Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century

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        The seventeenth century was a period during which Dutch society underwent dramatic change. Spain's cultural and spiritual domination finally ended in 1648, after years of sporadic fighting, when Holland formally became recognised as a republic. This new status had a profound political, social, and economic effect on the country, which was reflected in the visual arts of the period. The role of patronage also underwent changes, as the artists could no longer rely on the support of the church and aristocracy, leaving painters to find alternative markets for their works. These new circumstances also led to conspicuous changes in the style and subject matter of their work.         

        With the signing of the Treaty of Munster in 1648, Holland finally broke free from the domination of the Spanish Court, and adopted a democratic style of Government.(V:pg514.) The power of the Dutch crown was considerably reduced, and the monarch, Prince William of Orange became a figurehead rather than a ruler. The artists had depended almost entirely on the patronage of the nobility, who commissioned large works to grace the walls of their palaces and stately homes. But the changes in Holland and the constitutional reforms led to the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy becoming curtailed at this time. This restriction of privilege ultimately led to many of the aristocracy leaving Holland, taking with them their artistic patronage. Those who stayed could no longer afford to order large and numerous works of visual art.

        As the struggle for independence became one "...for religious as well as civic liberty", (V: pg. 514.) the pervasive and controlling power of the Catholic Church and consequently its patronage, became diminished. As Protestantism, particularly Calvinist Protestantism took the place of Catholicism, art and the artists lost a great patron and commissioner, as paintings for ecclesiastical and didactic purposes became non existent. The Dutch Calvinists actively discouraged art and colourful adornment in their churches regarding it as a form of superstitious, iconic worship. Consequently their church "... interiors were whitewashed and neither statues nor paintings graced the walls"(II: pg36.)

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        The power in Holland and subsequently the support of the arts now rested almost entirely with the bourgeoisie. The unprecedented power and commercial prosperity of the bankers and merchants, who made up this new middle class, would almost certainly have allowed them to take the place of the now redundant aristocracy. But they had no history of art patronage, and at the beginning of the seventeenth century had no desire to become involved in the arts. (III: pg43.) It could therefore be suggested that financial support of the arts would have been an anathema to the ruling mercantile classes, as ...

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