Cultural Transmission and Artistic Exchanges in the Low Countries, 1572-1672

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Conference Report

Art on the Move: Artistic Exchange and Innovation in the Low Countries, 1572–1700

 On 10 and 11 April 2014, the NWO-funded research team Cultural Transmission and Artistic Exchanges in the Low Countries organised an international conference at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The conference was generously funded by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen (KNAW), the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC), and the Trustfonds of the Erasmus University. With an attendance exceeding 100 participants the conference was a huge success, bringing together researchers from across the world and from different disciplines.

The wonderful venue: Auditorium at Boijmans Van Beuningen

The wonderful venue: Auditorium at Boijmans Van Beuningen

The aim of the conference was to examine the artistic exchanges between the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands during the long seventeenth century. As is well known, Dutch Golden Age artists produced an extraordinary array of works of art – ranging from cheap prints to the finest paintings – to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand for images in the newly founded Republic. Simultaneously, Antwerp and the Southern Netherlands enjoyed a veritable Indian summer, exporting paintings and other luxury goods across Europe and to the New World. Both the Dutch and Flemish school have been studied extensively, but mostly from a strictly local or national perspective, as Filip Vermeylen (Erasmus University Rotterdam) explained in his opening lecture. The aim of this conference, therefore, was to explore the shared cultural heritage of the Southern Netherlands and the Dutch Republic.

Introduction by Filip

Introduction by Filip

In a series of papers, leading scholars examined the differences and commonalities in the artistic output in both regions, mapping the mobility of artists, artworks and ideas in the Low Countries and beyond. The first session, “Circulation of Artists”, opened with a paper by David van der Linden (Erasmus University Rotterdam) on the career strategies of Antwerp painters after 1585. Applying statistical analysis to a unique dataset, he showed that most artists actually remained in the south; only a minority settled in Middelburg and Amsterdam, where they unwittingly laid the basis for the Dutch Golden Age. Subsequent papers by Eric Jan Sluijter (University of Amsterdam), Abigail Newman (Princeton University) and Barbara Uppenkamp (Universität Kassel) explored specific migrant painters and communities in, respectively, Amsterdam, Madrid and Hamburg. Together, these contributions demonstrated that early modern artists easily crossed national boundaries, also beyond the Low Countries, but that once abroad they were often seen – or even cast themselves – as uniquely “Flemish”.

Eric Jan & David on migration

Eric Jan & David on migration

The second session, “Circulation of Art”, focussed on the export of artwork from the Southern Netherlands. Using toll registers from Zeeland and the archives of art dealing firms from Antwerp, Claartje Rasterhoff (Erasmus University Rotterdam) showed that the mass export of art to the north was a lucrative trade for Antwerp dealers. More importantly, she argued that these dealers were instrumental in the valuation and appreciation of artworks: rather than simply selling paintings as any other commodity, they often commissioned them directly from painters and helped to fashion the tastes of buyers in the Dutch Republic and beyond. Sandra van Ginhoven (Duke University) explored the same Antwerp archives to map the extensive export of Flemish paintings to the Spanish colonies, while Hans van Miegroet (Duke University) focussed on the city of Mechelen to demonstrate that the enormous output of paintings was geared towards export, both to the Dutch Republic and the Spanish empire.

The pink table discussion, with Marten Jan, Sandra, Hans & Claartje

The pink table discussion, with Marten Jan, Sandra, Hans & Claartje

The final session, “Circulation of Ideas”, examined the impact of these migration waves and the art trade for the visual repertoire of painters in the Low Countries. Marloes Hemmer and Karolien de Clippel (Utrecht University) examined the relationship between Rubens and Pieter de Grebber. They argued that a specific social network, which in various ways was closely connected to Rubens, facilitated the circulation of knowledge on the Flemish master and stimulated young history painters like De Grebber to compete with Rubens. Likewise, Zoran Kwak (University of Amsterdam), explored the genre of the kitchen piece, thereby emphasizing that painters in north and south often borrowed from each other to create new styles. Lara Yeager-Crasselt (Catholic University of America), finally, discussed the figure of Michel Sweerts, a Flemish painter who lived in Rome and Amsterdam before setting up a drawing academy in Brussels.

And a touch of Rubens: by Marloes Hemmer & Karolien De Clippel

And a touch of Rubens: by Marloes & Karolien

Finally, we are delighted that the Werkgroep Zeventiende Eeuw has offered to publish the proceedings of this conference in a separate volume. This peer-reviewed publication provides us with a wonderful scholarly outlet for the international dissemination of our research, and ensures the lasting impact of the conference.