In Praise of Painting Gives New Life to Dutch Golden Age

A new survey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masters, is helping to give a fresh look at one of the most celebrated periods in art history, the Dutch Golden Age. Featuring over 60 works spanning from various collections within the museum the show is truly a celebration of painting and some of the most talented artists to emerge from this period. It includes pieces from likes of masters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals, and more.

The show is a fresh take on a period of art that continues to be regaled by art viewers for the last several centuries. The exhibit combines several well-known painters of the period in an effort to showcase the diversity in styles, approaches, and content. From portraits, still lives, animated battle scenes, and debates, the multitude of areas they were deriving source material are extensively represented. It’s clear the Dutch masters did not back down in taking on complex topics in their art and this can be seen in the works they left behind.

Dutch Golden Age
Paulus Bor (Dutch, Amersfoort ca. 1601–1669 Amersfoort)
The Disillusioned Medea (“The Enchantress”), ca. 1640
Oil on canvas; 61 1/4 x 44 1/4 in. (155.6 x 112.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Ben Heller, 1972 (1972.261)

This period in art is often looked at as one of the pinnacles within art history and is still widely studied today. According to the National Gallery of Art, “A remarkable number of pictures of extraordinary quality were produced during the Dutch Golden Age. Estimates put the number of works in the millions.” Given the vast amount of work that each created during this era, its larger history, as well as the number of artists working, it’s not hard to see why the Dutch Golden Age continues to be revisited. This show is helping to shed more light on this vital era while also celebrating painting, and the way the medium evolved during this time. In Praise of Painting is also giving art goers a chance to see works that have remained unseen for decades.

Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, from 1653 is especially impressive. It features a man with a large hat, long beard, and a ruffled shirt and is depicted looking at a bust of Homer. Aristotle is depicted as a man of that era, amidst a dark backdrop. While both philosophers were popular at the time, and have continued to be read, this painting showcases a sense of tension in their philosophical differences.

Dutch Golden Age
Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606–1669). Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653. Oil on canvas, 56 1/2 x 53 3/4 in. (143.5 x 136.5 cm). Image courtesy of The Met.


The light from the painting enters from the right side. It illuminates Aristotle face and arms, as well as Homer’s bust. Aristotle’s rests on top of Homer’s face. The painting is not only masterfully rendered, but also encompasses some of the larger issues of philosophical debates of the time.

In another painting by Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman With a Pitcher, from 1662, a young woman is shown opening a window. Her head is covered with a white hat, large collar, and gives way to a cornflower blue dress with beige and white details. The woman peers out the window while holding onto a pitcher that is placed on a table in front of her.

Dutch Golden Age
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675). Young Woman with a Pitcher, ca. 1662. Oil on canvas, 18 x 16 in. (45.7 x 40.6 cm). Image courtesy of The Met.


Elements such as Vermeer’s rich use of color, attention to detail, rendering of physical attributes are all present within this work. The woman in the painting piece bears a striking resemblance to the same young woman in the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer’s career was also the subject of the 2003 movie Girl With a Pearl Earring featuring Scarlett Johansson which helped to spark more interest surrounding this time in history.

Young Woman with a Pitcher also showcases one of the major themes the exhibit takes on, domestic spaces. It is also offering some insight into what homes during this era looked like. Vermeer’s attention to detail to things such as the water pitcher, open box, painting on the wall behind the woman, as well as the colorful tablecloth.

The exhibit is organized into larger themes that each artist took on within their art. From religion, political debates, domestic scenes in the home and more, one gets the complexity of the time that became the subject matter of these works.  It also shows the way these painting giants evolved over time. This show also helps gives some insight into their process through several sketches and etches that are also included among the other works. In Praise of Painting is an ambitious undertaking for the museum and is helping to introduce a new generation of art-goers to dutch masters and the ever important Dutch Golden Age.

In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masters is on view at the Met through 2020.


About the Author:

Anni Irish has been a contributing writer to several online publications including Boston based publication, The Dig, New York Arts Magazine, and ArteFuse among others. She holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, an MA in Gender and Cultural Studies from Simmons College, and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University.