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Hendrik Goudt - The Mocking of Ceres Hendrik Goudt
The Mocking of Ceres, 1610

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Jan van de Velde Vita Brevis Series
Jan van de Velde II
Plate from the Vita Brevis Series

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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.