The Dutch Golden Age is the name for a period roughly spanning the 17th century in that Dutch trade, science, military and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. It is the time of Baroque inEurope, yet Dutch art – though it followed the tendencies of dramatic, Caravaggio-style lightning and naturalism – was leading in still life, landscape, portrait and genre painting.
The Dutch Golden Age was caused by an influx of skilled Protestant craftsmen and merchants, who unwilling to reconvert to Catholicism left the from Spanish troops conquered trading cities of Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges and other places of the Southern Netherlands and moved mainly to Amsterdam. Together with an influx of other prosecuted minorities like the Sephardic Jews of Spain andPortugal, the Huguenot’s from France and the Pilgrim Fathers it let to a transformation of the formerly small town to one of the most important ports and commercial centers of its time.
Other factors supporting the rise of the Dutch Golden Age included the availability of cheap energy through the use of windmills and peat, the ability to create a huge fleet of ships through the invention of sawmills, the establishment of the first modern stock exchange and the first central bank that financed the Dutch East India Company, the first ever multinational company, a trade monopoly with Japan and a trade domination in Europe. The revolt against Spain for religious freedom and economic and political independence, which the reformist northern territories won, boosted the national conscience and morale further.
While Amsterdam prospered a wealthy Dutch middle-class grew in numbers and successful mercantile patrons became a driving force in Dutch art. They coined the taste as to what they wanted to be created. They had no use for history paintings – usually top on the popular genre list – or religious art. They wanted landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still lives and scenes of everyday life. The interest in art and therefore the art market was large, yet so was the number of high skilled and well-trained artists. Hence, the prices were low and many artist, among them some that are today viewed as some of the greatest of all time like Rembrandt or Vermeer, died in poverty or gave up art to earn a living otherwise.
Notable artists of this period are: Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, Steen, Boll, de Bray, de Hooch.