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Dutch Portraiture

Dutch Portraiture

Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will explore Dutch portraiture.

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An overview of Dutch portraiture.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Dutch portraiture.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin. Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the influences on the art of this time, identify examples of Dutch portraiture paintings.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow. First key term is portraiture-- an artistic likeness of an individual. And the second key term is verisimilitude-- having the appearance or likeness of truth. Big idea for today is that Dutch portraiture strove to capture both the appearance and personality of the person, or people, in the portrait.

And we'll be looking at the time period from 1630 to 1670. And I've marked the arrival of the pilgrims into New England in 1620 as a reference point. We'll be focusing in the Netherlands today, in particular Amsterdam and Haarlem, which are both really close to each other, so I just drew one big circle there. Haarlem, of course, is the namesake of our own Harlem on Manhattan Island in New York, it's just spelled a little bit differently.

The expansion of wealth during this time meant more people who wanted portraits. Portraits were painted of people from many different levels of society, which gave artists opportunities to explore using different poses and approaches to painting that they might not have able to use with the aristocracy, had it existed in this region. Portraiture formed part of a more generalized Baroque interest in explorations of emotion and verisimilitude, specifically encaptuing the likeness and personality of the person, or people in, the portrait.

And a great example with this painting is called the Archers of Saint Hadrian. Now, Hals successfully captures the individual personality of each person in the painting, as well as aspects of their profession, essentially creating numerous individual portraits within the context of a single group portrait. Now, with the recent liberation from Spain, the sense of nationalism was very strong in the Dutch Republic, and the popularity of civic organizations like this was very high.

Now, the portrait's composition diverges from earlier, more organized compositions. There's a lot of energy in this image, as if some of the members have stopped momentarily to turn towards the viewer entering the room. Hals manages to capture the individuality of every member of the group by the use of personal details and arrangement with respect to other members.

Now, some are shown looking at the viewer. Others are looking at each other. Some are reserved. And some are more animated. Though spontaneous in appearance, this was the result of careful planning. And Hals successfully weaves these different elements together to create a cohesive and balanced collection of individual portraits in a group setting.

Now, as opposed to the vibrancy of the last painting, Hals' painting of the women regions is a much more composed and arranged painting, reflecting the rigid discipline and puritanical character of respected Calvinist women. It's also a great example of the Calvinist influence of humility. The Women are shown seated, as full-length portraits were considered too grandiose . The individualism remains, however, as each member of the painting can stand independently of the others.

The palette is much more subdued than with the Archers. The women are wearing dark-colored clothing-- another sign of humility. So the artist is enabled to emphasize the details in the clothing, like they would have been able to with royal portraits. And it's a notable shift from the exquisite detail of material textures northern European artists were known for.

Now, the artist Judith Leyster was known for the informal nature of her paintings. Now, just as with Hals in his Archers painting, we get the sensation that we just walked in on the artist as she was painting in this image, causing her to casually lean back and greet the viewer with a smile. Now, her fancy clothing is indicative of her success as a painter. It's very unlikely she painted in formal attire. It'd be like you or I painting in a suit.

Now, she masterfully uses lighting to create a very realistic impression of skin on her face. There is a very subtle sheen noticeable on her cheek and forehead, and actually on the side of her nose. She also uses color to help differentiate herself, who's in dark colors, from the lightly-colored subject being painted, who almost appears to be playfully mimicking the artist's gesture with his bow on his violin, just as her brush hovers above her painter's palette.

The artist known commonly as Rembrandt is considered the most important painter to have emerged from Amsterdam during the 17th centuries. Now, his popularity contributed to his very successful art studio, which turned out numerous works of art, as well as students and imitators of the master's style. This portrait for the local Surgeons' Guild called The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp is an example of Rembrandt's skill, like Frans Hals', in creating an effective and dynamic multi-person portrait, as well as the influence of Caravaggio and his use of tenebrism to illuminate the cadaver.

Now, the physicians that surround Dr. Tulp, who was a real person, he was the head of the Surgeons' Guild in Amsterdam, crowd around the head of the cadaver. Many of the physicians around there are noticeably straining to get a better view. Now, as in Hals' painting, we get the sensation that we have walked in on a lesson with two of the figures in the back making eye contact with us.

The composition is diagonally arranged around the diagonal of the cadaver. It's forming the diagonal axis. And the anatomy professor and physician Dr. Tulp flexes his left hand to help demonstrate the function of the muscles and tendons that he carefully lifts up with his forceps.

Now, the layer of dirt and grime that accumulated on this next painting, as well as the varnish that was used that darkened over time, led to its nickname The Night Watch, given that historians believed it was a theme set at night. Now, after restoration, the painting was revealed to be much brighter than before.

The painting is considered one of the greatest group portraits to emerge from the Dutch Republic. It depicts two officers-- the captain with the red sash and a lieutenant in the pale yellow uniform-- walking on a diagonal through the commotion of men, preparing for a parade, with little kids running amok through the group. Now, that's another example of a civic group commissioning a group portrait, just as Frans Hals did years earlier. Rembrandt masterfully uses chiaroscuro and light both illuminate the most important figures who are in the front and move you back into the painting by focusing on the little girl. In a clever nod to this group of musketeers, Rembrandt shows the loading, preparation for firing, and actual firing of a musket.

Now, Rembrandt produced many self-portraits. And this particular example shows the Italian influence and stylistic characteristics he absorbed from his teacher who studied in Rome. And that's an example of the balanced composition and naturalism favored by Italian artists, as well as an example of the tenebrist technique and influence of Caravaggio, and even recalling the use of chiaroscuro and sfumato that was employed by Leonardo da Vinci in his famous portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Now, the portrait, however, is a very Baroque example of the Dutch interest in verisimilitude, or truth, in this painting, as well as a sense of personality. Now, Rembrandt doesn't hold back in conveying the appearance of an aged man himself. There's no hint of idealization. We can assume he appeared as he does.

And what I like about this particular portrait, compared to others that he did of himself at this time, is the sensation of humility I get from looking at it, Now, it might just be me, but he'd recently declared bankruptcy. And this may have influenced the more subdued nature of the painting. He's poised, but there's no hint of vanity. He isn't projecting any characterization other than that of a painter.

So it brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the influences on the art of this time, and identify examples of Dutch portraiture paintings?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Dutch portraiture strove to capture both the appearance and personality of the person, or people, in the portrait. And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Dutch Portraiture"

Key Terms


An artistic likeness of an individual.


Having the appearance or likeness of truth.


Image of the Netherlands Map Creative Commons; Archers of St. Hadrain; Public Domain:,_1633.jpg Women Regents of the Old Men's Home at Haarlem; Creative Commons: Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp; Public Domain:; The Night Watch; Public Domain: Judith Leyster Self-Portrait; Public Domain: Rembrandt Self Portrait (Older) Public Domain

Terms to Know

An artistic likeness of an individual.


Having the appearance or likeness of truth.