How Vermeer and his generation stole the thunder of the Golden Age

From the perspective of the year 1650, the past and future of Dutch seventeenth-century painting look radically different from each other. The first half of the century was dominated by participants in the greater European school, with narrative histories and allegories as the most highly prized creations. After 1650 the field is taken over by landscape and townscape, still life and genre. These were less valuable in the marketplace and helped depress the incomes of artists who were already suffering from a shrinking market for their wares. Our picture of the Dutch Golden Age is unduly determined by niche products of the latter half of the century, especially the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, who was virtually unknown until the latter nineteenth century. By forefronting Vermeer and his generation, we adopt a distorted view of the Dutch seventeenth century and its place in Europe, a view that plays into present-day political misunderstandings of where the Netherlands stands in the world.

This phenomenon was demonstrated and discussed by Gary Schwartz in the 32nd Uhlenbeck Lecture, held for the NIAS Fellows Association on 23 June 2014. NIAS is the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

See the pdf (1.37 mB) at 32ndUhlenbeckLectureNIAS20140623_Gary Schwartz

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A corpus of Rembrandt paintings as a test case for connoisseurship

From the proceedings of a congress held at the Ecole du Louvre on 21-23 October 2011Couv Connoisseurship

Connoisseurship: l’oeil, la raison et l’instrument, ed. Patrick Michel, Paris (Ecole du Louvre) 2014, pp. 229-37.

Open pdf (663 kB) at Connoisseurship Schwartz

The Rembrandt Research Project had everything going for it when it set out in 1968 to examine the authorship of all the paintings seriously attributed to the master. However, by 1991, after publishing three massive volumes covering half of Rembrandt’s career,  it ran out of steam and four of the five members quit the project. The remaining member, Ernst van de Wetering, took it over, admitting that vols. 1-3 were a failure. Schwartz asks why and suggests that the fault lay less with the members of the project than with the impossible pretensions of connoisseurship itself.