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