An Introduction to the Dutch Masters

If you’ve been following our blog you’ll know that the EzeFrame team are dedicated to more than just picture framing. In fact, we consider ourselves full-on art junkies. And because we are so passionate about art (along with the beautiful picture frames that go with it), we like to occasionally take some time out to brush up on our knowledge.This week, we’ve been reading about the Dutch Masters and – in the interests of spreading our art obsession to our readers and customers – we’d like to share some of the most interesting things we learnt…

Who were the Dutch Masters?

When people use this term, they are typically referring to a group of Dutch painters who were creating works in the 17th century. The most famous are Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer; however, others include Jan Steen, Pieter Claesz and Pieter de Hooch.

Interestingly, one of the painters also made famous during this period was a woman, Rachel Ruysch. Ruysch – though usually overlooked in favour of male contemporaries such as Vermeer and Rembrandt – was an incredibly talented painter. Today she is most famous for her still life paintings, which often depicted incredibly detailed bouquets of flowers.

At this time, the Dutch Republic was immensely prosperous, and flourishing in areas other than art such as trade and science, which is why this period is often referred to as the Dutch Golden Age.

What did the Dutch Masters paint?

Though often grouped with other Baroque painters such as Caravaggio, there is a lot to distinguish the Dutch Masters from their European contemporaries. The first is that Dutch painters didn’t produce a great amount of religious artworks – in part because Calvinism, the dominating religion at the time, forbade religious paintings from being hung in churches. The second is that their paintings tended to belong to distinct genres.

One common type was history painting: large allegorical, historical or mythological scenes usually featuring multiple figures. Another was portrait painting, which also incorporated the subgenre of “tronie”. A tronie was a style of portrait painting specific to Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque painting; it depicts a stock character in costume, or someone pulling an exaggerated, almost grotesque expression.

Another style of painting common amongst the Dutch Masters depicted “scenes of everyday life”. Often referred to as genre painting, this style is similar to historical painting, in that it usually shows large busy scenes featuring many people. The difference here is that the scenes depicted are taken from contemporary life and portray normal people – not the royal, wealthy or aristocratic. They were often painted within someone’s home, a tavern or a brothel, and were designed as a window into the lives of everyday Dutch citizens.

Though not always wholly naturalistic (often the paintings were intended to have a moralistic message), genre artworks such as Vermeer’s ‘The Milkmaid’ bear a certain photographic quality that seem to suggest an authentic look at Dutch life in the 17th century.

Other styles of painting during this period included still life and landscape; however, those listed above are the most notable.

What are some famous paintings by the Dutch Masters?

Between them, the Dutch Masters created hundreds of important artworks. But there are a handful that have gone down in history as truly influential and timeless.

The two styles of painting which spawned the most famous Dutch Golden Age artworks are portrait and genre. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals are all known worldwide for their stunning portraits, but it is Rembrandt who is best known for painting himself. His self-portrait from 1628 is a classic exercise in chiaroscuro (the balancing of light and shade), while his self-portrait from 1660 shows the old man we all associate with the name, wearing his distinctive white cap and ambiguous expression.

Vermeer’s best-known portrait, meanwhile, is his ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, while Frans Hals is celebrated around the world for his cheerfully moustachioed ‘Laughing Cavalier’.

When it comes to genre painting, Jan Steen is the name to research. He became famous during the Dutch Golden Age for his lively, humorous and chaotic scenes from daily life – ‘Beware of Luxury’ being a classic example. For still life, meanwhile, you’ll want to look into Rachel Ruysch’s work: her painting ‘Flowers on a Stone Slab’ is a masterpiece of colour and detail.

Where can I see paintings by the Dutch Masters?

If you’re keen to really educate yourself about the Golden Age of Dutch painting, the best thing you can do is visit these works in person. There are many galleries and museums around the UK that house paintings by the Dutch Masters, including the National Gallery in London, which is home to Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait at the Age of 34’.

For the ultimate Dutch Masters experience, of course, you’ll want to book a flight to the Netherlands. The most famous art gallery here is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but other excellent museums which house paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals include the The Mauritshuis in the Hague, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, and the Johannes Vermeer Centre in Delft.

Bringing Art Into Your Home with EzeFrame

If you’ve discovered a newfound love of art, or you’re considering trying your hand at painting and drawing, why not let EzeFrame help with your picture framing needs?

We can supply picture mounts and picture frames in a variety of different colours, textures and finishes. What’s more, all of our frames are made to order – that means all you need to do is enter the exact specifications of your image, choose your mount (if needed) and the frame style, and let us worry about the rest.

If you’re thinking about channelling Rembrandt and giving oil painting a go, we can even supply a picture frame to fit a canvas. Take a look at our Picture Frames & Mounts and Canvas Frames pages to find out more.


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