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The Art Story Homepage Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Dutch Golden Age Painting Art Works

Dutch Golden Age Painting Artworks

Dutch Golden Age Painting Collage

Started: 1600

Ended: 1672

Artworks and Artists of Dutch Golden Age Painting

The below artworks are the most important in Dutch Golden Age Painting - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Dutch Golden Age Painting. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

The Lute Player (1623)

The Lute Player (1623)

By: Frans Hals

This genre piece depicts a lute player, his body turned toward the viewer, while he saucily looks to his left. The lute's intricately carved sound hole centers the lower half of the canvas, while the diagonal created by its neck extending out of the cropped frame conveys a sense of movement. The player seems to be in mid-movement, his right hand strumming the strings, his left fingering a chord on the neck, as he cocks his head sideways, smiling. The red and black pattern of his jester's costume, marked by prominent yellow buttons, adds to the festive and entertaining air, while the clear light lends to the sense of immediacy.

Frans Hals' painting technique, dubbed the "rough style," was innovative, as he used quick loose brushwork to create energetic movement. His work transformed the genre that was introduced by Dirck van Buburen, as his figures moved realistically, caught in the midst of action. As art critic Roberta Smith wrote, "Mostly through cropping and enlargement, these works elevate genre painting into a form of clear-eyed portraiture...and in their sense of motion they sometimes presage the modern snapshot."

Other Dutch painters of the era, including David Bailly and Jan Steen, as well as the 19th century Adrian de Lelie, copied this work or incorporated aspects of it. Hals' rough style had a noted influence on later artists of the Realist movement, including Courbet and Manet, and of the Impressionist movement, including Monet and Mary Cassatt. Robert Henri, part of the American group, the Eight, went to Haarlem to study Hals' work whose influence is apparent in Henri's Dutch Girl in White (1907).

Self-Portrait (c. 1630)

Self-Portrait (c. 1630)

By: Judith Leyster

This self-portrait shows the artist at her easel, turning in mid-stroke, with brush in hand to face the viewer. The diagonal of her torso as she turns, the play of light suggesting movement in her lace collar and her sleeve, and her facial expression, lips open as if beginning to smile, create a sense of lively immediacy. On the easel to the right, an animated musician dressed in blue, is playing a violin and singing along. The painting within a painting further emphasizes Leyster's self-presentation as a masterful painter of genre works. Here she innovatively compares the arts of music and painting in the echoing diagonals of the musician's bow and the painter's brush, while her use of cropping makes the painting seem almost as spontaneous as a snapshot.

Leyster's treatment here is a noted innovation of self-portraiture as, in effect, she is marketing her brand, as the musician depicted here is copied from her most popular work The Happy Couple (1630). At the same time, X-rays have shown that painting on the easel was originally a girl's portrait, probably a self-portrait, and as art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, "the literal self-effacement tells a melancholy tale, but the painting is a joy and, retroactively, a feminist icon." The artist's brush points at the musician's crotch, a bawdy allusion common to the time. Beneath Leyster's vibrant surfaces, Schjeldahl notes, "social and sexual anxieties tingle with fire-alarm immediacy."

In the years following her death, Leyster's work disappeared, as her works were attributed to Frans Hals, or to her husband, the painter Jan Miense Molenaer. In 1893 the Louvre purchased The Happy Couple (1630), believing it to be a work of Hals, only to discover Leyster's signature and trademark, a star symbol playing upon the meaning of her last name "lodestar." Though the work had been much praised by critics when attributed to Hals, subsequently they demoted the work for its "weakness." Feminist art scholars, such as Linda Nochlin, and artists like the Guerrilla Girls, beginning in the 1970s, launched a revival of interest in Leyster's work.

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The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (c.1632)

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (c.1632)

By: Rembrandt van Rijn

This iconic painting shows Dr. Tulp providing an anatomy lesson, as the forceps in his right hand lift a tendon from the partially dissected arm of a man who had been executed for armed robbery earlier that morning. Tulp looks toward the seven men gathered around the corpse as his left hand gestures to explain an anatomical point. The men, their white collars and fine clothes indicating their wealth, look in various directions. The three closest to the center lean forward as if watching Tulp's hands, while the two in the back look out toward the viewer. The two on the far left, depicted in profile, face toward Tulp but seem to be looking beyond him, outside the picture frame. A sense of dynamic movement and psychological complexity results, as no one returns Tulp's gaze or looks directly at the pale corpse. The umbra mortis, or shadow of death, fills the center of the canvas. The man's body, his genitals covered with a piece of white linen, evokes the iconography of Christ's death, though here, the body is forgotten, at the same time his dissected arm grimly conveys death's reality.

In this work, Rembrandt innovatively transformed group portraiture by dramatically focusing on the event in mid-action, rather than merely presenting a posed scene. As a result the work becomes a mise-en-scene, a kind of graphic documentary, and a masterful portrait.

The Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons commissioned the group portrait, Rembrandt's first important one in the city. The men attended the Guild's annual public dissection in 1632 at which Dr. Tulp, the City Anatomist, presided. In 17th century Holland, anatomical lessons were noted social events, accompanied by music, conversation, and food and wine, taking place in theater lecture rooms, and attended by those who could afford the entrance fee. The well-dressed appearance of these men, their white collars and fine gowns, testify to their social importance, and yet, they are presented as if both sensationalized and distracted, their humanity overshadowing their status.

Manet painted a copy of this painting in 1856 after studying it on a trip to the Netherlands, and the American realist Thomas Eakins was also influenced by it in painting his The Gross Clinic (1875). The executed man Kindt has also taken on a kind of later cultural life, referred to in W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn (1999) and in Nina Siegal's The Anatomy Lesson (2014), which tells his story.

Dune Landscape near Haarlem (c. 1649)

Dune Landscape near Haarlem (c. 1649)

By: Jacob van Ruisdael

This landscape, showing a hunter and his dogs climbing a dune on the right, primarily focuses on the great tree in the center of the frame. Its thick volume sways to the left, drawing our attention to the skyline of Haarlem in the distance. To the right of the tree, the sunlit road curves toward the horizon and draws our gaze upward to the cumulus clouds whose billowing and energetic shapes echo the two trees' dense foliage. A feeling of great energy results as, simultaneously, the figurative element of the hunter and his dogs conveys a feeling of ordinary life in harmony with nature as they trek toward the farmhouse glimpsed at the end of the curving road.

With its strong sense of composition, this work exemplified Ruisdael's classical phase. His innovative technique involved applying paint thickly in order to build up layers of light and shadow to create a sense of depth and profusion of vegetation. At the same time, he employed scientific observation, depicting botanically identifiable trees, leading art historian Kenneth Clark to describe him as "the greatest master of the natural vision before Constable."

Prolific, van Ruisdael worked in almost all of the genres of Dutch Golden Age landscape painting. He helped pioneer distinct motifs such as the depiction of water mills. He was influential upon artists of his own time and his work had a noted impact on the Barbizon School and the Hudson River School. Artists Thomas Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner, and John Constable all studied and copied his landscapes. He also impacted the Impressionists including Monet and the Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh.

Bathsheba at Her Bath (1654)

Bathsheba at Her Bath (1654)

By: Rembrandt van Rijn

Also called Bathsheba with King David's Letter, this painting depicts Bathsheba nude at her bath while she pensively ponders the King's letter in her right hand. The rich colors, the copper and gold draperies in the background, echoed by the gleaming gold of Bathsheba's jewelry emphasize the luminous glow of her nude body. The use of chiaroscuro seen in the white linen contrasting with the dark background and the highlights of her skin contrasting with the fabric's softly shadowed folds creates a sensual presence. The body here is almost palpable, drawing the viewer's eye. The painting is based upon the Biblical account of how King David, having seen Bathsheba bathing, commanded her to come to his palace, even though she was married to one of his generals, Uriah. When she obeyed and became pregnant as a result, David had her husband sent into the front lines of battle to be killed so that he could marry her. Subsequently, their child was stillborn, and David, realizing his sinfulness, did penance sitting in rags and ashes at the city's gate for a year. For the religious viewers of the time, the familiar Biblical story would have added a sense of fateful foreshadowing to the moment depicted here, as if Bathsheba were pondering not only her moral and personal dilemma, but also what would follow. The maidservant, kneeling at left to wash her foot, has her gaze discreetly lowered in darkness, as if aware of what the letter means.

Going against the current of his time, Rembrandt was the only great artist of the nude in the Dutch Golden Age, though he transfigured the genre by, as Simon Schama noted, creating "the first depiction of a woman thinking." The model for this painting is thought to be Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt's life companion, though that attribution continues to be debated. Nonetheless, the work conveys intimacy of presence and of thought.

This work influenced Manet's The Surprised Nymph (1859-1861), Degas' Women Having Her Hair Combed (c. 1885), Frédéric Bazille's La Toilette (1870), and Picasso's Seated Nude and Another Figure (1963). Picasso was particularly influenced by Rembrandt, whom he took for a kind of alter ego, saying "every painter takes himself for Rembrandt."

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The Goldfinch (1654)

The Goldfinch (1654)

By: Carel Fabritus

This small painting depicts a European goldfinch, painted to scale at about four inches long, perched on its feedbox, to which it is attached by a fine gold chain looped on the brass ring that holds the box in place. The bird, shown in profile, turns toward the viewer with an alert, evocative expression.

Known for his innovative painting of the effects of light, here Fabritius used light and shadow conveyed in subtle tones to create a three-dimensional effect. He also used trompe d-oeil to make the painting appear real as it was hung in the kitchen, slightly above eye level, where the Dutch often kept goldfinches as pets. As Marco della Cava wrote of the work it is "a stark and faintly modernist rendition," with its fresh and simple immediacy, but the Calvinist audience of the era would have also have seen the goldfinch as a symbol of the resurrection, as its red spots and its feeding upon thistles were associated with Christ's passion.

Fabritius was only thirty-two when he was killed and most of his works were destroyed in a 1654 gunpowder explosion in Delft that destroyed a fourth of the city. Nevertheless, he was among the most admired of Rembrandt's students and would go on to influence Vermeer.

This enigmatic painting is at the center of Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch (2013), which is being made into a feature film of the same title.

Self-Portrait (1659)

Self-Portrait (1659)

By: Rembrandt van Rijn

This self-portrait depicts the artist, wearing a beret and a fine coat with upturned collar, his body in three quarter profile view, as he faces the viewer with a complex gaze. His slightly furrowed brow and deep-set eyes convey resolute strength and intensity, while the light, illuminating his face in rich variations of flesh tones with touches of pink, evokes vitality. The painting is strongly composed, his form a pyramid emphasized by the glow upon his left shoulder and his lit up clasped hands, rendered somewhat impressionistically. The brown background, though dark, is atmospherically rich and varied and counterpoints the darker tones of his coat. He seems to be surrounded by a kind of gravity that both emphasizes his illuminated face and adds an air of dignity.

Rembrandt had come to near financial ruin in 1659, as the previous year his house and possessions had been auctioned to pay his creditors, and the brooding quality of this work while reflecting, perhaps, the profound self-assessment that followed, is simultaneously a statement of artistic mastery. In 1639 Rembrandt encountered Raphael's Balthasar Castiglione (1514-1515), a noted portrait of the Humanist scholar, known as an ideal representative of High Renaissance "nonchalant mastery." Subsequently, Rembrandt made several sketches of the work, as well as an etching Self-portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill (1639), portraying himself in a similar pose, wearing a similar, but more contemporary, beret and dark clothing. This work becomes, in effect, Rembrandt's reply to the High Renaissance.

Rembrandt was the Dutch Golden Age's greatest portraitist, and almost modern in his emphasis on self-portraits, painted continually throughout his career. He influenced van Gogh and Rodin and had a noted impact on the 20th century influencing Frank Auerbach, who praised what he called the artist's "raw truth," and Francis Bacon. As art historian Pilar Ordovas noted, "Rembrandt was crucial to Bacon in terms of mark-making and the handling of paint." In this late work, his brushwork is loose and almost Impressionistic, as art critic Mark Hudson wrote, "Yet it is also the trajectory we expect art to take: away from tightness, order and control, towards expressivity and abstraction. As Rembrandt invents himself in paint, so he invents Modern Art as he goes."

View of Delft (c. 1660-1661)

View of Delft (c. 1660-1661)

By: Johannes Vermeer

This accurately observed landscape shows the buildings of the artist's hometown of Delft, its roofs and steeples, caught in shadow and light, beneath the gathering clouds in a blue sky. The waters of the Schie Canal shimmer with rippling currents and the reflections of buildings. A number of precisely detailed people gather on the shore in the left, each of them representative of Delft life. Yet, the light here is what matters, as the sky takes up almost two thirds of the canvas, its contrasting tones creating glowing areas of illumination and the shadows of dawn. As art historian Adriaan Waiboer wrote, while "Vermeer was truly capturing what he saw in front of him," he primarily "wanted to create a special illusion...he wanted to paint light." Using only white, ultramarine, yellow ochre, and madder lake, a rich shade of red, the color palette is very simple yet employed with subtle tonalities to create a feeling of harmony.

Vermeer painted three landscapes of his hometown, and this cityscape is considered one of his masterpieces. As art historian Mariët Westermann wrote, "The scene's varied light effects look so natural...that the eye ignores what the mind knows: that this light is high artifice, that it is a work of painting." The painting led to the Vermeer's rediscovery when the French critic Thoré-Bürger saw it in 1842, and as a result, went on to influence subsequent artists, including Camille Pissarro, Manet, Edgar Degas, and Henri Fantin Latour. This painting is also one of the artist's most popular, as shown in its being reproduced by the Royal Dutch Mint on 2011 gold commemorative coins in 2011. The famous French novelist Marcel Proust said, "Ever since I saw the View of Delft in the museum in The Hague, I have known that I had seen the most beautiful painting in the world," causing him to include the work in his seminal novel Remembrance of Things Past (1908).

Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665)

By: Johannes Vermeer

This iconic world-renowned portrait shows a young woman in three quarter view as she turns to look at the viewer with an intimate but mysterious gaze. The color palette of her costume, limited to shades of yellow, blue, and white softly contrast with the flesh tones of her face and red lips, drawing our attention to her luminous eyes. She looks toward the viewer as if drawn by a word of address, a pearl earring gleaming against the soft shadows of her neck. Featuring the pearl so prominently, the artist subtly emphasized the Christian symbolism of pearls as emblems of chastity. At the same time, the orientalism of her turban and robe create a contrasting element of exotic eroticism. As no known pearl exists of that size, it is either a glass bead covered with nacre or imagined by the artist.

Vermeer's work was unique for his liquid light that translated as a signature luminescence. He innovatively employed both "pointillé," a technique that applied a more granular paint in layers to create a kind of transparency, and glazes. The background in this work was originally painted with a green glaze that over time has faded leaving only the darker under layer.

He also transformed genre work as this work is a tronie - a depiction of a particular type or of a stock character - which is either idealized or exaggerated, and wearing the appropriate costume, that here takes on a complex individuality. As art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, he "recast conventional genre painting in the terms of a perceptual realism as thorough-going as the medium allowed. The conviction of reality that flooded his canvases extended from subtleties of light to significations of character."

The intimate and mysterious portrait was dubbed, "the Mona Lisa of the North," attracting much speculation about the identity of the model and her relationship to Vermeer. The Dutch public voted it the most beautiful painting of the Netherlands in 2006, and its subject is the focus of Tracy Chevalier's novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), and the film of the same title in 2004. Banksy has repurposed the image in a mural called Girl with a Pierced Eardrum (2015) in Bristol England.

Related Movements and Major Works

The Calling of St Matthew (1599-1600)

The Calling of St Matthew (1599-1600)

Movement: Baroque Art and Architecture

Artist: Caravaggio (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This work shows a dark tavern where a number of men dressed in contemporary clothing have turned to face Christ, his right arm pointing toward St. Matthew. The light, creating a diagonal that follows Christ's gesture, highlights the expressions and gestures of the men, conveying a sense of the dramatic arrival of the divine. The figures are depicted realistically, their strong muscled calves and thighs in mid-movement. The man at the end of the table is slumped over counting coins.

This work was one of three paintings that the artist created in a commission to depict the signature moments in the life of St. Matthew. Employing chiaroscuro, the intense contrast of light and dark, the work exhibits the direct realism and intense sense of psychological drama that distinguished Caravaggio's work. His technique involved using ordinary people as models and painting them directly, leaving out the drawing stage, and, as a result, as art curator Letizia Treves said, he "made these Biblical stories so vivid, he brought them into his own time - and he involves you, so that you don't just passively watch. Even today, you don't need to know the story...to feel involved in the drama."

In the early 1600s, noted artists including Rubens, Velázquez, Rembrandt, and the Caravaggists throughout Europe were widely influenced by Caravaggio's style. He also influenced lesser-known artists like Dirck van Baburen, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Valentin de Boulogne. By the end of the century, his work fell into obscurity displaced by a rising emphasis on classicism, and wasn't revived until the mid-20th century with a major exhibit in Milan in 1951. His work has again become influential, for example, upon photographer David LaChappelle, the artist Mat Collishaw, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Scorsese said of his work, "You come upon the scene midway and you're immersed in it ... It was like modern staging in film: it was so powerful and direct."

Dedham Vale (1802)

Dedham Vale (1802)

Artist: John Constable (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This was one of Constable's first major paintings, created when he was 26. Painted in the brief hiatus between the end of the French revolutionary wars and the beginning of the Napoleonic wars the following year, the tranquillity of the image belies the wider political turmoil. Whilst the techniques that were to serve Constable so well in his later career are not yet fully developed the painting already demonstrates his commitment to the close observation of nature and this can be seen in the detailed rendering of the trees and sky.

The eye is led across the painting from the foreground along the route of the river to the distant tower of Dedham church, which although small, forms a clear focal point for the painting. The trees on either side of the canvas form a frame to the central part of the image presenting the view in the form of a smaller cameo and further serves to focus the eye on a building that would have been a landmark of Constable's childhood.

The composition with the trees in the foreground framing the image to the right closely mirrors the arrangement of Lorrain's work Hagar and the Angel (1646) and it is likely that Constable was inspired by the piece that played a formative role in his early art appreciation and education.

26 years later Constable created a second image of the same view called The Vale of Dedham (1828), although very similar in appearance there are a number of small differences that separate the two, particularly the inclusion of figures in the later painting.

La Grande Odalisque (1814)

La Grande Odalisque (1814)

Movement: Romanticism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This painting depicts a reclining nude, a member of a harem, holding a feathered fan amidst sumptuous textiles. Her hair is wrapped in a turban, and a hookah sits at her feet. She turns her head over her shoulder to peer out at the viewer.

Ingres was one of the best known of the Neoclassical painters, and while he continued to defend the style, this work reflects a Romantic tendency. The image recalls Titan's Venus of Urbino (1528) and echoes the pose of Jacque-Louis David's Portrait of Madame Récamier (1809), but a Mannerist influence is also apparent in the figure's anatomical distortions. Her head is a little too small, and her arms do not appear to be the same length. When the work was shown at the 1819 Salon, these distortions prompted critics to claim she had no bones, no structure, and too many vertebrae.

The work is a well-known example of Orientalism. By placing a European nude within the context of a Middle-Eastern harem, the subject could be given an exotic and openly erotic treatment. Subsequent scholars have suggested that because the woman is a concubine in a sultan's harem, the distortions of her figure are symbolic, meant to convey the sultan's erotic gaze upon her figure. As a result, the work points the way to Romanticism's emphasis on depicting a subject subjectively rather than objectively or according to an idealized standard of beauty. Ingres's use of color and his flattening of the figure would be important examples for 20th-century artists like Picasso and Matisse, who also eschewed classical ideals in their representations of individuals.


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