The Dutch Golden Age (17th century) was a period of great wealth for Holland, then the Dutch Republic. Trade blossomed with countries in Europe and the rest of the world. Cities who were sending ships to Asia, Africa and the Americas were among the richest in Holland, and the history of these cities is still visible in their many mansions, canals, churches, city walls and harbours. Art and science blossomed as well, which can be seen in the paintings of the famous Dutch Masters: Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. Many museums will enrich any interested visitor with a rare understanding of Holland and its illustrious history, which however also had its darker sides. The history of the Dutch Golden Age is still very much alive and can be experienced in the cities along the route from Middelburg in the south to Hoorn & Enkhuizen in the north of Holland.
The Dutch Golden Age was a time when great wealth was gained through international trade. The VOC played a large role in this prosperity. Today you can still experience the time of the VOC in Middelburg, the second major city of the East India Company after Amsterdam. Its international orientation made Middelburg a city with an open mind to other cultures. It is no coincidence that here the Four Freedom awards take place.
Until the end of the 16th Century, Middelburg was the largest commercial city in the Netherlands with an extensive wine industry. The many beautiful historical buildings evoke this flourishing era. Middelburg is a compact city where you walk along canals, cobbled streets and passageways and feel as if you have stepped back in time to the Dutch Golden Age.
Dordrecht is an old Dutch town with a rich and tangible history. The city rose to prominence in the Middle Ages, developing into the centre of trade and government of the Holland region. Having the oldest city rights, it was known as ‘Holland’s First”. Its ‘golden age’ started as early as the 14th century – sooner than that of the rest of Holland.
The city bore witness to the birth of Holland in its modern form. During “The First Assembly of the Free States” in 1572, that was held in ‘Het Hof van Nederland’ (‘the Court of the Netherlands’), a former Augustinian monastery. This important event marked the start of the independent Republic of the Netherlands, the predecessor to Holland as we know it today. The Assembly also laid the foundation for and making it the birthplace of the Dutch Golden Age and the growth and prosperity of Holland.
For Dordrecht, however, this marked the end of the city’s own golden age, as other cities began to surpass Dordrecht in size and significance. Today, ‘Het Hof van Nederland’ houses an interactive museum where visitors can experience this historic event and see for themselves how Dordrecht influenced the Dutch Golden Age and the current Dutch way of living. Dordrecht was the birthplace of many Dutch Masters and Rembrandt pupils including: Aelbert Cuyp, Nicolaes Maes, Aert de Gelder, Samuel van Hoogstraten and Ferdinand Bol. Many of their works are present in the Dordrecht’s Museum collection.
Along the ancient canals in the historic centre of Delft, you find yourself in the Golden Age. You can taste and feel the history and discover the stories of Delft Blue, William of Orange, Johannes Vermeer and his world-famous contemporaries: painter Pieter de Hooch, scientist Anthony van Leeuwenhoek and jurist Hugo de Groot. Delftware epitomises Dutch prosperity in the Golden Age and it is still visible throughout the city. Discover how Delftware became the global brand it is today. There is one factory originating from the Golden Age that to this day still produces the iconic Delft Blue earthenware: Royal Delft.
The world-famous Delft painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) from the Golden Age achieved international fame with his stunning rendition of sunlight. In Delft you can discover the stories behind the paintings. The beautiful monumental buildings like the City Hall, Museum Prinsenhof Delft, the Old and New Church and the historic squares complete the picture of this city of the Golden Age.
With the most historic sites per square metre Holland, The Hague oozes culture and history. During the Golden Age, art flourished in The Hague. Well-known masters, such as Jan van Goyen, Paulus Potter and Jan Steen lived and worked in this city. Constantijn Huygens, a prominent resident of The Hague, was an architect, diplomat, composer and was one of the greatest poets of his time.
The Mauritshuis is home to the best of Dutch painting from the Golden Age. The compact, yet world-renowned collection is situated in the heart of The Hague, right next to the government centre. Masterpieces such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring a and View of Delft, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt and The Goldfinch by Fabritius are on permanent display in the intimate rooms of this seventeenth-century monument.
Rembrandt is without doubt the most famous artist of the Dutch Golden Age. It was in Leiden, his birthplace, that he first started drawing, sketching and painting, and that he produced his first masterpieces. Other famous contemporaries such as Jan Lievens, Jan Steen, Jan van Goyen and Gerrit Dou also worked in the city, making Leiden the birthplace of Dutch Masters from the Golden Age. At that time, Leiden was the largest city in Holland after Amsterdam. The city’s flourishing trade and tolerant hospitality attracted many immigrants, who gave a new impetus to the city and fuelled its expansion. It was a time when the Pilgrim Fathers enjoyed the freedom they found in Leiden, the tulip was first seen in Europe in Leiden’s Hortus botanicus and the city’s cloth industry celebrated its international heyday. Leiden University, Holland’s oldest university, founded in 1575, also made an important contribution to the blooming city. Leiden has more than 3,000 historic monuments that even today still breathe the atmosphere of the city’s prosperous Golden Age.
At the end of the sixteenth century, motivated by the threat of inquisition and for economic reasons, enterprising citizens from the Southern Low Countries decide to emigrate to the Northern Low Countries. Most of them choose Haarlem as their destination. Among them, many artists, such as painter Frans Hals, who goes on to become one of the most famous ‘Dutch Masters’. Haarlem’s population triples and this, coupled with economic growth, results in fast-growing demand for art/painting. It is Haarlem where the painter’s desire to stand out in this competitive market gives rise to incredible artistic dynamics, a completely unique style development and the emergence of all kinds of new genres and subjects. This revolutionary change in painting ultimately defines the allure and grandeur of the Golden Age and is beautifully reflected in the collection of the Frans Hals Museum, which offers an exceptionally high-quality representation of the entire spectrum of 16th and 17th painting.
The Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century saw Amsterdam emerge as one of the world’s most important centres of trade. With trade came wealth, and with wealth, a blossoming of arts and science. Amsterdam became a vibrant cultural hub, and many of the achievements and advances of the time have lost none of their influence. Among those are the paintings of the Dutch Masters: the beauty and depth of their portraits of people and of life are admired to this day. In Amsterdam the following museums and attractions are part of the Rembrandt & The Dutch Golden Age theme year:
Rembrandt House Museum
Visit Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s home and workshop. For twenty years Holland’s greatest artist lived and worked in this impressive building in the heart of Amsterdam, now a museum.
With a seventeenth-century inventory as a guide, the house has been meticulously refurbished with furniture, art and objects from that time. The museum has an almost complete collection of Rembrandt etchings and stages inspiring exhibitions about Rembrandt, his predecessors, contemporaries and pupils. The Rembrandt House Museum is also a venue for exhibitions of work by contemporary artists—artists who have been inspired by the work of Rembrandt, their seventeenth-century predecessor.
The National Maritime Museum
In the 17th Century, Amsterdam was the world’s largest port and Holland was a world power. Much of Amsterdam’s history is related to the sea and trade. The Arsenal, former storehouse of the Admiralty built in 1656, is home to Het Scheepvaartmuseum – The Dutch National Maritime Museum. Throughout the museum, interactive technology allows you to experience life in the Golden Age. The replica 18th century East Indiaman moored beside the museum is the largest collection piece and stands out as one of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam. Come aboard and imagine what it was like to sail the high seas. Art lovers won’t be disappointed with over 800 paintings and 1800 ship models, there’s much to admire and experience for all ages.
In the heart of Amsterdam, you’ll find the Jewish Cultural Quarter. Visit the Portuguese Synagogue and travel back in time to the days of Amsterdam’s Golden Age. The 17th-century interior is still fully intact and there is no electric light or heating. During concerts and special events, the synagogue is illuminated by hundreds of candles. The building is still used as a house of worship, but it is also open to the public. The other buildings in the complex include treasure chambers where visitors can admire a unique collection of ceremonial objects made of silver, gold, silk and brocade. The complex also includes the oldest functioning Jewish library in the world, Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos, which is included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
Thirty colossal, 17th century group portraits from the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum collections have been brought together for the first time ever in the Hermitage Amsterdam where they have been on display since 2014. These ‘brothers and sisters’ of the Night Watch are unique all over the world and are rarely exposed due to their size. They show us regents, civic guards and
merchants of all ranks, social classes and religions, standing together as brothers. Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Deijman’ and portraits of Civic Guards including Govert Flinck and Nicolaes Pickenoy are but a few examples of the works of art that are on view.
Hoorn & Enkhuizen
The beautiful, historic ports of Hoorn and Enkhuizen are true pearls. At no more than a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam. At one time these were the home ports of the Dutch East-India company (VOC), which was the world´s most powerful trading company in the seventeenth century. In addition, these ports were important hubs in a trading network that spanned the globe. Competitors too. Enterprising, adventurous, pioneering and unbelievably wealthy. Explorers, inventors, scientists and artist lived there. This rich heritage is still visible everywhere today and that makes Hoorn and Enkhuizen hotspots for culture lovers. The cities with their magnificent harbours are full of atmosphere, captivating, welcoming and above all rich, very rich in history, monuments, beautiful museums and good restaurants. Come experience and enjoy that history in these true pearls of the Golden Age.
In 2019 for the theme year Rembrandt & The Dutch Golden Age, major temporary exhibitions will be on display throughout Holland. Highlights will include:
All the Rembrandts, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
15 February – 10 June 2019
The Rijksmuseum is in possession of the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the world. To mark the 350th anniversary of his death, visitors will be able to see the entire collection of his works for the very first time. 20 paintings, 60 drawings and 320 prints, are each a piece of the Rembrandt puzzle and together explain who this unique artist was and why he is the most important painter in Dutch history. The collection boasts landscapes, portraits, nudes, scenes from daily life, biblical narratives and his famous self-portraits. The Night Watch, his most famous painting, will also be on display.
Young Rembrandt, Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden
November 2019 until February 2020
The exhibition Young Rembrandt will show the exceptional talent of the young ‘Rookie’ Rembrandt in the period 1624 to 1634. Special loans from all over the world, of which some were never on public display in Holland before, return to their hometown of Leiden after almost 400 years. Young Rembrandt will be presented in the completely restored and renewed monumental Museum De Lakenhal. The Young Rembrandt exhibition is an international cooperation of Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden and The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. This special exhibition will be the finale and one of the highlights of the national Dutch theme year Rembrandt & The Dutch Golden Age.
To watch a trailer of the Golden Age Theme Year please follow this link.