Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age

Art, Galleries
Rembrandt AGNSW 1
1/5
Aelbert Cuyp 'A senior merchant of the Dutch East India the fleet in the roads of Batavia' (1640–60)
Rembrandt AGNSW 2
2/5
Pieter de Ring 'Still life with golden goblet' (1650–60)
Rembrandt AGNSW 3
3/5
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn 'Self-portrait as the apostle Paul' (1661)
Rembrandt AGNSW 4
4/5
Jan Davidsz de Heem 'Still life with flowers in a glass vase' (1665–70)
Rembrandt AGNSW 5
5/5
Johannes Vermeer 'Woman reading a Letter' (1663)

A flotilla of 78 masterpieces from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is berthing at AGNSW this summer

Rembrandt at the Dutch Golden Age will have extended opening hours for its final weekend. The exhibition will be open until 9pm on February 16, 17 and 18.

This survey of 17th century Dutch masters will feature the work of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Ruisdael, Hals, Steen, Dou, Lievens and Leyster.

The Netherlands experienced political turmoil and warfare in the 17th century, culminating in the founding of the independent Dutch Republic, and followed by a period of tremendous wealth – fuelled by global trade (including the slave trade), colonisation, and increased immigration. Art flourished, as a newly wealthy middle class commissioned and collected paintings.

It's estimated that 5 million works of art were produced by the Dutch Republic in this 'golden age'; only roughly 1 per cent remain – of which Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum holds the most authoritative collection.

There’s probably something for everyone in Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age; if you find the portraits of straightlaced 17th century Dutch merchants and their wives a bit stiff, then you might prefer the floral still lifes; if you find Vermeer’s ‘Woman reading a letter’ a little too controlled and fastidious in its composition, you may be a fan of the unconstrained drama of Jacob van Ruisdael’s ‘Landscape with a waterfall’. And that’s before you even get to the headline act: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

The exhibition is arranged in eight sub-sections; you begin with portraits of ‘ordinary’ Dutch people (read: merchants or members of the middle classes, who could afford to commission such a thing); you proceed through sections of paintings depicting oceanic expeditions (from military to trade to colonisation), landscapes, urban life, home life, floral and vanitas still lifes, and a concise set of history, biblical and literary paintings. At the centre of the exhibition space is a whole room devoted to Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings and etchings.

Although Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Ruisdael are the names everyone knows, the delights often come from lesser lights (for example: Pieter de Ring and Aelbert Jansz van der Schoor); and you might take a moment to consider that – as throughout art history – women were held back not by lack of talent, but by social and economic constraints. You can see two fine examples of female painters from the golden age in this show: Judith Leyster (whose ‘Jolly Drinker’ might be the most lively figure in the exhibition) and Rachel Ruysch (whose 'Still life with flowers on a marble tabletop' exemplifies a talent that saw her appointed court painter for a Bavarian Prince from 1708 to 1716.

In the first gallery, a third female painter, Maria van Oosterwijck, is the subject of a portrait by Wallerant Vaillant. With her palette and brushes on lap, she appears to be waiting for the opportunity to stop posing and start painting.

See who's at the Museum of Contemporary Art for summer.

By: Dee Jefferson

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