celebrates a time of peace and prosperity alter the truce of 1609, when hunting was resumed in the replenished game preserves.

785. Frans Snyders. Market Stall. 1614.
The Art Institute of Chicago



The Baroque style came to Holland from Antwerp through the work of Rubens, and from Rome through direct contact with Caravaggio and his followers. Although most Dutch painters did not go to Italy, those who did in the early years of the century were from strongly Catholic Utrecht. Given this lack of contact, it is not surprising that these artists were more attracted by Caravaggio's realism and "lay Christianity" than by Annibale Carracci's classicism. The Calling of St. Matthew by Hendrick Terbrugghen
(1588-1629), the oldest and ablest of this group (fig.786), directly reflects Caravaggio's earlier version (fig. 741) in the sharp light, the dramatic timing, and the everyday detail. Missing, however, is the element of grandeur and simplicity. While it produced few other major artists, the Utrecht School was important for transmitting the style of Caravaggio to other Dutch masters, who then made better use of these new Italian ideas.

786. Hendrick Terbrugghen. The Calling of St. Matthew.
Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 137.2 cm.
Centraal Museum, Utrecht


One of the first to profit from this experience was Frans Hals (1580/85-1666), the great portrait painter of Haarlem. He was born in Antwerp, and what little is known of his early work suggests the influence of Rubens. His developed style, however, seen in The Jolly Toper (fig. 787), combines Rubens' robustness and breadth with a concentration on the "dramatic moment" that must be derived from Caravaggio via Utrecht. Everything here conveys complete spontaneity: the twinkling eyes and half-open mouth, the raised hand, the teetering wineglass, andmost important of allthe quick way of setting down the forms. Hals works in dashing brushstrokes, each so clearly visible as a separate entity that we can almost count the total number of "touches." With this open, split-second technique, the completed picture has the immediacy of a sketch (compare our example by Rubens, fig. 778). The impression of a race against time is, of course, deceptive. Hals spent hours, not minutes, on this lifesize canvas, but he maintains the illusion of having done it all in the wink of an eye. These qualities are even more forceful in the Malle Babbe (fig. 788). one of the artist's genre pictures. A lower-class counterpart of The Jolly Toper, this folk character, half-witch (note the owl), half-village idiot, screams invectives at other guests in a tavern. Hals seems to share their attitude toward this benighted creature, one of cruel amusement rather than sympathy, but his characterization is masterfully sharp and his lightninglike brushwork has the bravura of incredible skill.

In the artist's last canvases these pictorial fireworks are transmuted into an austere style of great emotional depth. His group portrait, The Women Regents of the Old Men's Home at Haarlem (fig. 789), has an insight into human character matched only in Rembrandt's late style (compare figs. 794 and 795). The daily experience of suffering and death has so etched the faces of these women that they seem themselves to have become images of deathgentle, inexorable, and timeless.

787. Frans Hals. The Jolly Toper, . 1628-30. Oil on canvas.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
88. Frans Hals. Malle Babbe. . 1650. Oil on canvas. 75 x 63.5 cm.
Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
789. Frans Hals. The Women Regents of the Old Men's Home at Haarlem. 1664. Oil on canvas, 170.3 x 249 cm.
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem



Hals' virtuosity was such that it could not be imitated readily, and his followers were necessarily few. The most important among them was Judith Leyster
(1609-1660). Like many women artists before modern times, her career was partially curtailed by motherhood. Leyster's delightful Boy Playing a Flute (fig. 790) is her masterpiece. Significantly, its style is closer to Terbrugghen's than to Hals'. The rapt musician is a memorable expression of lyrical mood. To convey this spirit, Leyster investigated the poetic quality of light with a quiet intensity that anticipates the work of Jan Vermeer a generation later.

790. Judith Leyster
Boy Playing a Flute.


Nationalmuseum, Stockholm


Like Hals, Rembrandt van Rijn
(1606-1669), the greatest genius of Dutch art, was stimulated at the beginning of his career by indirect contact with Caravaggio through the Utrecht School. His earliest pictures, painted in his native Leyden, arc small, sharply lit, and intensely realistic. Many deal with Old Testament subjects, a lifelong preference. They show both his greater realism and his new emotional attitude. Since the beginning of Christian art, episodes from the Old Testament had often been represented for the light they shed on Christian doctrine, rather than for their own sake. (The Sacrifice of Isaac, for example, "prefigured" the sacrificial death of Christ.) This perspective not only limited the choice of subjects, it also colored their interpretation. Rembrandt, by contrast, viewed the stories of the Old Testament in the same lay Christian spirit that governed Caravaggio's approach to the New Testament: as direct accounts of God's ways with His human creations. How strongly these stories affected him is evident from The Blinding of Samson (fig. 791). Painted in the High Baroque style he developed in the 1630s after moving to Amsterdam, it shows Rembrandt as a master storyteller. The artist depicts the Old Testament world as full of Oriental splendor and violence, cruel yet seductive. The flood of brilliant light pouring into the dark tent is unabashedly theatrical, heightening the drama to the pitch of The Raising of the Cross (fig. 777) by Rubens, whose work Rembrandt attempted to rival.

Rembrandt was at this time an avid collector of Near Eastern paraphernalia, which serve as props in these pictures. He was now Amsterdam's most sought-after portrait painter, as well as a man of considerable wealth. His famous group portrait known as The Night Watch (fig. 792), painted in 1642. shows a military company, whose members had each contributed toward the cost of the huge canvas (originally it was even larger). Rembrandt did not give them equal weight, however. He was anxious to avoid the mechanically regular designs that afflicted earlier group portraits. (Only Frans Hals had overcome the problem successfully.) Instead, he made the picture a virtuoso performance of Baroque movement and lighting. Thus some of the figures were plunged into shadow, while others were hidden by overlapping. Legend has it that the people whose portraits he had obscured were dissatisfied. There is no evidence that they were. On the contrary, we know that the painting was admired in its time.

Like Michelangelo and, later, Van Gogh, Rembrandt has been the subject (one might say, the victim) of many fictionalized biographies. In these, the artist's fall from public favor is usually explained by the "catastrophe" of The Night Watch. It is undeniable that his prosperity petered out in the 1640s, as he was replaced by more fashionable artists, including some of his own pupils. Nevertheless, his fortunes declined less suddenly and completely than his romantic admirers would have us believe. Certain important people in Amsterdam continued to be his steadfast friends and supporters, and he received some major public commissions in the
1650s and 1660s. Actually, his financial difficulties resulted largely from poor management.

791. Rembrandt van Rijn. The Blinding of Samson. 1636. Oil on canvas, 2.4 x 3 m.
Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
Rembrandt van Rijn. The Night Watch (The Company of Captain Trans Banning Cocg). 1642.
Oil on canvas,
3.8 x 4.4 m. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Still, the 1640s were a period of crisis, of inner uncertainty and external troubles, his wife's death among them. Rembrandt's outlook changed profoundly: after about 1650, his style eschews the rhetoric of the High Baroque for lyric subtlety and pictorial breadth. Some exotic trappings from the earlier years remain, but they no longer create an alien, barbarous world. Rembrandt's etchings from these years, such as Christ Preaching (fig. 793), show this new depth of feeling. The sensuous beauty seen in The Blinding of Samson has now yielded to a humble world of bare feet and ragged clothes. The scene is full of the artist's deep feeling of compassion for the poor and outcast who make up Christ's audience. Rembrandt had a special sympathy for the Jews, as the heirs of the biblical past and as the patient victims of persecution; they were often his models. This print, like the sketch in figure 7, strongly suggests some corner in the Amsterdam ghetto and surely incorporates observations of life from the drawings he habitually made throughout his career. Here it is the magic of light that endows Christ Preaching with spiritual significance. Rembrandt's importance as a graphic artist is second only to Albrecht Durer's, although it is possible to get only a hint from this one example.

793. Rembrandt van Rijn. Christ Preaching, . 1652.
Etching. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


In the many self-portraits Rembrandt painted over his long career, his view of himself reflects every stage of his inner development: experimental in the early Leyden years, theatrically disguised in the 1630s, frank toward the end of his life. While our late example (fig. 794) is partially indebted to Titian's sumptuous portraits (compare fig. 672), Rembrandt scrutinizes himself with the same typically Northern candor found in Jan van Eyck's Man in a Red Turban (see fig. 546). The bold pose and penetrating look bespeak a resigned but firm resolve in the face of adversity.

This self-analytical approach helps to account for the plain dignity we see in the religious scenes that play so large a part in Rembrandt's work toward the end of his life. The Return of the Prodigal Son (fig. 795), painted a few years before his death, is perhaps Rembrandt's most moving painting. It is also his quietesta moment stretching into eternity. So pervasive is the mood of tender silence that the beholder senses a spontaneous kinship with this group. Our bond of shared experience is perhaps stronger and more intimate in this picture than in any earlier work of art. Here the wealth of human understanding accumulated over a lifetime of experience achieves a universal expression of sorrow and forgiveness.

Rembrandt's religious pictures demand an insight that was beyond the capacity of all but a few collectors. Most art buyers in Holland preferred subjects within their own experience: landscapes, architectural views, still lifes, everyday scenes. These various types, we recall, originated in the latter half of the sixteenth century. As they became fully defined, an unheard-of specialization began. The trend was not confined to Holland. We find it everywhere to some degree, but Dutch painting was its fountainhead, in both volume and variety.

794. Rembrandt van Rijn. Self-Portrait. 1658. Oil on canvas, 133.6 x 103.8 cm.
The Frick Collection, New York
795. Rembrandt van Rijn. The Return of the Prodigal Son. c. 1665.
Oil on canvas, 2.6 x2.1 m. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Van Goyen.

796) by Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) is the kind of landscape that enjoyed great popularity because its elements were so familiar: the distant town under a looming overcast sky, seen through a moisture-laden atmosphere across an expanse of water. Such a view remains characteristic of the Dutch countryside to this day, and no one knew better than Van Goyen how to evoke the special mood of these "nether lands," ever threatened by the sea.

Like other early Dutch Baroque landscapists, Van Goyen restricted his palette to grays and browns highlighted by green accents, but within this narrow range he achieved an almost infinite variety of effects. The tonal landscape style in Holland was allied to a drastic simplication of composition, which reduced the complex constructions of Northern Mannerism to orderly arrangements. Van Goyen's scene is based on a lucid scheme of parallel bands surmounted by a triangle. He discovered, what Annibale Carracci had already learned from Giorgione and the Venetians: that the secret to depicting landscape lay in geometry, which enabled the artist to gain visual control over nature as it did architecture.

796. Jan van Goyen. Pelkus-Poort. 1646. Oil on panel.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Other Northern artists absorbed this lesson directly in Rome, where they congregated in growing numbers. The Dutch Italianates who returned home in the 1640s brought with them new ideas that were to have an invigorating effect on landscape painting. Their impact can be seen in the work of Aelbert Cuyp
(1620-1691), who never left his native soil. A follower of Van Goyen, he quickly abandoned tonalism in favor of the radiant light found in their views of the Roman Campagna, which parallel the work of Claude Lorraine (see fig. 811). The golden sunlight of late afternoon imbues Cuyp's View of the Valkhof at Nijmegen (fig. 797) with a poetic mood that suspends the scene in time and space. The nearly classical structure of the composition and cubic handling of the architecture heighten the sense of repose created by Cuyp's command of even the subtlest atmospheric effects.

Aelbert Cuyp. View of the Valkhof at Nijmegen.
Oil on panel.


Although nature was certainly enjoyed for its own sake, it could also serve as a means of divine revelation through contemplation of God's work. Such is the case with The Jewish Cemetery (fig.
798) by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9-1682), the greatest Dutch landscape painter. Natural forces dominate this wild scene, which is frankly imaginary, except for the tombs, which depict the Jewish cemetery in Amsterdam. The thunderclouds passing over a deserted mountain valley, the medieval ruin, the torrent that has forced its way between ancient graves, all create a mood of deep melancholy. Nothing endures on this earth, the artist tells us: time, wind, and water grind all to dust, the trees and rocks, as well as the feeble works of human hands. Even the elaborate tombs offer no protection from the same forces that destroy the church built in God's glory. Within the context of this extended allegory, the rainbow may nevertheless be understood as a sign of the promise of redemption through faith. Ruisdael's view of nature is thus the exact opposite of Annibale Carracci's "civilized" landscape (compare fig. 746). It harks back instead to Giorgione's tragic vision (see fig. 669). The Jewish Cemetery inspires that awe on which the Romantics 150 years later were to base their concept of the Sublime. The difference is that for Ruisdael, God ultimately remains separate from His creation, instead of a part of it.

798. Jacob van Ruisdael. The Jewish Cemetery. 1655-60.
Oil on canvas. The Detroit Institute of Arts



Nothing at first seems further removed from The Jewish Cemetery than the painstakingly precise Interior of the Choir of St. Bavo 's Church at Haarlem
(fig. 799), painted by Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665) at almost the same time. Yet it, too, is meant to invite meditation, rather than serve merely as a topographic record. (These architectural views were often freely invented as well.) The medieval structure, stripped of all furnishings and whitewashed under Protestant auspices, is no longer a house of worship. It has become a place for the dead (note the tomb slabs in the floor), and in its crystalline spaciousness we feel the silence of a graveyard.

799. Pieter Saenredam.
Interior of the Choir of
St. Bavo's Church at Haarlem.
Oil on panel.

Worcester Art Museum, Worcester,

Still lifes exist above all to delight the senses, but even they can be tinged with a melancholy air. As a result of Holland's conversion to Calvinism, these visual feasts became vehicles for teaching moral lessons. Most Dutch Baroque still lifes treat the theme of Vanitas (the vanity of all earthly things). Overtly or implicitly, they preach the virtue of temperance, frugality, and hard work by admonishing the viewer to contemplate the brevity of life, the inevitability of death, and the passing of all earthly pleasures. The medieval tradition of imbuing everyday objects with religious significance was absorbed into vernacular culture though emblem books which, together with other forms of popular literature and prints, encompassed the prevailing ethic in words and pictures. The stem Calvinist sensibility is exemplified by such homilies as, "A fool and his money are soon parted" (a saying that goes all the way back to ancient Rome), and illustrated by flowers, shells, and other exotic luxuries. The very presence in Yanitas still lifes of precious goods, scholarly books, and objects appealing to the senses suggests an ambivalent attitude toward their subject. Such symbols usually take on multiple meanings which, though no longer immediately apparent to us, were readily understood at the time. In their most elaborate form, however, these moral allegories become visual riddles that rely on the very learning they sometimes ridicule.


800. Willem Claesz. Heda. Still Life. 1634.
Oil on panel,
43 x 57 cm.
Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam


The banquet (or breakfast) piece, showing the remnants of a meal, had Vanitas connotations almost from the beginning. The message may lie in such established symbols as death's heads and extinguished candles, or be conveyed by less direct means. Still Life (fig.
800) by Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680) belongs to this widespread type. Food and drink are less emphasized here than luxury objects, such as crystal goblets and silver dishes, which are carefully juxtaposed for their contrasting shape, color, and texture. How different this seems from the piled-up edibles of Aertsen's Meat Stall (see fig. 728)!

But virtuosity was not Heda's only aim. He reminds us that all is Vanity. His "story," the human context of these grouped objects, is suggested by the broken glass, the half-peeled lemon, the overturned silver dish. The unstable composition, with its signs of a hasty departure, is itself a reference to transience. Whoever sat at this table has been suddenly forced to abandon the meal. The curtain that time has lowered on the scene, as it were, invests the objects with a strange pathos. The disguised symbolism of "Late Gothic" painting lives on here in a new form.

De Heem.

The breakfast piece soon evolved into an even more lavish display, known appropriately as the "fancy" still life for its visual splendor, which culminated in the work of Jan de Heem
(16061684). De Heem began his career in Protestant Holland, but he soon moved to Catholic Flanders. However, he traveled back and forth between the two countries and eventually returned to his native land. His achievement was to synthesize the sober Dutch tradition with the flamboyant manner of Frans Snyders into a unique style that proved equally influential on both sides of the border. In Still Life with Parrots (fig. 801), De Heem has compiled delicious food, exotic birds, and luxurious goods from around the world. The result is a stunning tour de force. Despite its profusion, the painting is unified by the balanced composition and colorful palette. In keeping with the appetitive theme, the viewer is invited to enjoy the visual abundance, which celebrates the work of the Lord and humanity. At the same time, the picture has a covert meaning. Many of these objects, including the oysters, melon, and shells (which commanded high prices), are also standard Vanitas symbols conveying an admonition to be temperate. The extravagant display further incorporates the time-honored theme of the four elements, as well as traditional Christian imagery: the parrot is identified with the Madonna as the mother of Christ, while the grapes are a reference to the Eucharistic wine and, hence, resurrection, as is the pomegranate, which also stands for the Virgin's purity.

801. Jan de Heem. Still Life with Parrots.
Late 1640s. Oil on canvas, 150.5 x 115.5 cm.
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida


De Heem also formulated the High Baroque floral still life so definitively that flower painters were to feel his impact for the next
200 years. Many of them were women, including his pupil Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693), who became a celebrated artist in her own right. Her achievements were soon outstripped by those of Rachel Ruysch (1664 1750), who shared honors with Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) as the leading Dutch flower painters of the day. Was she aware of the significance of each blossom, and of the butterflies, moths, and snails she put into the beautiful piece in figure 802, each of which has an complex symbolic meaning? By this time it is doubtful that she assembled her bouquet to a moralizing end. Instead, the main purpose of Ruysch's painting was surely to please the eye. She imparts such a sweeping vitality to the swirling profusion of buds that they fairly leap from their vase.

802. Rachel Ruysch. Flower Still Life.
After 1700. Oil on canvas.
The Toledo Museum of Art



The large class of pictures termed genre is as varied as that of landscapes and still lifes. It ranges from tavern brawls to refined domestic interiors. The Feast of St. Nicholas (fig.
803) by Jan Steen (1625/6-1679) is midway between. St. Nicholas has just paid his pre-Christmas visit to the household, leaving toys, candy, and cake for the children. Everybody is jolly except the bad boy on the left, who has received only a birch rod. Steen tells this story with relish, embroidering it with many delightful details. Of all the Dutch painters of daily life, he was the sharpest, and the most good-humored, observer. To supplement his earnings he kept an inn, which perhaps explains his keen insight into human behavior. His sense of timing and his characterization often remind us of Frans Hals (compare fig. 788), while his story-telling stems from the tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (compare fig. 730).

803. Jan Steen. The Feast of St. Nicholas.
. 1660-65. Oil on canvas, 82 x 70.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


In the genre scenes of Jan Vermeer
(1632-1675), by contrast, there is hardly any narrative. Single figures, usually women, are seemingly engaged in simple, everyday tasks. They exist in a timeless "still life" world, as if calmed by some magic spell. When there are two, as in The Letter (fig. 804), they do no more than exchange glances. The painting nonetheless does tell a story, but with unmatched subtlety. The carefully "staged" entrance serves to establish our relation to the scene. We are more than privileged bystanders: we become the bearer of the letter that has just been delivered to the young woman. Dressed in sumptuous clothing, she has been playing the lute, as if awaiting our visit. This instrument, laden with erotic meaning, traditionally signifies the harmony between lovers, who play each other's heart strings. Are we, then, her lover? The amused expression of the maid suggests just such an anecdotal interest. Moreover, the lover in Dutch art and literature is often compared to a ship at sea, whose calm waters depicted in the painting here indicate smooth sailing. As usual with Vermeer, however, the picture refuses to yield a final answer, since the artist has concentrated on the moment before the letter is opened.

Vermeer's real interest centers on the role of light in creating the visible world. The cool, clear daylight that filters in from the left is the only active element, working its miracles upon all the objects in its path. As we look at The Letter, we feel as if a veil had been pulled from our eyes, for the everyday world shines with jewellike freshness, beautiful as we have never seen it before. No painter since Jan van Eyck saw as intensely as this. But Vermeer, unlike his predecessors, perceives reality as a mosaic of colored surfacesor perhaps more accurately, he translates reality into a mosaic as he puts it on canvas. We see The Letter not only as a perspective "window," but as a plane, a "field" composed of smaller fields. Rectangles predominate, carefully aligned with the picture surface, and there are no "holes," no undefined empty spaces. Only Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), his contemporary in Delft, had such a feel for visual order.

The interlocking shapes give to Vermeer's work a uniquely modern quality within seventeenth-century art. How did he acquire it? Despite the discovery of considerable documentary evidence relating to his life, we still know very little about his training. Some of his works show the influence of Carel Fabritius (1622-1654), the most brilliant of Rembrandt's pupils; other pictures suggest his contact with the Utrecht School. But none ol these sources really explains the genesis of his style, so daringly original that his genius was not recognized until about a century ago.

804. Jan Vermeer. The Letter. 1666.
Oil on canvas, 43.3 x 38.3 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


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