on February 23, 2012
Mariët Westermann is a Dutch-American art historian who earned a Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University with a dissertation on Jan Steen and who has gathered extensive experience as an academic researcher, curator, and arts administrator. She has also written a dossier on Vermeer for the Rijksmuseum and contributed a fine book on Rembrandt, as well as various entries in exhibition catalogues. She has presented here --despite the contorted title of the American edition (the British edition calls it what it is, "The Art of the Dutch Republic, 1585-1718")--a well articulated and straightforward introduction to its subject. There are many more lavishly illustrated and detailed books devoted to this topic, but in terms of compactness, accessibility, and balance between illustration and text, this is probably the most useful one we currently have. The temporal parameters are those traditionally set for the period, 1585 being the year that Antwerp was recaptured for the Spanish Netherlands and of the exodus of Protestant population to the North, and 1718 seeing the publication of the first volume of Arnold Houbraken's retrospective collection of biographies of the Netherlandish artists. Sandwiched between those years was the celebrated "Gouden Eeuw," the golden age of Dutch art, and all the major themes that arise in connection with the artistic world of the young Republic are touched on in summary form in this lively and quickly moving book. Her first chapter deals with making and marketing art and discusses such topics as how the restructuring of the old guild system created a hierarchy of art workers to explore and exploit new genres and techniques. (Much more extensively treated in Michael North's comprehensive "Art and Commerce in the Dutch Golden Age"--cf. my review on this website.) Chapter 2, "Texts and Images," considers the popularity of emblem books and the important subgenre of letter-writing and letter-reading in this unusually literate society and examines the ubiquitous correlation in this art between reading and viewing, which has been the subject of several recent exhibitions and their catalogues. (See my review of Peter C. Sutton, et. al., "Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer" for that and further references.) The third chapter engages the issues surrounding realism in the paintings: the distinction between drawing "naer het leven" (from life) and "uyt den gheest" (from the mind) interestingly prefigures the very similar discussions two hundred years later when the Impressionists debated the relative merits of painting "sur le motif" as opposed to back in the studio. The behest of verisimilitude in these paintings impels all kinds of veristic techniques from one-point perspective to the use of lenses and Vermeer's celebrated "camera obscura" (if he actually used one). ( At the court in Vienna, Ferdinand III was sufficiently charmed by such optical trickery as to award Samuel van Hoogstraten a medal for "deceptive still life"!) The other side of that coin, though, was the simultaneous evolution of the completely unrealistic techniques of the Mannerists. Westermann has a good chapter on the way in which paintings of all types--not only historical scenes, but also the more quiescent genre scenes and landscapes--were put in service of a developing national identity that was required to smooth over the actual conflicts of local interest that characterized the early Republic. Altogether, this is a fine introduction to the subject; it is judiciously balanced, well organized, clear in its discussions, and superbly illustrated. The library of Dutch Golden Age books is deservedly enormous, but this little book has a most useful function in that collection, as a guide or model of organization and a very handy reference.
on July 17, 2001
The Dutch Golden Age wasn't high on my list of favorites -- until this book came along.
This, in common with other volumes in the "Perspectives" series, offers high quality (though small) reproductions of important works, up-to-date analysis and discussion of the art and the contexts in which it was created.
It does all this while also offering two things that are rare in art books -- clear, well-written prose accessible to a lay audience, and a reasonable price. An excellent introduction to the subject, and a wonderful addition to any library.
This book is beautifully printed and full of not only splendid pictures, but much useful information. This is the kind of book to put on your shelf for reference over and over. And, on a gloomy day, it will be a delight to get out and look through again.
on December 10, 1999
This book has many strengths: a large number of color photographs, the latest scholarship, and a variety of interpretative considerations. Westermann organizes the book thematically instead of by genre, which allows the reader to grasp the wholeness of Dutch art. Weaknesses: landscape and the contributions of Rembrandt are not given their due. Overall, a fine work that is appropriate both for the layman and the scholar.
on April 14, 2014
A well-written setting of the Dutch masters in the very complex political, cultural and religious setting of the time.
It was also a period of rapid Dutch expansion into the East and West Indies via eponymous companies the nation founded, a period also of intense focus on science. All this is well communicated, with copious illustrations. Simon Schama's histories of the period also recommended.
on March 13, 2015
The writing, reproductions, insights and analysis make this book a must read for anyone who loves art and art history. If you admire the paintings and the painters from this era, don't miss reading this brilliant book.