ExhibitionsDutch Art in a Global Age: Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Current Exhibition

Dutch Art in a Global Age: Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

April 19 – July 14, 2024

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Observers in the seventeenth century described the Netherlands as the world’s marketplace. Dutch merchants possessed a capitalist mindset and benefited from innovations in naval and military technology. The Dutch East India Company, the world’s first multinational corporation, was founded in 1602 to dominate trade in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, forever changing the global economy. New commodities flowed to the Dutch Republic and made a small nation immensely rich. This in turn fueled an artistic boom. The most famous Dutch artists in the seventeenth century—Hals, Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Ruysch—are still admired today.

This exhibition explores how international travel and trade transformed Dutch art and society. Still life paintings feature imported products; seascapes, landscapes, and maps reveal where these products came from. A section including cityscapes and maps addresses Amsterdam’s rise as Europe’s commercial hub. The focus then turns to Dutch portraits, both painted and printed. Local landscapes show how exposure to the world’s wonders paradoxically reinforced pride in Dutch topography. The exhibition concludes with beautiful objects in silver and ceramic and depictions of daily life, demonstrating the coexistence of the familiar and the foreign. Throughout, this exhibition emphasizes artistic achievement while encouraging visitors to consider the human costs of global commerce.

More trade is conducted in Amsterdam than in any city of the world.

—Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, 1669

Still Life with Fruit in a Wanli Bowl, 1664

By tilting the blue-and-white porcelain bowl, Kalf captures the delicacy and translucence that made these objects so desirable. Chinese porcelain was among the most coveted and profitable imports of the Dutch East India Company. Markers of good taste, these precious wares filled Dutch homes and became a common motif in Kalf’s still life paintings in which he replicated the allure of porcelain with his brushwork.

Willem Kalf
Dutch, 1619–1693
Still Life with Fruit in a Wanli Bowl, 1664
Oil on canvas
Promised gift of Rose‑Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art

Still Life with Fruit in a Wanli Bowl, 1664

Still Life with Flowers, 1709

Rachel Ruysch is one of the greatest flower painters in European art. She arranged her bouquets in brilliantly animated compositions—follow the S‑curve that connects the striped tulip at upper right with the marigold that droops below the tabletop. Ruysch’s father, Frederik, a famous anatomist and botanist, introduced her to the study of plants. Her sister Anna also took up painting. While women could not attend universities, they had access to Amsterdam’s renowned botanical garden, one of the richest collections of imported flowers in Europe.

Rachel Ruysch
Dutch, 1664–1750
Still Life with Flowers, 1709
Oil on canvas
Promised gift of Rose‑Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art

Still Life with Flowers, 1709

Dutch Ships in Antwerp Harbor, 1637

This view represents the city of Antwerp, in present-day Belgium, decades past its commercial heyday. The Cathedral Church of Our Lady at center is visible on the horizon. In the mid-1500s, Antwerp was Europe’s leading port. It fell into economic decline after the Dutch blockaded the river Scheldt from commercial traffic in 1585. Here warships fly the Dutch flag of red, white, and blue stripes as they prevent enemy ships from entering the harbor; the all-red flags indicate readiness for combat. This picture typifies the early phase of Dutch seascape painting, characterized by a high horizon line, bright colors, and meticulous detail.

Bonaventura Peeters
Flemish, 1614–1652
Dutch Ships in Antwerp Harbor, 1637
Oil on panel
Rose‑Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection

Dutch Ships in Antwerp Harbor, 1637

Interior of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, ca. 1660–1665

Located in Rembrandt’s neighborhood, the Oude Kerk was the major reformed Protestant church in Amsterdam and a favorite subject of De Witte. After moving from Delft in the 1650s, he painted the building’s interior over thirty times. Here, afternoon sunlight enters from the left, creating patterns of light and shade on the pillars and floor. He emphasized the church’s centrality to the community: worshippers listen to a sermon, dogs roam, and an old man near a column at left puts money in a collection basket. The family group in the foreground may be an embedded portrait, perhaps subtly showcasing their role in commissioning the painting.

Emanuel de Witte
Dutch, ca. 1617–1691 or 1692
Interior of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, ca. 1660–1665
Oil on canvas
Gift of Rose‑Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art, 2021

Interior of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, ca. 1660–1665

Self‑Portrait in Her Studio, ca. 1680

This picture shows a proud artist at her triumphant moment of completion. Holding her palette, brushes, and a mahl stick, used to steady the painter’s arm, Schalcken looks out at us and points at her creation. This painting was once attributed to her brother and teacher, Godfried, but a cleaning revealed Maria’s signature in the upper left corner—making it clear that the picture is a self‑portrait. This is one of only two known paintings by the artist.

Maria Schalcken
Dutch, ca. 1645–1650 to before 1700
Self‑Portrait in Her Studio, ca. 1680
Oil on panel
Gift of Rose‑Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center for Netherlandish Art, 2019

Self‑Portrait in Her Studio, ca. 1680

Portrait of a Man and Woman in a Refined Interior, 1665–1667

While some portraits focus on a person’s face and shoulders, others show their sitters in detailed interiors. In this painting, the wider world has come to Amsterdam. Stamped gilt leather covers the wall, and a Middle Eastern carpet is draped on the table. The black-and-white marble floor was imported from Italy. The geometric pattern aligns with the red marble columns of the mantelpiece. Although marble floors are common in paintings, inventories of the period show that only the wealthiest could afford such a luxury.

Eglon van der Neer
Dutch, 1634–1703
Portrait of a Man and Woman in a Refined Interior, 1665–1667
Oil on panel
Seth K. Sweetser Fund, 1941

Portrait of a Man and Woman in a Refined Interior, 1665–1667

Self‑Portrait with Saskia, 1636

A confident—maybe even brazen?—young artist stares out of the picture, challenging us to acknowledge his genius. His left hand holds a pen, and he is drawing the second of two intersecting circles. Seventeenth-century viewers who were in the know would have recognized this as a reference to the ancient Greek painter Apelles, who demonstrated his brilliance by drawing two perfectly straight lines. Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia Uylenburgh, looks on but reveals nothing about what she thinks of this display.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Dutch, 1606–1669
Self‑Portrait with Saskia, 1636
Etching
Bequest of Ruth S. Pollen, 2013, 2013.82

Self‑Portrait with Saskia, 1636

The Young Archer, after Cornelis Visscher, undated

This rare image of a Black sitter is based on a real person. His individualized features are sensitively captured, with soft light falling on his face and hands and the flowing lines of his clothes contrasting with the rocky background.

Though his name remains unknown, the sitter was probably a member of a small community of free Black people who lived in Amsterdam and may have been multilingual and practiced more than one religion. While there were increasingly diverse communities and unprecedented economic growth in Amsterdam in this period, most Black residents would have been unable to afford a formal portrait. This one is a tronie, or character study, showing the sitter as a pastoral or rural hunter.

Published by Justus Danckerts, the print’s caption complicates its exceptional subject matter, identifying him as “the Moor,” a term Europeans used to stereotype Muslims of North African descent in what is now Spain. Eventually, it also became a common description of Africans or those of African descent. The caption is meant to reduce him to a generic type, an African hunter without individuality. The image resists this, though, preserving the subject’s presence and likeness in a way that goes beyond the artist’s original intentions.

Jan de Visscher
Dutch, ca. 1636–after 1692
The Young Archer, after Cornelis Visscher, undated
Etching and engraving
Harvey D. Parker Collection—Harvey Drury Parker Fund, 1897

The Young Archer, after Cornelis Visscher, undated

Pair of Tea Canisters, ca. 1690

Adriaen Kocks, proprietor of the Greek A factory, was one of the most successful potters during the heyday of Delft ceramics, which occurred from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s. His creations, like this pair of slender Chinoiserie tea canisters, were elegant and technically proficient. Here both the form and the blue-and-white decoration draw inspiration from Chinese examples. The elongated female figures and jumping or dancing children were common motifs on both Chinese porcelain and Delft imitations.

Adriaen Kocks
Dutch, active 1686–1701
The Greek A Factory (Dutch [Delft], active 1657–1818)
Pair of Tea Canisters, ca. 1690
Tin-glazed earthenware
The G. Ephis Collection—Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously, Charles Bain Hoyt Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Mary S. and Edward J. Holmes Fund, William Francis Warden Fund, Tamara Petrosian Davis Sculpture Fund, John Lowell Gardner Fund, Seth K. Sweetser Fund, H. E. Bolles Fund, and funds by exchange from the Kiyi and Edward M. Pflueger Collection-Bequest of Edward M. Pflueger and Gift of Kiyi Powers Pflueger, 2012

Pair of Tea Canisters, ca. 1690

Sugar Basket with Four Spoons, 1777

Sugar was traditionally sold, stored, and served at the table in cone-shaped mounds. Diners would scrape off small portions and add them to food or beverages. In some affluent households, sugar was grated into small grains like those in use today. Silversmiths responded to the demand for specialty sugar containers by creating decorative objects for the table. The tulip flower top of this silver basket would have held granulated sugar, which diners sprinkled over their food with the small spoons shaped like flowers.

Pieter van der Toorn
Dutch, 1741–1824
Sugar Basket with Four Spoons, 1777
Silver
Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection

Sugar Basket with Four Spoons, 1777

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Center For Netherlandish Art Mfaboston

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor 

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters

ACT Foundation, Inc.
William N. Banks, Jr.
Mr. Joseph H. Boland, Jr.
Cousins Foundation

Burton M. Gold
Sarah and Jim Kennedy 

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters 

Helen C. Griffith
Robin and Hilton Howell 
 

Ambassador Exhibition Series Supporters

Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Karen and Jeb Hughes/Corporate Environments
Loomis Charitable Foundation
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Elizabeth and Chris Willett

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters 

Farideh and Al Azadi 
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer
Peggy Foreman
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo 
Margot and Danny McCaul 
Wade A. Rakes II and Nicholas Miller

Generous support is also provided by  

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund , Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund , Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund, USI Insurance Services.