Views on Dutch Painting of the Golden Age

Painters in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century pushed the possibilities of art far beyond previous limits. They observed the visible world closely and mastered techniques for representing it. They found new meanings in old stories—mythical, historical, and biblical—and staged and restaged scenes from the everyday human comedy. In fall 2015 and spring 2016, John Walsh and other scholars present a series of lectures that offer views on Dutch art of the Golden Age.

Lecture Series

The second year of a three-year loan of Dutch paintings from the superb collection of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo has brought seventeen new pictures to the Gallery, in addition to seventeen that remain on view from the first installation. They suggest many topics for exploration, such as what the clothes and manners of the people in paintings say about them; the glories of their gardens and what painters intended by picturing them; the importation of expensive rarities like lemons and what it says about Dutch society; and more. In this lecture series, presented from September 2015 through March 2016, nine leading scholars in the field of Dutch art speak about these and other subjects. Three lectures are given by John Walsh, B.A. 1961, Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and a specialist in Dutch paintings, who delivered the lecture series A History of Dutch Painting in Six Pictures in January and February of 2015. Generously sponsored by the Martin A. Ryerson Fund.

Note: Seating is limited. Doors open one hour prior to each lecture.

Learn More about the van Otterloo Collection

Recommended Readings

The best up-to-date introduction to Dutch art is A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1718, by Mariët Westermann (1996). It is available both new and used from online retailers; in New Haven, it is also available at Atticus Bookstore and Café on Chapel Street.

Also strongly recommended is Bob Haak’s The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century (1984). This huge, richly illustrated survey is still the best book on the subject, though it is currently out of print. Used copies can be purchased from online retailers, such as or

Lecture Videos

To view a recording of the most recent lecture from this series, play the video at left. Previous lectures in the series are available on the Gallery’s YouTube channel.


Food for Thought: Pieter Claesz. and Dutch Still Life

John Walsh
Friday, September 25, 1:30 pm

The Dutch are famous for still-life paintings. These began with sober arrangements of objects chosen to remind viewers of the brevity of life, as can be seen in the early works of the pioneer Pieter Claesz. Later artists went on to paint sumptuous compositions of expensive objects that reflect the confidence and pride of the Golden Age. John Walsh, B.A. 1961, Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and a specialist in Dutch paintings, explores the motives for still-life painting and the likely responses of 17th-century audiences.

Consider the Lilies: Virtue and Virtuosity in Flower Paintings by Jan Davidsz. de Heem and Others

John Walsh
Friday, October 2, 1:30 pm

Paintings of vases with flowers spoke to the Dutch of the splendors of creation. They also documented one of the great eras of horticulture, which saw the cultivation of imported species, fevered speculation in tulips and hyacinths, and systematic study in botanical gardens. Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s compositions and unrivalled technique were influential for a century; John Walsh, B.A. 1961, Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and a specialist in Dutch paintings, examines them in detail.

Appearance and Reality in Dutch Art

Peter Sutton
Thursday, October 8, 5:30 pm

As Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo’s collection brilliantly attests, Dutch painting of the 17th century is remarkable for its naturalism and compelling truth to life—what scholars in the 19th century admired as its “probity.” No other artists before the Dutch left such a comprehensive record in paint of their land, people, and possessions. In the early 21st century, viewers still marvel at Dutch artists’ inventory of fact, but it is no longer seen as a literal speculum naturae (mirror of nature). Instead, it is recognized as a composite of observation and imagination, pictorial convention and visual acuity. Peter Sutton, M.A. 1975, PH.D. 1978, Executive Director of the Bruce Museum, in Greenwich, Connecticut, and expert on Northern Baroque painting and Dutch and Flemish art, discusses the evidence for these assumptions in paintings from the Golden Age. Followed by a reception.

Seascape in the Dutch Golden Age: Crowded Harbors, Fierce Battles, Harrowing Shipwrecks, and Tranquil Waters

Lawrence O. Goedde
Friday, October 9, 1:30 pm

Marine painting is among the distinctive inventions of Dutch 17th-century culture, and it has long been identified with the importance of the sea and seafaring for the rise and prosperity of the Dutch Republic and its citizens’ well-being. Dutch marine art is not, however, a single subject but presents a body of images remarkable for its ubiquity in society and variety of media, audiences, and purposes. Exploring glowing views of crowded harbors, gripping images of battles and triumphs, appalling scenes of shipwreck, and meditative glimpses of coastal and inland waters, Lawrence O. Goedde, Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, discusses the differing functions of marine images and the meanings they held for the Dutch of the Golden Age.

Rank and Status in the Dutch Golden Age

Ronni Baer
Thursday, October 15, 5:30 pm

Ronni Baer, the William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, offers a discussion of class distinctions and social stratification in 17th-century Dutch art. Baer has curated numerous exhibitions of Dutch and Flemish art with special emphasis on Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens, and Gerrit Dou. Drawing on her work as curator of the exhibition at the MFA titled Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, Baer speaks to the ways in which art provides commentary on the socioeconomic groups of the Dutch Republic. Followed by a reception.

Gerrit van Honthorst in America: What Took So Long?

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.
Friday, October 16, 1:30 pm

Gerrit van Honthorst was one of the outstanding artists from Utrecht, the Netherlands, who traveled to Rome in the early 17th century and was inspired by the revolutionary paintings of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. After Honthorst returned to Utrecht in 1620, his Caravaggist paintings were greatly admired and had an enormous impact on other Dutch masters, including Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn. Nevertheless, until recently, few of Honthorst’s masterpieces have entered American collections. Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Curator of Northern Baroque Painting at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and Professor of Art History at the University of Maryland, in College Park, explores the reasons why so few Americans were drawn to the artist’s works until recently, and he examines a few of the masterpieces that have now come to the United States, including works in the collections of the National Gallery of Art and Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo.

How Dutch Painters Invented Atmosphere: Jan van de Cappelle, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Their Predecessors

John Walsh
Thursday, February 18, 5:30 pm

Nineteenth-century landscape paintings accustomed viewers to realistic skies and subtle light. That kind of image of an endlessly shifting nature, however, was created by Dutch painters two centuries earlier. Foreshadowed by the Venetians and inspired by innovators in the 1630s, artists such as Jan van de Cappelle and Jacob van Ruisdael broadened the expressive potential of art. John Walsh, B.A. 1961, Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and a specialist in Dutch paintings, shows how landscape and seascape were given new and lasting powers. Followed by a reception.

Rembrandt’s Three Crosses

Nicola Suthor
Friday, February 19, 1:30 pm

Nicola Suthor, Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, focuses on Rembrandt van Rijn’s heavy revision of his engraving The Three Crosses (1653). Whereas his motivation for reworking the plate may have been to strengthen its worn-out passages in order to produce more sheets, the fourth state is, surprisingly enough, a significantly different image. The importance of the Three Crosses lies in Rembrandt’s experimental development of form. Suthor suggests an approach to understanding the reworking of the plates by considering the artist’s sketching technique, marked by a use of erasure aimed at opening up the forms.

The Lemon’s Lure

Mariët Westermann
Friday, February 26, 1:30 pm

The artfully peeled lemon, baring its spongy pith and shiny flesh, was one of the most beloved motifs of Dutch still-life painters in the 17th century. Why did it become such a signature element of the genre? In this talk, Mariët Westermann, Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, historian of European art, and author of several books—including A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1718—explores the lemon’s importance to painters, botanists, and collectors in early modern Europe and explains how Dutch artists set the fruit on a path of pictorial pleasure for centuries to come.

Frans Post: Bringing Home the New World

James Welu
Friday, March 4, 1:30 pm

The Dutch painter Frans Post was the first European-trained artist to paint landscapes in the New World. His depictions of the Dutch colony in northeast Brazil provided Europeans some of the earliest glimpses of South America. After a seven-year stay in Brazil, Post returned to the Netherlands to create for the Dutch art market numerous landscape paintings of this remote and exotic place. James Welu, Director Emeritus of the Worcester Art Museum, in Massachusetts, explores the wealth of information these paintings offer, both about the land that inspired them and the people who acquired them.

Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, and the Spousal Model-Muse

H. Perry Chapman
Friday, March 11, 1:30 pm

The notion that the artist’s model is also his lover and muse stems from antiquity. In the 17th-century Netherlands, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn painted their wives in stunningly intimate portraits and as historical, biblical, or mythological figures. It appears that they also portrayed their wives in the nude. In a time and place when artists’ studios were in their homes, group life-drawing sessions were part of studio practice, women who posed in the nude were typically prostitutes, and nudity could be censored, what is to be made of the nude spousal model-muse? H. Perry Chapman, Professor and Interim Chair of Art History at the University of Delaware, in Newark, explains that, although propriety may have been at stake, so, too, were veracity, inspired creativity, and rivalry with past masters.

About John Walsh

John Walsh, B.A. 1961, is Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He was a paintings curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He received a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught courses on the history of art at Columbia and Harvard University, and he is currently a visiting professor in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University.