From the museum’s press release, 20 July 2010
From 15 July, nine 17th-century cattle pieces from the Rijksmuseum will be on display at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol. Starring in the exhibition is the Dutch cow; brown, black, spotted, lying down or standing up. A symbol of prosperity, fertility and loyalty, cows have dominated the Dutch landscape for centuries and, since the 16th century, they have dominated Dutch paintings to a certain extent too.
Cows may originally only have been of interest to farmers, but in the 16th century this typically Dutch phenomenon also captured the imagination of painters and cows became a favourite subject for landscape artists. Grazers of the new land reclaimed from the sea and generators of income, cows embodied the growing wealth of the Golden Age. In earlier works such as those by Salomon van Ruysdael and Adriaen van de Velde, cows were primarily depicted as part of or decoration of the landscape. Gradually, however, they gained prominence in paintings, often depicted in pastures or on riverbanks, and in scenes in cowsheds by Roelant Savery and Govert Dircksz Camphuysen.
As producers of meat and milk, cows were an important source of food. A lot of money could be made from cattle and in the Golden Age the Dutch cattle breeding industry was the most significant in Europe. City dwellers wanted images of these lowing beasts – ‘the pride of the nation’ – in their own home and ordered paintings of farmhouses and actual portraits of cows by Aelbert Cuyp and Paulus Potter.