Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age

Exhibition: 31 October 2014 - 15 February 2015

Information from the museum, 1 October 2013

The Szépművészeti Múzeum is a national collection of fine arts which achieved an international importance by the purchase of the Prince Esterházy gallery in 1871. Ever since then, seventeenth-century Dutch painting has been one of the strongest focus points within its scope. This ensemble of Dutch old master paintings ranks among the most important over the world: its five hundred works by seventeenth-century artists is the world’s fourth largest array outside Holland. It is regularly represented by its major pieces at the special exhibitions devoted to the period, in Europe and overseas alike.

Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age seeks to throw light on this substantial unit of the collections of the Old Masters’ Gallery. Based on the highlights of our own collection, we intend to provide an introduction to the strikingly rich artistic culture of the “Dutch Golden Age”. The exhibition will form part of our much acclaimed series of imposing shows which survey one of the greatest periods of European art, respectively. Following displays of the Spanish school (2006), the Italian Renaissance (2009), and the Italian Baroque (2013), we will now make an attempt to once again open the Hungarian public’s eyes to the exceptional greatness and impressive versatility of the Dutch Golden Age, one of the summits of European civilization.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, we have been able to gain the enthusiastic and most precious support of the leading public art collections from all over the world. We are proud to announce that exceptionally numerous masterpieces will be lent to the exhibition by the two chief partners: the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam and the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm. Nevertheless, we could not achieve the outstandingly rich and insightful line of 150 masterpieces without the generous support of several other international partners, either. Among the public collections of the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Museum, the Frans Hals Museum (Haarlem), the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal (Leiden), and the Dordrechts Museum will contribute major loans. Several works by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (about fifteen) will be generously lent by, among others, the National Gallery (London), the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna), the Alte Pinakothek (Munich), the Hunterian Art Gallery (Glasgow), as well as an acclaimed private collector of New York. To our greatest delight, we will have the exceptional opportunity to present a few of the extremely rare works by Jan Vermeer van Delft, too, which will be made possible by the maganimity of the Musée du Louvre (Paris) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

Still, the exhibition will not be limited to the two best-known artists; but, along the lines of the carefully drawn concept, we will display the works of several other major artists of the period as well, such as Frans Hals, Judith Leyster, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Gerard Dou, Aelbert Cuijp, Pieter de Hooch, Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerard ter Borch, Pieter Saenredam, Pieter Claesz., Willem Kalf, Jan Lievens, etc. Further lenders include, for example, the National Gallery of Art (Washington), the Museo del Prado (Madrid), the Národní Galerie (Prague), and the Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence).

Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age will be segmented into seven thematic units. Relying on works by the greatest masters, the display will provide an insight into the rise and riches of a nation that achieved its independence in a tough struggle. We will focus on the prosperity of the citizens and their views about the world, religion and family; the joys of urban and rural life; the beauty of landscape and objects; the closer and wider environment. We will seek to explore the dual role of the painter as chroniclers of everyday life and at the same time conveyors of moral lessons for the appreciative public.

The first part, which will outline the historical background, will depart from images of naval battles. The role of William the Silent will be evoked by two images of his tomb. This unit will also include allegories on the Twelve Years’ Truce of 1609 and the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, as well as on the triumph of the colonization.

The second unit will unfold the genre of Dutch portraiture, with images of the rich and self-confident bourgeoisie, group portraits of various military companies and professional groups, as well as either representative or intimate images of couples or families.

The third unit will focus on the riches, and their versatile imaging in the arts: in still lifes delighting the senses with the sensual representation of sumptuous vessels, fruit and flowers. The joys of life are captured by images of merry companies banqueting in luxurious environments; of youths boozing or smoking; as well as of the merry days of peasants. Yet in the Calvinist thought the delights are always accompanied by the thoughts of retribution; life’s transience is conveyed by various images that play on the vanitas theme.
The fourth unit will be devoted to religious art, Protestant and Catholic images alike, illustrating the fact that in this liberal state Catholics were free to practise their rites in spite of the Protestant dominance. The humanization of Biblical subjects emerged in the works of Rembrandt, and eventually achieved wide prominence.

In the fifth unit, we will focus on Rembrandt and his impact in the context of contemporary Dutch art. We will throw light on the inventions that his Amsterdam master, Pieter Lastman, introduces into the representation of Biblical subjects, as well as the impact of Rembrandt’s compositions and chiaroscuro on his later pupils. His superb portraiture will be represented by four self-portraits and, among others, the enchanting Kitchen Maid from Stockholm.

Cities and urban life will be evoked in the sixth unit. As maritime industry and commerce flourished, cities achieved a more and more prominent role in the Netherlands’ economical, political, and cultural life, and an urban lifestyle evolved. This novel lifestyle is evinced in the everyday scenes of churches, markets, stock exchanges, synagogues, and the views of townhouses and homes along the canals.

The closing section will be devoted to Dutch landscape painting, a genre particularly richly represented in our own collections. The phenomenon called ‘Dutch realism’ perhaps manifests itself the most directly in landscapes: the key of naturalist landscape painting is the painters’ objective approach. These paintings present an extraordinary variety of the spacious and plain lands ripped by waters, scrubby dunes, and cloudy skies of this tiny country.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated, major catalogue, written by eminent international scholars.


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