17th century masters of dutch painting

17th Century Masters of Dutch Painting

            The Baroque Art Style Movement started in the 17th century. This period was characterized by complex art style which is stimulated by the urge to tap the different “emotional states” which is dramatically shown “by appealing to the senses.” The dominant characteristics of this period were “ grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions” ( Pioch, 2002, “Baroque”). The Dutch were one of those who perfected this particular style and they have generated some of the critically acclaimed Baroque masterpieces in art history. Jan Vermeer, Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu were just three of the masters of Dutch painting who have immensely contributed to the development of the arts in the Netherlands. Vermeer’s Woman Holding A Balance, Steen’s The Drawing Lesson and Metsu’s Young Woman Reading A Letter were some of the noted creations that have embodied the “novelty of genre Dutch paintings.” These art pieces were immediately accepted by the public because they resembled an “honest and materialist art” that highlighted art as an “end in itself and not as a mere vehicle for emphasizing values from other realms of human thought.” More so, these paintings focused on a common theme which is the depiction of domestic daily life wherein women where the central characters. The artists used this theme to emphasize that the homes were not merely structures but also the foundation of morals in the society. In addition, the role of women in the paintings was intended to help bring serenity to the viewers in order for them to easily adapt to the overwhelming changes that were introduced in the 17th century (cited in Janson, 2008, “The Subject Matter of Dutch Domestic Interiors”).

            Jan Vermeer was an artisan who is known for his trademarks of crafty play with light and color, inclusion of graphics with poetic quality and the exploration of spatial relationships. The camera obscura was the tool he used add a realness factor to his paintings (Pioch, 2002, “Vermeer, Jan”). In Woman Holding A Balance, Jan Vermeer illustrated a young woman holding a pair of empty weighing scales who was probably going to measure the mass of the valuable materials placed on the table. Moreover, other elements were also harmoniously integrated in the artwork such as the painting of the Last Judgment which signified a Christian biblical event, the weighing scales which symbolized justice, the light coming from the window suggested spiritual enlightenment and the mirror in front of the woman represented conceitedness. All of these elements exemplified the significance of resisting temptation of material things and living moderately in order to obtain salvation (National Gallery of Art, 2008, “Vermeer”).

            Meanwhile, Jan Steen was branded as one of the most productive painters of the Dutch art scene. He was known for his “versatility, richness of characterization, inventiveness in composition, skillful manipulation of colors” (Janson, 2008, “Seven Dutch Masters: Jan Steen”). The The Drawing Lesson captured the scene of an art instructor teaching a young male and a beautiful young lady most likely about drawing. The art studio was filled with a variety of art paraphernalia that were strewn all over the place. There were nude sculptures, paint brushes, easels and other art materials. Vanity was also represented through the presence of “a laurel wreath, a skull, wine, a fur muff, a book, a lute, and a pipe” to impart Steen’s message that popularity and life are not permanent in the physical world. This uncomplicated ordinary scene is a symbolic representation of the lives of artists and the nature of their profession (J. Paul Getty Trust, “”The Drawing Lesson”).

            Moreover, another Dutch painter who made a mark in the field of Baroque art was Gabriel Metsu who was also a son of a painter. He founded the Leiden painters guild where he learned to create genre scenes that showed the “influences of Nicolaes Maes, Gerrit Terborch and the Delft school.” More so, “his technique evolved from the quite broadly painted Leiden works to the meticulous fjnschilder manner of his later Amsterdam years” (Janson, 2008, “Seven Dutch Masters: Gabriel Metsu”). In Metsu’s painting of Woman Reading a Letter, shows a woman reading a letter probably from a suitor or a male correspondence. Actually, this painting is a continuation of another Metsu painting called Man Writing a Letter and when these two pieces are interconnected, a story of courtship between a man and a woman is established. Meanwhile, “the maid’s momentary movement contrasts with the concentration of the young woman who, one senses, will not move until she has finished reading the letter.” Love was also cleverly symbolized in the painting which is in the form of the seascape painting mounted on the wall which probably was directed to represent the risks involved in having relationships (Web Gallery of Art, 1996, “Metsu, Gabriel”).

            These three masterpieces by Vermeer, Steen and Metsu have clearly manifested the spirit of Dutch genre painting during the Baroque period. The definitive representation of domestic scenes and the depiction of women goes beyond the narration and description of the Dutch lifestyle. The symbols and human figures have transcended its literal meaning into something more profound. Subliminal meanings on morality and relationships were ingeniously included through the drawing of inanimate objects and bodily gestures. Because of these unique features, people were encouraged to analyze the rationality of the painting while enjoying and admiring its aesthetic beauty.


National Gallery of Art. (2008). Vermeer. Retrieved June 26, 2008 from             http://www.nga.gov/feature/vermeer/symbols1.shtm

Janson, J. (2008, April 19). Seven Dutch Masters: Gabriel Metsu.  Retrieved June 26, 2008,        from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-painters/masters/metsubase.html

Janson, J. (2008, April 19). Seven Dutch Masters: Jan Steen . Retrieved June 26, 2008, from             http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-painters/masters/steensbase.html

Janson, J. (2008, April 19). The Subject Matter of Dutch Domestic Interiors.  Retrieved June       26, 2008, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-p     ainters/dutch_art/subject_matter.html

J. Paul Getty Trust. The Drawing Lesson. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from             http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=844

Pioch, N. (2002, October 14). Baroque. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from             http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/glo/baroque/

Pioch, N. (2002, October 14). Vermeer, Jan. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from             http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vermeer/

Web Gallery of Art (1996, October). Metsu, Gabriel. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/metsu/writing2.html

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