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The Dutch Landscape and Still Life Painting

The Dutch Landscape and Still Life Painting

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the influence that the prosperity of the Dutch Republic had on the arts

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Tutorial

An overview of Dutch landscape and still life paintings.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about the Dutch landscape and still life painting. So 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, and identify examples of Dutch landscape and still life paintings.

Key terms, always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The first key term is Dutch Republic, consisting of the low countries which today are the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and formerly under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire. Still life. A work of art that depicts inanimate objects. Landscape. A composition that uses the theme of natural scenery usually seen from one single point of view. Land reclamation. Creating new land by draining off low-lying areas near water.

Dutch Golden Age. A period in the late 16th through 17th centuries when the Dutch achieved a high level of economic, political, and cultural success. Calvinism. A branch of Protestant Christianity started by John Calvin in the late 16th century, which emphasizes complete dependence on God for salvation, equality of all members of the congregation, and the sinful nature of human beings.

Prosperity. Financial success or general well being. And "vah-nee-tas," or "va-nee-tas," a type of painting associated with still life that contains symbols of death, such as a skull or rotting food. The big idea for today is that the increase in prosperity during the Dutch Golden Age led to extensive changes in the arts. So we'll be looking at the time period from 1635 to 1700. And I've marked the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 as a reference point.

So we'll be looking at Flanders and the Netherlands today, in northern Europe. Now, a major influence on the separation of the Protestants from Spain and establishment of the Protestant Dutch Republic, which is now the Netherlands, was the oppression of the Protestants by the Catholic Spanish government that ruled this area. Now, here is Flanders in pink. And here is the Dutch Republic, or present-day Netherlands.

So as I mentioned before, an increase in prosperity during the Dutch Golden Age, as it came to be known, led to extensive changes. The increase in prosperity meant an increase in artistic patronage. More wealth meant more people could afford to invest in art.

Now, you won't see the ostentatious examples of Baroque art, like you would in Italy. The influence of Calvinism, which is a branch of Protestantism, was strong. And Calvinist attitudes regarding the abuse of religious imagery and wealth meant that Dutch paintings were generally smaller in size, and with subject matter that was rather humble by comparison to the Italian baroque.

Now, there's a strong sense of nationalism tied in part to the reclamation of land from the sea itself, which is draining areas with water producing fertile tracts of land, and in victories over Spain, resulting in the establishment of the Dutch Republic.

Now, the establishment of an actual republic occurred without much resistance, largely due to the fact that feudalism never existed in this region. There's no highly developed aristocratic class to overthrow as there was in places like France and England. Now, the swampy nature of the land itself is the primary reason why feudalism never took hold. There were no large tracts of livable land to hold, so the land was essentially broken up into smaller pieces owned by families.

As drainage technology improved, more and more land could be reclaimed for use as arable and livable land. Now, the Dutch were, in a very physical sense, constructing their own country. And there was a very strong sense of nationalism and pride among the Dutch and a very close connection to the land, which can be seen reflected in the landscape paintings of the time.

Now, this painting, called "A Distant View of Dordrecht," is an example of the type of symbolism that is present in Dutch landscape paintings. The importance of the dairy industry in the Dutch Republic is represented by the milk maid and cows depicted in the foreground. The artist shows a real appreciation and understanding of the Dutch landscape.

This isn't an idyllic or invented landscape, like you might see in Italian paintings. This is a very real and particular place. The church in the background is an actual place, an actual church, and would have been known to people familiar with this area.

Now, Jacob van Ruisdael's "View of Haarlem from the Dunes at Overveen" is another example of a Dutch landscape that strives for accuracy in its depictions of an actual place. Now, although I cropped the upper portion of the image so I could expand the lower details for you, this image is dominated by a gorgeous landscape and billowing clouds that loom above the tiny buildings and people below.

The people in the foreground are stretching linen cloth, another important industry for the Dutch, and an example of the pride of Dutch painters in their homeland, as well as the idea that accurate depictions of realistic details were a way of celebrating the Dutch identity in their newly founded republic.

Still lifes were another area where the Dutch excelled, and gives us an opportunity to see the skill with which painters could so believably recreate the appearance of material textures. Now, Dutch artists as a group for all intents and purposes were unmatched in this area. Now, this painting of a still life with oysters, rum glass, and silver cup approaches photographic realism. In fact, from a distance at first glance it could very easily be mistaken for a photograph.

Still life was about more than just realism and detail, though. There were very influential Protestant overtones that are evoked in works of art like this. This is both a depiction of prosperity but also a depiction of an allegory-- or it had an allegorical or moral side to it. There's an appreciation of prosperity as well reminders of mortality in this picture in symbolic objects that are examples of vanitas and reminders of death.

Now, this was a very Calvinist idea-- reminders of humility and warning about indulging in excess. Examples of vanitas include the cup half filled and the cup tipped over and the inclusion of seafood, specifically oysters, and a peeled lemon, reminders that life is fleeting and, like seafood and lemons, beautiful to behold but bitter and sour to taste.

Now, this still life, "Late Ming Ginger Jar," is a wonderful example of the artist's skill in depicting details and material textures, particularly in the Ming vase and Indian rug. Not just beautifully rendered-- they are-- but they're also an indication of the exposure to Indian that the flourishing Dutch shipping and trading companies were facilitating.

Now, just like in the last painting, we have vanitas objects intermixed with the others. The peeled lemon, the watch, and the peach, which is a delicate fruit quick to spoil, are examples of symbolic objects associated with mortality.

Our final painting today is a flower still life by the artist Rachel Ruysch. It's not just an example of vanitas-- although it is, in the brevity of life remaining in the freshly cut blossoms-- but also a carefully composed example of anatomical study. Her eye for detail and realism likely came from her father's profession as a botanist and an anatomy professor. And it is realistic looking, despite the fact that at this time it was impossible to have so many different types of flowers blooming at the same time. The diagonally composed flowers are balanced by the diagonal table. Ruysch's eye for floral paintings like this was very well known and respected, helping her achieve considerable fame in this genre of painting.

So that 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? Can you explain the influences on the art of this time and identify examples of Dutch landscape and still life paintings?

And the big idea, once again, is that the increase in prosperity during the Dutch Golden Age led to extensive changes in the arts. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "The Dutch Landscape and Still Life Painting"

Key Terms

Dutch Republic

Consisting of the Low Countries which today are the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and formerly under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire.

Still Life

A work of art that depicts inanimate objects.

Landscape

A composition that uses the them of natural scenery usually seen from on single point of view. 

Land Reclamation

Creating new land by draining off low-lying areas near water.

Dutch Golden Age

A period of the late sixteenth through seventeenth centuries when the Dutch achieved a high level of economic, political, and cultural success.

Calvinism

A branch of Protestant Christianity started by John Calvin in the late 16th century, which emphasizes complete dependence on God for salvation, the equality of all members of the congregation, and the sinful nature of human beings.

Prosperity

Financial success or general well-being.

Vanitas

A type of painting associated with still life that contains symbols of death, such as a skull or rotting food. 


Citations

Image of Netherlands Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EU-Netherlands.svg; Image of Flanders Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flanders_in_Belgium_and_the_European_Union.svg; Distant View of Dordrecht; Public Domain: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/aelbert-cuyp/a-distant-view-of-dordrecht-with-a-milkmaid-and-four-cow-1650 View of Harlem; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_Isaaksz._van_Ruisdael_001.jpg Still Life; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Willem_Claesz._Heda_005.jpg Kalf, Still Life; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Willem_Kalf_-_Still-Life_with_a_Late_Ming_Ginger_Jar_-_WGA12080.jpg Flower Still Life; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RRuysch.jpg

 

 

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Dutch Republic

    Consisting of the Low Countries which today are the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and formerly under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire.

  • Still Life

    A work of art that depicts inanimate objects.

  • Landscape

    A composition that uses the them of natural scenery usually seen from on single point of view.

  • Land Reclamation

    Creating new land by draining off low-lying areas near water.

  • Dutch Golden Age

    A period of the late sixteenth through seventeenth centuries when the Dutch achieved a high level of economic, political, and cultural success.

  • Calvinism

    A branch of Protestant Christianity started by John Calvin in the late 16th century, which emphasizes complete dependence on God for salvation, the equality of all members of the congregation, and the sinful nature of human beings.

  • Prosperity

    Financial success or general well-being.

  • Vanitas

    A type of painting associated with still life that contains symbols of death, such as a skull or rotting food.