a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

the dutch baroque

Things we didn't get to have been struck out and won't be on the exam


people, terms, and concepts: the five 'genres of art' (history-painting, portraiture, still-life, scenes of everyday life, landscape), Calvinism, iconoclasm, vanitas symbol (also known as a 'memento mori')


There are five basic types of subject matter in art, called the five genres of art: history painting, portraiture, scenes of everyday life (often called ‘genre painting’), landscape, and still-lives. History painting (scenes from history, mythology, or the Bible) was considered the most important genre; hence the other four are often called the ‘minor genres.’

Iconoclasm and the minor genres: Certain Protestant sects such as Calvinism (dominant in Holland, Switzerland and parts of Scandinavia) saw paintings of religious figures as idolatry, which is forbidden by the ‘no graven images’ clause of the Ten Commandments. This rejection of directly religious imagery is called iconoclasm. Most of the art that we have seen so far this semester has included representations of religious figures and stories, so iconoclasm has a huge effect on art, especially in Holland, where artists had to turn to the minor genres of portraiture, still-lives, landscapes and scenes of everyday life. However, although these paintings appear to be secular (non-religious), they still convey the moral values of Calvinism. Be able to discuss how Steen's scene of everyday life below acted as a warning about immoral behavior, and how still-lives such as Ruysch's work, below, at once celebrate the economic wealth gained by good moral/economic habits (frugality, industry, sobriety, etc.) and, through the inclusion of vanitas emblems or memento moris, demonstrate their owners' disdain for such wealth and concern for the afterlife.

Rembrandt: One of the few painters still doing directly religious painting in Calvinist Holland was Rembrandt; but even he did so with a Protestant twist. Know how Rembrandt adapted the 'humble realist' Baroque style to explore deeply-felt psychological states (both his own and those of the Judeo-Christian religion).


Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Dutch Baroque, c. 1665


Rachel Ruysch, Flower Still-Life, Dutch Baroque still-life, after 1700

Jan Steen, As the old sing, so pipe the young, Dutch Baroque genre painting, c. 1670

Aelbert Cuyp, The Maas at Dordrecht, Dutch Baroque landscape, c. 1660