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

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Project Description

In the early modern period, the Low Countries were a leading region in terms of innovation in the visual arts. Antwerp was a metropolis of creativity for most of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries while after 1600, painting and printmaking flourished as never before in the Northern Netherlands. Exponentially-growing demand gave rise to a viable and sophisticated art market in which works of art became commoditized and were marketed wholesale as consumption goods.

This research project seeks to explain these developments from a fresh perspective by drawing on recent research into the modern-day cultural industries, the functioning of creative cities, the role of guilds in early modern times and particularly the circulation of knowledge. By examining the artistic exchanges that took place between the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands, we will gain insight into the circulation of artistic knowledge and examine how culture was transferred. Therefore, the central research question of this project is:

How, why and through which channels did cultural transmission and artistic exchanges in the visual arts take place in the Low Countries between 1572 and 1672, and what was the impact on the (shared) cultural heritage of the two regions?

We aim to shed light on the process of cultural transmission in the arts between 1572 and 1672. Both dates are symbolic but also have genuine historical relevance for this project. The capture of Den Briel by the Watergeuzen in April 1572 marked the beginning of a new phase in the Dutch Revolt which would lead to the emigration of tens of thousands of Southerners into the Northern Provinces (Briels 1985). This displacement of human and cultural capital set in motion far-reaching processes of cultural transmission which we aim to investigate. As an end point, the invasion of 1672 not only brought French soldiers but also French fashion to the Low Countries, and suggests that the cultural exchanges and cross-fertilization between the two core regions lost much of their intensity in subsequent years.

This project will examine how changes and innovation in the visual arts occurred as a result of ‘foreign’ influences caused by the mobility of artists, the art trade, and exchanges of artistic knowledge. Apart from the many instances where assimilation did take place, we equally need to gauge the impact of resistance against ‘foreign’ cultural intrusions. The stance that guilds in various Dutch cities took during the early seventeenth century against the importation of Flemish paintings is very illustrative (Sluijter 1999; Prak 2003). In doing so, we will ascertain to what extent the institutional context facilitated or, by the same token, obstructed the circulation of knowledge.

In the end, this research will enable us to point to the origins of the shared (cultural) heritage of both the Northern and Southern Netherlands, and perhaps more importantly, shed light on the complicated but fascinating process of cultural transmission in European History.