History of the Dutch Masters

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When we talk about the Dutch Masters, we usually mean Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, among others. These are the painters of the years between about 1605 and 1680: the Dutch Golden Age. This time period was a prosperous one for the New Dutch Republic, and the paintings are a simpler and more realistic version of the greater European Baroque period.

Who were the Dutch Masters?

At the start of the century, training in the arts was still done by use of the medieval system of apprenticeship to a master. Workshops were small in the Netherlands, and a number of them were often restricted by the guild. Some of the most important painters of the time include:

  • Pieter Claesz, a master of breakfast piece still life.
  • Frans Hals was the early master of portraiture.
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, (known collectively as Rembrandt) became the greatest portrait artist in the world in the middle of the Dutch Golden Age.
  • Jan Steen became known for his tavern paintings about the same time as Rembrandt was painting his great portraits.
  • Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer, from the later part of the seventeenth century, were the great genre painters of the time though Vermeer was unrecognized until after his death.
  • Rachel Ruysch is known for paintings of flowers late in the period and is very important as one of the few female painters to become known for her work during this period.

Explore the Masters first-hand

To truly understand the great history of the Dutch Masters, it's important to actually see the works in person.  Holland's major cities have museums with large collections of works; many of them are collected by artist, letting you see how their work developed over their lifetime. Visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for Vermeer and his students as well as an overview of the art and history of the time. The Mauritshuis in the Hague, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, and the Johannes Vermeer Centre in Delft are all great places to visit.  Seeing all the works of these artists is a great reason to travel around the country, to engage with the art and life of the Dutch people through the centuries.