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

Mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge

Theoretical Framework

In recent years there has been considerable scholarly attention to the circulation of knowledge, often of a technical nature. Historians in particular have focused on the channels through which technical knowledge was transferred, taking into account the institutional, social and even cognitive context (Epstein 1998; Hilaire-Pérez, Verna 2004; Davids 1990, 2005; Humphries 2003). Central to these discussions is the idea of a knowledge economy which is extremely dependent on a constant flow of people, goods and information (Mokyr 2002). We contend that the same holds true for the development of the visual arts in the Low Countries. The wealth of publications that exists relative to the dissemination of technical knowledge will thus serve as a point of departure to examine similar processes of circulation of knowledge in the art world.

In general, the role of temporal and spatial factors on cultural transmission is most important. In this respect, historians and art historians are reappraising the role of geography, borders, territories and identities. The so-called geo-history of art provides insight into migrations and clustering patterns of artists (DaCosta Kauffmann 2004; Kelly and O’Hagan, 2007). Particularly, the impact of borders is of interest for our research project. After all, the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century proves to be a fascinating case, especially since the Dutch Revolt divided the Seventeen Provinces into two quasi autonomous entities. Trade, migrations and frequent interactions between the two regions continued to take place, and this project aims at mapping the cultural exchanges in this volatile climate.

When applied to art history, some (preliminary) research has been conducted on the differences between ‘national’ and local schools (Geyl 1930; Blankert 1995; Vlieghe 1998). The most recent efforts in this respect focused on the continuity and discontinuity in architectural styles in the Northern and Southern Netherlands (De Jonge and Ottenheym 2007), and on the common denominators in genre painting in the two regions (De Clippel 2006). However, the need for new research is underscored by the observation that many issues remain unexplored or unresolved, and by the tension that exists between the local and the trans-national perspectives for the development of national schools of art.

The urgency for this research is brought to the fore by a series of recent initiatives to hold conferences that address similar questions. Examples include a conference to be held in Dublin on “City Limits” (April 2008) and the upcoming Historians of Netherlandish Art conference in Amsterdam on “Crossing Boundaries” (May 2010). In addition, the flurry of publications dealing with the circulation of technical know-how begs to be applied to the arts. The fact that rich databases pertaining to material cultural research (ex. probate inventory database of Bruno Blondé and Veerle de Laet, Antwerp University) and the migrations of artists (Groenendijk 2008) have become available only very recently, will greatly facilitate our proposed research programs.