The Art of Observation
Canals
• Highly commercial –
acquisition of all kinds of
goods a fundamental
preoccupation
• Center of commerce in
European north
• Goods traded from
throughout the globe
• Rigidly religious –
austere in doctrine and
in church decoration
• Calvinist resistance to Spanish dominion in 16th
century
• 1567 Dutch flood their lands rather than submit to the
Spanish Duke of Alba
• 1576 Spanish Fury – leads to death of 7,000 citizens in
Antwerp.
• 1581 northern provinces declare their independence
from Spain
• Amsterdam becomes the most important port in the
North displacing Antwerp.
• Proclaimed by Calvinist leaders in 1571
• Although not an official state religion in the
Netherlands, any person in public service had to
belong to this church
• Strictly Calvinist in
doctrine
• Strong belief in the
predestination of salvation
• Good works were useless in
gaining salvation
• Interior of churches devoid
of ornamentation –
reflecting the purity and
propriety of the
congregation
• In the 17th century
Amsterdam was the most
scientifically advanced
city in the world.
• Inventions:
• Lens
• Telescope
• Microscope
• Astronomy:
• Kepler perfects
Copernicus’ heliocentric
theory of the Universe
• Galileo improves the
microscope and
discovers gravity
• The Church authorities
persecute, incarcerate or
execute scientists.
• Bacon was a leading advocate of the empirical
method, based on inductive reasoning (direct
observation of phenomena)
• However, utter reliance on senses could lead to
fundamental errors
• The four Idols (the Tribe, the Cave, the Marketplace, the
Theatre) were errors in reasoning that could lead one
astray
• One of the founders of the Royal Society, a leading
force in international science even today.
• Championed the process of deductive reasoning,
the opposite of Bacon’s process.
• Believed that both observational senses and
thought itself could mislead and deceive.
• Among the founders of deism, which asserts that
religious belief is ultimately based in reason and
logic.
• Famously stated “cogito, ergo sum” (I think,
therefore I am.)
Marked by intricate attention to detail, Dutch
paintings of the 17th century can be grouped in several
categories:
• Still life: representation of household objects and/or
food
• Landscape: the representation of the countryside
• Genre scenes: images of everyday life
• Portraits, either individual or group: the representation
of personal likeness.
• Flowers in a Wan-li Vase
with Blue-Tit by Johannes
Goedaert, c. 1660
• Example of vanitas
painting – reminder that
earthly pleasures do not
last
• Reflects righteous
Protestant principles
 May reflect Dutch national
pride at reclaiming
extensive lands from the
sea (similar to God’s recreation of the world after
the Flood)
 Much emphasis on the
infinite reaches of the
heavens in such pictures
• May be boisterous, fun-filled
scenes or quiet domestic
interiors
• Depict the everyday,
commonplace world of Dutch
life
• Remarkably detailed – new
aspects emerge upon repeated
viewing
• Johannes Vermeer was a notable
artist in this genre.
• Seek to convey the sitter’s
vitality and personality
• Beginning with Frans Hals
(1581-1666), group portraits
depict dynamic social
relationships, involved in
activities of their
organization, with subtle
indications of rank,
prestige, or power
• Pre-eminent painter of
portraits – group,
individual, selfportraits
• Highly dramatic use of
light
 The Anatomy Lesson
 The Nightwatch
•Northern Baroque art is characterized by high levels of
attention to detail.
•It reflects both scientific discovery of the era and religious
conviction.
•Visual detail was understood as the earthly manifestation of
the divine.
•Absence of religious themes
•Private demand rather than religious art commissioned by
the Church
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Baroque in the North Presentation