This volume brings together papers from the Ninth Interdisciplinary Conference on Netherlandic Studies held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in May 1998, by our sister organization, the American Association for Netherlandic Studies. As I noted in an earlier review for this Newsletter, interdisciplinarity is the hallmark of both the AANS and its publications. While the 2003 volume of proceedings is typically wide-ranging, its pervasive theme is the literary interpretation of history. Eleven of the nineteen articles concern Dutch literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although only two essays (both recently superceded by larger studies) address art historical topics, many of the contributions shed light on the socio-cultural context of Netherlandish art.
The collection opens with an essay by Wiljan van der Akker and Gillis J. Dorleijn based on the keynote address from the 1998 conference. Their subject is the historiography of Dutch literature, or should we say, Dutch and Flemish literature? Are the poetic productions of the northern and southern Netherlands two separate traditions, or one? In taking this question – answered differently by succeeding generations of literary historians – as their central focus, the authors explore a relationship complicated by cultural, religious and linguistic tensions. Dutch literature, at least until the 1880s, dominates the field, with Flemish authors often measuring success by recognition in the North more than at home. Readers interested in the interactions between Dutch and Flemish visual culture will find themselves in a thought-provoking parallel universe.
Equally broad in scope is Arthur L. Loeb’s survey of the history of Dutch Jewry before the Holocaust. This study was, according to the author, provoked by an American colleague’s statement that one could not be both Jewish and Dutch. In twelve pages, Loeb presents a masterful overview of Judaism in the Netherlands from Roman times forward, demonstrating that Jewish citizens have made a continuous contribution to the culture of the region.
Linguistic theory is represented by Robert S. Kirsner, “Linguistics as Politics: On the Role of Alternative Approaches within Dutch Linguistics” (pp. 125-140), Henriette Louwerse, “Customizing One’s Voice: Languages in Migrant Writing” (pp. 155-164), and Kristin Lovrien-Meuwese, “French Loanwords in Dutch: The Mouth is Mightier than the Pen” (pp. 165-174). While Kirsner takes a technical approach, complete with impressive charts and equations, Louwerse considers two cultural factors, the implicit suspicion with which native Dutch critics have approached the works of writers for whom Dutch is not a mother tongue, and the hybrid expressivity that such foreigners bring to their adopted language. Lovrien-Meuwese focuses on the infiltration of French words into Dutch in the sixteenth century, hypothesizing that words like sla (from French salade) and schoonvader (from French beau-père) developed not from the literary taste for French among the elite, but from oral contacts between working class Dutchmen and Wallonian immigrants. This case study of how patterns of immigration and intermarriage form the sociological catalyst for linguistic development offers a parallel to the contemporaneous influx of Flemish artists that invigorated Dutch painting at the turn of the seventeenth century.
Aspects of early modern culture are addressed in four other essays. Michael Galvin, “The Administration of Parochial Charity in Burgundian Flanders” (pp. 51-62), compares the institutions known as “poor tables” that offered food and other forms of relief to the deserving poor of fifteenth-century Bruges and Ghent, demonstrating that the activities of civic charities and the social status of the men who directed them varied greatly according to local conditions. Ton J. Broos, “Travelers and Travel Liars in Eighteenth-Century Dutch Literature” (pp. 29-38), examines the varying blend of fact and fancy in several purported eyewitness accounts by Dutch travelers to Africa. His exploration of the indistinct boundary between observed truth and deliberate fiction serves as a cautionary reminder that primary sources must be interpreted with care.
Amy Golahny, “Rembrandt’s World History Illustrated by Merian” (pp. 73-86) analyzes two drawings made in Rembrandt’s studio around 1655 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, Ben. 1014 and Valentiner Collection, Ben. 1015) as evidence that Rembrandt owned and consulted an edition of Johann Gottfried’s world history (Historica Chronica, oder Beschreibung der fürhnembsten Geschichten…, Frankfurt, 1630) with plates by Matthias Merian. Both drawings depict an episode treated frequently in early modern writings on ancient history but rarely in art: the Roman consul Popilius Laenas challenging the Seleucan King Antiochus Epiphanes. Golahny’s assertion that Merian’s illustration, not a print by Jost Amman as previously proposed by Kieser (1941) and Tümpel (1969), was Rembrandt’s source is convincing and enables a nuanced reading of Rembrandt’s dramatic narrative. If Golahny’s attribution of the Rennes drawing (usually considered autograph) to a Rembrandt pupil is correct, we have an intriguing juxtaposition of competing versions of an assigned theme, one stronger in draughtsmanship, the other clearer in compositional structure. This topic is further elaborated in Golahny’s recently published book, Rembrandt’s Reading (Amsterdam University Press, 2003), reviewed by Larry Silver in an earlier issue of this Newsletter.
For Christine Petra Sellin (“Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings of the Biblical Hagar and Ishmael: Painterly Conceptions of Familial Life and Community in a Developing Nation”, pp. 187-208), the pictorial theme of the Egyptian concubine Hagar’s banishment from Abraham’s household and rescue in the wilderness resonates with contemporary concerns about inheritance, family dynamics, and the potentially disruptive role of immigrant servant girls in the Dutch household. While Italian artists preferred the rescue-in-a-landscape, Hagar’s banishment, with its complex interaction of characters, held greater appeal for Dutch artists and viewers. Sellin backs up her argument with citations from literary sources including Luther, Calvin, Jacob Cats and the playwright Abraham de Koningh, whose morality play, Hagars vluchte ende weder-komste (1616) presents Hagar’s contentious relationship with her mistress, Sarah, as a humorous illustration of ambition, pride, and, ultimately, obedience to God. Sellin’s concluding interpretation of Hagar’s expulsion as a symbol for political defense of territory by the new Dutch ‘family’ of provinces is less fully worked-out in this essay, but may be further explored in her recently completged dissertation (UCLA 2003).
Modern literary movements are examined in articles on Darwin and the Dutch novel, 1860-1910 (Mary G. Kemperink, pp. 115-124); Dutch and Flemish crime fiction (Sabine Vanacker, pp. 223-236); constructions of the city in the journal De Vlag (Eveline Vanfraussen, pp. 237-246); the “movement of the eighties” (Dorleijn and van den Akker, pp. 19-28); Gruppe 47 and the Vijftigers (Katherine Ebel, pp. 39-50); Marga Minco’s Nagelaten dagen (Johan P. Snapper, pp. 209-222); and Dutch poetry of the 1960s (Bertram Mourits, pp. 175-186). South African literary topics include Afrikaner idealization in Dutch historical novels (Wilfred Jonckheere, pp. 87-94) and “The First Afrikaans Movement”, 1875-1906 (Danie Jordaan, pp. 95-114).
This tidy book (and the PAANS series overall) provides a model for the economical publication of scholarly research, accomplished through a combination of volunteer editorial work and modest production values. The University Press of America is to be commended for its continuing commitment to such publications in the face of increasing commercial pressures.
Notes: (1) Users of spelling-sensitive electronic search engines should note that the first name of the co-editor, Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor, is misspelled on the title and colophon pages. (2) This writer has served on the PAANS editorial board but was not consulted in respect to the present volume.
Stephanie S. Dickey
Herron School of Art & Design, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis