In the preface to Childhood Pleasures, authors Barnes and Rose state their intention to explore “the pleasures of Dutch children” in the hope that “today’s children and adults will discover that while some pleasures enjoyed by Dutch youngsters four hundred years ago have changed, some of those childhood pleasures remain sources of delight and amusement even in the twenty-first century.” [xiii] To this end, they illustrate and comment upon some fifty Dutch paintings, prints, and drawings from the late 1620s to about 1710 representing children engaged in numerous activities. The book also contains two longer essays about how Dutch children played and what they ate, and several other brief sections including a bibliography, but no footnotes. Towards the end of the book, the authors state their guiding premise, that “Dutch children in the seventeenth century had many opportunities for pleasurable moments from the early days of infancy through their childhood and youth.” 
Barnes and Rose affirm from the onset that much of their evidence derives from the pictorial record left behind by Dutch artists, a testimony represented by the very paintings, prints, and drawings illustrated in the book. This declaration is cause for concern. As few readers of these pages need reminding, historical study of Dutch art conducted over the past fifty years has established that, despite sometimes masquerading as unadorned reportage, Dutch paintings, prints, and drawings of the period have a very sketchy relationship to reality. By emphasizing, deemphasizing, selecting, deselecting, inventing, and suppressing, they represent a world different from the world that really was. Any attempt to draw meaningful conclusions about the lives of seventeenth-century Dutch children that relies principally upon evidence supplied by seventeenth-century Dutch art thus faces a major obstacle.
The authors press ahead nonetheless, generalizing about the pleasures of Dutch childhood and imputing particular emotions and behavioral patterns to Dutch children on the basis of individual representations and the pictorial record. Meanwhile, recent controversies about the status and treatment of children in the seventeenth-century Netherlands receive no mention. Nor do manifold childhood pleasures, public and private, licit and illicit, not subject to artistic representation. The effect is to perpetuate stereotypes and fantasies about seventeenth-century Dutch childhood that might better be challenged. Granted, the authors did not write Childhood Pleasures for scholars. Even the children and adults at whom the book is targeted deserve sound methodology and a critical appraisal of the subject, however.
A lucid foreword written by Arthur Wheelock deftly introduces readers to historical and interpretive problems surrounding the study of Dutch art. The essays and entries helpfully provide names and terms for many of the activities and objects represented in the pictures. A brief section toward the end of the book contains recipes for traditional Dutch delicacies. I tried a few of them and found them yummy.
David A. Levine
Southern Connecticut State University