Printmaking in the Netherlands during the Seventeenth Century
The increased demand for images changed the
nature of print production in the Netherlands. Previously, printmakers
had both printed and marketed their own works, but during the mid
sixteenth century publishers began to take on the financing and distribution
of printed images. Most printing plates were owned by publishers
so that popular prints could be reprinted and sold long after their
creation, and in many cases, after the artist’s
death. As plates were a valuable commodity, they were often treated
as important assets upon the death or bankruptcy of a publisher and
were sold and resold multiple times. While it is often difficult to
ascertain the age of a particular impression, it is likely that many
of the prints in this exhibition (unless otherwise noted as an early
state) were printed long after the creation of the plate.
Prints were either displayed in homes next to paintings, or kept in
albums, usually devoted to a specific theme or subject.
The Protestant Reformation and the Changing Role of Images
During the sixteenth century, several parallel religious reform movements
in Northern Europe changed the course of religious observance as well
as political and visual culture. The Reformed Church became the official
church of the Dutch Republic, and the break with Roman Catholicism
had a profound affect on art and artists.
Protestant worship eschewed religious images, which
were deemed to encourage idolatry. Subsequently, official church patronage
of the arts declined considerably. The rising Dutch merchant class
became increasingly interested in collecting and displaying art, however,
and soon even Dutch citizens of modest means were acquiring works to
hang in their homes. The democratization of collecting particularly
benefited printmakers and publishers, as printed images were less costly.
Dutch Landscape prints
While Flemish artists had been producing landscape
prints for quite some time, the typical secular Dutch landscape print
came clearly to the foreground after the Spanish invaders lost their
stronghold as rulers in the Netherlands. Even though Dutch independence
was not established until 1648, the Dutch got their first taste of
freedom in 1609, when after a forty year struggle against the Catholic
Spanish occupation the Dutch Republic and Spain finally managed to
form a twelve-year truce. This newly established truce may have given
the Dutch a sense of control and established a new national pride. This
newfound Dutch nationalism is clearly expressed in the abundance of
typical Dutch landscapes that were widely distributed in print form.
Many of these prints were originally sold and collected as books and
therefore needed to be seen sequentially, as though simulating a walk
through the countryside.