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Dutch painting of the Golden Age
Dutch painting of the Golden Age

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Dutch painting of the Golden Age


In this free course, Dutch painting of the Golden Age, you shall be exploring issues of meaning and interpretation with specific reference to Dutch seventeenth-century painting. Works by artists such as Johannes Vermeer (Figure 1), Pieter de Hooch (Figure 2), Gabriel Metsu (Figure 3), Jacob van Ruisdael (Figure 4) and Jan Steen (Figure 5) are now among the best-known and most admired possessions of major public collections. Unlike elaborate decorative schemes or complex mythological subjects, these comparatively small-scale paintings appear to require little prior knowledge on the part of the viewer. We have no difficulty making out the scene that is represented and although the costumes and setting may be unfamiliar, we are offered a view on to a world that is recognisably continuous with our own. Even where an artist depicts activities that belong to a different era, such as the bleaching of cloth in the fields surrounding the city of Haarlem (Figure 4), this simply adds a further element of interest and value. It is therefore perhaps surprising to learn that there has been vigorous debate among art historians about the possible meanings that might be attributed to these paintings and that there is, as yet, no consensus as to the correct approach to interpreting the wide range of images that were produced in the Netherlands in its socalled ‘golden age’. As you shall see, much of the debate has centred on the purported realism of these paintings and the highly problematic assumption that they provide a comprehensive ‘pictorial record’ of life in the Dutch Republic (Slive, 1995, p. 1).

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course A226 Exploring art and visual culture [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Figure 1 Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, 1658–60, oil on canvas, 45 × 41 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-A-2344. Photo: Collection Rijksmuseum.
Figure 2 Pieter de Hooch, A Boy Bringing Bread, c.1663, oil on canvas, 74 × 59 cm. Wallace Collection, London, P27. Photo: © Wallace Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Figure 3 Gabriel Metsu, Vegetable Market in Amsterdam, c.1661–62, oil on canvas, 97 × 81 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv.1460. Photo: Musée du Louvre/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Figure 4 Jacob van Ruisdael, View of Haarlem, c.1670, oil on canvas, 62 × 55 cm. Kunsthaus, Zurich. Photo: Kunsthaus, Zurich/ Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Figure 5 Jan Steen, The Effects of Intemperance, c.1663–65, oil on panel, 76 × 107 cm. National Gallery, London, NG6442. Photo: The National Gallery/The Bridgeman Art Library.