This fine translation of De Gouden Eeuw in perspectif: Het beeld van de Nederlandse zevendiende-eeuwse schilderkunst in later tijd(Amsterdam, 1992) will be most welcome to the increasing number of scholars interested in the historiography and critical reception of seventeenth-century Dutch painting as well as in its history of collection andappreciation. The Golden Age of Dutch Painting in Historical Perspective is a collection of thirteen essays, all by scholars affiliated with Dutch universities and research institutions, examining the predominant perspectives on Dutch art in the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, and arranged by the editors Frans Grijzenhout and Henk van Veen in chronological order and in three categories, ‘Art Lovers’, ‘Ideologues’, ‘Art Historians’.
‘Art Lovers’ deals with the eighteenth century as the age of esthetics, taste and amateurish critique (two essays by F. Grijzenhout, L. De Vries); ‘Ideologues’ are seen at work in the nineteenth-century project of anchoring national identity in cultural patrimony (six essays by N. C. F. van Sas, E. Koolhaaas and S. De Vries, J. J. Kloek, D. Carasso, D. J. Meijers, E. De Jongh); and ‘Art Historians’ are presented as a largely twentieth-century phenomenon (five essays by J. Boomgaard, E. H. Kossmann, E. De Jongh, M. J. Bok, E. J. Sluijter). Grijzenhout and van Veen readily acknowledge that all three categories overlap and helpfully warn the reader against expecting a unity or synthesis of perspectives (5). They also address the question of differences and productive tensions that have existed between Dutch and foreign perspectives, using as their example S. Alpers’s The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (1983) which was “vilified by Dutch reviewers” and is “still as potent as it ever was(3).” Another such instance is S. Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches (1983, cf. Kossmann, 198f.). M. J. Bok sees in the work of J. M. Montias a most welcome invigoration of the socio-economic study of Dutch art (241-45), while E. J. Sluijter sees the field as a now ‘highly international affair’ (247), with the Dutch contribution as the one most grounded in historical sources and cultural context. As evident from these nuances, the perspective that all fourteen contributors themselves more or less emphatically share is the perspective from within the Netherlands. In content and material their essays span the distance from the embrace of Dutch painting by an eighteenth-century European court culture oscillating ‘between reason and sensitivity’ (Grijzenhout) to its critical reception through “new approaches in art history” from 1960-1990 (Sluijter). The following brief overview is necessarily incomplete.
Grijzenhout traces the eighteenth-century appreciation of Dutch landscape painting to Christian Ludwig Hagedorn and Edmund Burke’s accounts of sublime landscape and the interest in Dutch genre painting to Denis Diderot’s promotion of ‘sensibilité’ — a concept influenced by Shaftsbury’s ‘inner sense of beauty’ and Hagedorn’s ‘inner sentience’ — to the imitation of nature and to bourgeois ‘family values’ (26f.) ‘Ideologues’ and the nineteenth century are introduced by a reminder that a new vocabulary for speaking of Dutch painting was first developed “in the Germany . . . of romantic nationalism,” paralleled and reinforced in ‘the age of museums’ by the opening or nationalizing of private and court collections to the public (47). Koolhaas and De Vries see this development as standing under the motto ‘Back to the Glorious Past’ and as inextricably linked with the search for a national taste and identity in art. For example, the essay competition held by Teylers Tweede Genootschap in 1809 on the question of why there has been no Dutch national history painting forced authors to deal with defining ‘Dutchness’ (81-84). In the later nineteenth century and in the face of both the Hague School and Barbizon painters’ acknowledged inspiration by Dutch Golden Age painting, the issue could be settled through the claim that Dutch realism has classical and timeless qualities independent of nationalist principles (90).
De Jongh takes a sharply critical look at the ‘political prism’ through which not only the nineteenth century saw Golden Age painting, noting that foreign scholars have their share in this phenomenon (142f., 157-160). Going beyond Dutch expressions of anti-French or otherwise xenophobic sentiments dating from Simon Stijl (1774) to Johan Huizinga (1941), De Jongh distinguishes a ‘radical-right vision’ and a ‘Marxist and socialist vision’ in the twentieth century, both often focused on Rembrandt. The first vision belonged to Dutch pro-German and Nazi art historians in the 1930s and followed Julius Langbehn’s idea of Rembrandt as a role model of Germanic virtues (Rembrandt as Educator, 1890). The second vision associated Dutch low-life painting with an artistic focus on the working class and the Dutch Golden Age with a socialist utopia. Ending on a brief note about feminism as “the most recent collective movement to exploit art as a ‘political’ parade ground (161),” De Jongh sees the difference between ‘ideologues’ and ‘art historians’ once more eroded. Among the discussions in ‘Art Historians’ of methodology and Dutch Golden Age painting M. J. Bok’s essay on the socio-economic approach to the theme of ‘The Painter and His World’ provides insight into the legacies of early twentieth-century Dutch art historical practices, the (Wilhelm) ‘Martin approach’, i.e., the in-depth study of “the life, milieu and culture of the artist,” and the (Hanns) ‘Floerke approach’, according to which “the goal of art-historical research is to understand more about the society in which art functions” (226). Originally rooted in the fields of sociology, history and economics, both approaches figure in recent Dutch and American studies of artists’ studio and workshop practices, of art patronage and of the art market by authors as different as S. Alpers, J. M. Montias, G. Schwartz and E. Van de Wetering.
There is no ‘Conclusion’ to this volume; instead, the book ends with its contributors’ collective and extensive bibliography, in part brought up to 1995, and with a very detailed index which will help the reader to use this book in multiple ways. This open ending may suggest either the unknowable possibility of a dominant category for the twenty-first century or, more practically, that we continue to review carefully present approaches to Dutch art in light of past perspectives.
Bryn Mawr College