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

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Methods and Sources

This research project will approach the phenomenon of cultural transmission between North and South from three different perspectives which will be dealt with in three separate yet complementary research projects. In doing so, we defy a teleological model in which progress and diffusion of artistic knowledge is regarded as a linear process. Instead, we tend to search for seminal moments and identify periods when either an acceleration or resistance took place in the assimilation of artistic know-how. When did art centers such as Amsterdam or Utrecht become fashion makers rather than fashion takers, and what were the agents of change? Another chronological turning point might very well be the end of the seventeenth century when French fashion started to infiltrate the Low Countries and set the tone.

The importance of the historical context which allowed for the diffusion of culture cannot be overestimated. The artistic dialogue between North and South was shaped by a myriad of external factors. The Eighty-Years war has already been mentioned as a defining element. The economic conditions and the development of the art trade is another key component, whereby the flowering of the Dutch art school cannot be understood without the precipitous accumulation of wealth in northern towns (Bok 2001). Furthermore, the different religious paths taken by both regions had far-reaching ramifications for the artistic production in North and South, but perhaps less than sometimes assumed.

Of seminal importance in the discussion about cultural transmission is the extent to which such transfers of knowledge are embedded in social settings and more in particular, the role of networks (Timmermans 2008). The notion that relationships of a personal, cultural, economic and political nature were indispensable in shaping the production, distribution and reception of works of art is very useful in analyzing the nature and evolution of trans-border artistic trends, and to clarify the role key figures have played in the introduction and dissemination of new styles and motifs. In addition, it appears that artists’ workshops and guilds played an instrumental role in the training and instruction of talented young artists, later followed by the founding of academies (De Munck 2001; Prak 2003).

A myriad of source material will be consulted in the archives and museums in Belgium and the Netherlands, and in selected museums abroad. These include contracts and other judicial documents, passport applications, guild regulations and petitions, licenten and toll books (especially those preserved in the Zealand archives), commercial and ego-documents (diaries and journals), probate inventories, etc. The art-historical inquiries will also focus on actual works of art (paintings, prints and other visual artifacts) and theoretical treatises. More specific references are provided in the description of the sub-projects.