Netherlands Arts and Architecture: From the Middle Ages to the 17th Century

By | December 1, 2021

From the Middle Ages to the 16th century

Before the establishment of the Republic of the United Provinces (1579), art and architecture reflect the historical events and influences to which the Netherlands was subject.

In the Romanesque age, in Maastricht, dependent on the bishopric of Liège, architecture was linked to the Mosan forms; in various buildings with a central plan (Nijmegen chapel, 11th century) the influence of the palatine chapel of Aachen persists. Lombard influences (secondary transepts intersected with the central nave) are found, among other things, in Our Lady in Maastricht and in S. Maria in Utrecht. Between the end of the 13th century. and the beginning of the 14th, the Gothic had a particular imprint in Brabant (cathedral of s’Hertogenbosch) and along the Rhine (churches of Nijmegen, Arnhem); powerful bell towers were built in Dordrecht, Utrecht, Amersfoort. The ornamental use of brick is interesting in Groningen and neighboring regions. In the context of sculpture, the earliest examples are a tympanum of the Egmond abbey (11th century, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) and the chest of s. Servatius in Maastricht (1160), showing affinity with Mosan art. Apart from some stone sculptures (14th century tombstones in the Utrecht cathedral), from the 15th century. the wooden sculpture with A. van Wessel assumes importance (altar of the cathedral of s’Hertogenbosch, partly in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam). For Netherlands 2017, please check

In the field of painting, the most ancient testimonies show Franco-Saxon characteristics (Egmond Gospels of the 10th century, The Hague, Royal Library) or of the Cologne school (Plenarium, 13th century, Arnhem, State Archives). In the 15th century. miniature schools were built in Gelderland and Utrecht (Hours of Catherine of Clèves, New York, Pierpont Morgan Library); Netherlands Christus, D. Bouts, G. David, originally from the northern provinces, work in the southern Netherlands (➔ Flemish); in the second half of the century are centers of pictorial activity Haarlem, Leiden, Amsterdam, Utrecht: school of Haarlem with A. Ouwater (Resurrection of Lazarus, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie); Master of the Brunswick diptych(Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum), identified with Jacob Jansz., And above all Geertgen tot Sint Jans; in Delft the Master of Virgo inter virgines. Going back to the van Eycks and D. Bouts, these masters reveal a sensitivity for light, attention to the landscape, a rough realism, sometimes grotesque, an emerging feature also in the important production of wood engravings that accompanies the early diffusion of printing with the printers J. Bellaert in Haarlem and J. van der Meer in Delft. In a very particular way, J. Bosch condenses and goes beyond the ways of the art of the ancient Netherlands.

In the 16th century. Gothic forms continued to characterize religious and civil architecture (Pesa di Deventer, 1528) but, also due to the presence of Italians (T. Vincidor, A. Pasqualini), Renaissance motifs were introduced (Castle of Enrico di Nassau in Breda, bell tower by IJselstein). If the art of the Dutch primitives remained in the high pictorial quality of J. Mostaert in Haarlem, of J. Corneliszoon van Oostsaanen in Amsterdam, of C. Engebrechtszoon in Leiden, a substantial renewal also in the field of graphics took place with Luca da Leiden and, in Utrecht, with J. van Scorel, who was in Venice and Rome in 1520-23. Alongside the religious subjects and the portrait appear mythological themes. Scorel’s pupils were A. Moro and M. van Heemskerck, mostly active in Haarlem; in the field of graphics, H. Goltzius was prominent ; for the remarkable stained glass windows we remember D. and W. Crabeth (S. Giovanni a Gouda) and for the late mannerism C. Cornelisz and J. Wttewael. K. van Mander, on the threshold of the new century, inaugurated Dutch artistic historiography.

The 17th century

Names such as those of F. Hals, Rembrandt, J. Vermeer, represent the painting of Netherlands in the seventeenth century, together with other personalities of great quality. Active in Utrecht from 1590 to 1650, A. Bloemaert had among his pupils the brothers Honthorst, J. van Bijlert, D. van Baburen, who, having come to Italy, were influenced by Caravaggio and the Caravaggeschi, while C. Poelenburgh and J. Both created the prototypes of an ‘Italianizing’ landscape painting. Remarkable, also in Utrecht, the work of H. Terbrugghen. In Haarlem the academic trend yielded to a more realistic current which culminated in F. Hals and the genre painting of A. Brouwer, Netherlands van Laer, A. van Ostade etc. In the landscape the school of Haarlem excelled with J. van Ruysdael, around whom we remember S. van Ruysdael, C. Vroom, Netherlands Molijn etc. The Amsterdam school was of great importance in the 17th century. Rembrandt settled from Leiden to Amsterdam (1631), where he had been a pupil of Netherlands Lastman ; among his students, C. Fabritius, A. de Gelder, F. Bol, G. Flinck, N. Maes, G. van den Eeckhout. Landscape painting began to develop in Amsterdam when some painters from Antwerp settled there, including H. Seghers. J. van Ruysdael moved to Amsterdam; alongside him worked Netherlands Potter, A. van de Velde, J. Hackaert, A. van der Neer, M. Hobbema and other. Painters similar to Netherlands van Laer were J. Asselijn, C. Dujardin and J. Lingelbach. It should be remembered that in the northern Netherlands, as in the southern ones, the 17th century. saw the rise of various ‘specialties’: painters of marine, fruit, flowers, animals, interiors, etc. In the marinas, W. van de Velde was especially known; in city views J. van der Heyden. Interior and genre painters were Netherlands de Hooch, G. Metsu, Netherlands Codde and others; among the painters of still life, W. Kalff, W. van Aelst, J. van Huysum, flower painter, and M. de Hondecoeter. In addition to important centers such as Amsterdam and Haarlem, in Leiden, home of Rembrandt, J. van Goyen and J. Steen, a school specialized in small and very fine execution pictures flourished in the seventeenth century, in which G. Dou and F. van Mieris the Elder; J. Vermeer works in Delft. Also worthy of mention are the painters of the Cuyp family, active in Dordrecht.

In the architectural field, the Dutch Renaissance, from the second half of the 16th century, had expressed itself with marked local characters in the monumental forms of the municipalities of The Hague, Oudewater and Bolsward. At the beginning of the 17th century. notable architects are L. de Key of Haarlem (meat market, 1602; tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, 1613) and H. de Keyser, also active as a sculptor. The plan of Amsterdam (1613) was incisive, establishing the characteristic development of the city in the series of concentric canals cut by a radial system of streets. Under the government of the statolder Frederick Henry (1625-47) an architectural classicism of French origin found its impetus: significant exponents, J. van Campen (The Hague, Mauritshuis, 1644; Amsterdam, City Hall, then Royal Palace, 1648; Haarlem, Nieuwe Kerk, 1645) and, in the second half of the century, Netherlands Post, A. van ‘s Gravesande, Netherlands Vingboons. In addition to H. de Keyser (mausoleum of William the Taciturn, Delft, Nieuwe Kerk, 1614-21), the sculpture has R. Verhulst and A. Quellinus among the protagonists. In the applied arts, Delft majolica factories flourished (blue designs on a white background or vice versa) and some goldsmith workshops (van Vianen in Utrecht).

Netherlands Arts and Architecture - From the Middle Ages to the 17th Century