The Dutch Golden Age

Throughout the 17th century, the Dutch led the world in trade, art, exploration, science, and innovation of all kinds. Historians call this period the ‘Dutch Golden Age’ and with good reason – the country became one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world.

Portugal and Spain began global exploration in the late 15th century. In the 16th century, these two nations began to establish overseas empires. Motivated by the Spice Trade, other European powers soon began their worldwide explorations seeking new ways to acquire these valuable commodities.

Spices from Asia were, literally, worth more than their weight in gold. And, in 1602, the Dutch East India Company was established by the Netherlands to import and export spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper corn, ginger, and turmeric between their origin point in Asia and the high paying markets of Europe.

The Dutch East India Company quickly became the number one trader of Asian goods in Europe. This led to BIG profits for those involved. By the 1670s, ten percent of Dutch adult males were sailors, and the Netherlands had more ships than England, France, Portugal, and Spain combined!

So, what did they do with all this newfound wealth? The money earned was used to pay for more empire-building and to support architecture, religious buildings, sciences, and ART!

Art flourished during the Golden Age. For the first time in history, regular Dutch citizens could afford to purchase paintings and works of decorative art. Dutch paintings from the 17th century feature landscapes, scenes from the sea, homes and everyday objects and, above all, portraits of the proud Dutch themselves.

One of the most famous paintings from this period is Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch.’ This large group portrait was the artist’s most ambitious painting. If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s one big story of a group of wealthy and proudly independent Amsterdam citizens.

I think that’s one of my favorite things about art. Paintings, sculptures, music…every work of art tells a story, you just have to keep your ears and eyes open.

Zoe