CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Representation and regulation: 17th-century economics in the Dutch Republic

symposium: 12 November 2004

University information

To register please contact Jantine Beuvens.


09:00 – 09:30 Coffee, introduction

Session 1: Gambles and ‘calculated’ risks
Chair: Kees Boterbloem, Nipissing University, Northern Ontario
09:30 – 10:00 Marieke de Goede, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Dutch fortunes: representing credit in the 17th-century Dutch Republic
10:00 – 10:30 Anne Goldgar, King’s College, Tulipmania: myth and reality
10:30 – 11:00 Coffee break

Session 2: More risks and calculations
Chair: David Barton, University of Taiwan

11:00 – 11:30 Joyce Goggin, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Representing the Dutch 17th century: tulip fever, gambling and speculation
11:30 – 12:00 Gerda Reith, University of Glasgow, TBA
12:00 – 13:30 Lunch break

Session 3: Representing the 17th century’s economic others
Chair: Sophie Berrebi, Universiteit van Amsterdam
13:30 – 14:00 Tony Kelly, University of London, Tricksters, vagrants and outsiders: economic delinquents in painting
14:00 – 14:30 Tom Nichols, University of Aberdeen, The mirror of idleness: mimesis and ideology in Dutch beggar imagery of the seventeenth century
14:30- 15:00 Coffee break

Session 4: Painting and the market
Chair: Rachel Esner, Universiteit van Amsterdam
15:00 – 15.30 Elmer Kolfin, Universiteit van Amsterdam, A merry company for a living: the case of Anthony Palamedesz (1601-1678)
15:30 – 16:00 Marten Jan Bok, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Merry Companies: admiration and acquisition

Session 5: Narrative in the 17th century
Chair: Marieke de Goede, Universiteit van Amsterdam
16:00 – 16:30 Kees Boterbloem, Nipissing University, Northern Ontario, Early modern Dutch identity: Jan Janszoon Struijs and his three calamitous journeys
16:30 – 17:00 Frans Blom, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Wealth and social limitations: the rise of Huygens’ dynasty in the Republic
17:00 – 17:15 Closing remarks


Dutch fortunes: representing credit in the 17th-century Dutch Republic, by Marieke de Goede, Universiteit van Amsterdam

This paper will critically examine 17th century representations of credit in the Dutch Republic. In literature on financial history, 17th-century Holland is widely considered as being at the forefront of the development of modern instruments of credit. However, many historical accounts engage in what Foucault has called ‘retrospective reading’, which represents modern practices as springing up, logically and fully developed, in the landscape of the Middle Ages. In contrast, this paper will be attentive to the intense controversies and political debates surrounding the new instruments of credit. It is in light of these contests that we need to interpret satirical and artistic representations of credit. The paper will offer a reinterpretation of the infamous ‘Tulip Bubble,’ not as one of the first modern financial crises, but as a political struggle over the proper meanings, legitimacy and possibilities of the new secondary markets in shares and credit. Cultural representations of speculation during the bubble played an important role in making sense of the new credit structures, and the emerging sphere of financial regulation cannot be considered in isolation from these representations.

Tulipmania: myth and reality, by Anne Goldgar, King’s College London

The tulip craze of the 1630s remains one of the most picturesque and one of the most famous events in Dutch history, particularly for those outside the Netherlands. Popular writers and scholars alike have told a fairly consistent story about tulipmania, involving a semi-hysterical enthusiasm for flowers, a temporary social inversion resulting from the rapid enrichment of craftsmen, and, ultimately, a devastating crash in prices. But is this image accurate? This paper discusses the passage of stories down through the centuries and uses archival materials to examine their validity. It argues that nearly everything we think we know about tulipmania is in fact untrue.

Representing the Dutch 17th century: tulip fever, gambling and speculation, by Joyce Goggin, Universiteit van Amsterdam

My paper will discuss the strategic placement of reproductions of 17th-century genre and still-life painting in Deborah Moggach’s “Tulip Fever”. Since the novel is about ‘speculation’ on tulip bulb futures in 1634 and various forms of gambling at that critical juncture in the development of instruments of credit, the novel serves as a contemporary commentary on the invention of credit in relation to games of chance. As a present-day view of credit and gaming in the Dutch Republic, I will investigate how the novel’s enthusiastic reception falls in with the logic of marketing of the 17th century as a cultural product in the present, based on a perceived similarity between the relationship of gambling to speculation and credit, now and in the past.

Tricksters, vagrants and outsiders: economic delinquents in painting, by Tony Kelly, University of London

‘Regulation’ can be taken as a keyword for the study of Dutch society in the 17th century, when full participation in this society depended on conformity to the burgher values of economic productivity and stable domesticity, preferably within the family. Studies of poor relief show highly-regulated urban communities, characterized by a concern with boundaries, social control and criteria for inclusion/exclusion. Any form of itinerancy tended to be treated as vagrancy, usually punished by expulsion, so that vagrants were actually produced by the system. Vagrancy was evidence of economic delinquency, and thus the negation of the domestic, the subject of so many genre paintings. Most painters ignored this aspect of Dutch society. Striking exceptions were the aggressively comic images of Adriaen van de Venne. These images also illustrate a perception which was common throughout Europe during the early modern period: the fear of an ‘anti-society’ of vagrants and outsiders which threatened the security of urban middle-class society. Other painters were attracted by a different type of delinquency shown on the margins of burgher society, in a kind of alternative economy inhabited by tricksters and reprobates, exploiting the need for services, which the regulated economy could not supply. Cardsharps, pickpockets, cheats and fortune-tellers appear to have fascinated both painters and their middle-class customers, prompting questions about the market for such images. Marginality here appears more subtle than Vandenbroeck’s ‘negative self-image’, based on the socio-economic polarization between burghers and marginals. Instead we find a symbiotic relationship, since the demand for services such as fortune telling could only be met by outsiders such as gypsies. Unlike vagrants, the delinquents involved in the marginal economy form an ‘interface’ with burgher society, and offer insights into its repressions and contradictions. Likewise, the provision of illicit sexual services often forms the pictorial context for associated indulgence in drinking and gambling, easily exploited by enterprising thieves and tricksters. Class and gender issues arise from some paintings, as well as questions concerning the relationship between representation and social reality. Many of the images are comic, and can be seen as an escape from the restrictions of a tightly regulated society, but may also have been a means of exploring social and ethical boundaries. Among painters whose works will be examined are Adriaen van de Venne, Dirck van Baburen, Jan Miense Molenaer, Jacob Duck and Caspar Netscher.

The mirror of idleness: mimesis and ideology in the Dutch beggar image, by Tom Nichols, University of Aberdeen

This paper takes its title from Jan van de Velde’s cycle of prints featuring beggars and other roguish types published in 1633 (De Spiegel..der ijdelheyd). This series is one example of the burgeoning genre of beggar print cycles produced in Holland from the 1630s through to the 1650s, inspired (at least in general terms) by Jacques Callot’s Les Gueux (1622). The cycles by Frederick Bloemaert, Joris van Vliet, Pieter Quast and Gilles van Scheyndel have been analyzed in exemplary fashion by Lucinda Reinold in a study dating from 1981. Reinold successfully placed the cycles within the wider iconographic context of an ongoing tradition of rogue or false beggar imagery with its origins in the didactic art of Hieronymous Bosch.
My own analysis in this paper will focus more specifically on the question of the relation between style and subject within this imagery.

Van de Velde’s title offers to encompass both these aspects, indicating the mirror-like objectivity of his stylistic presentation while at the same time giving a clear indication of the moral depravity (or ‘idleness’) of his beggar subjects. The idea of art as a mirror was, of course, a wholly conventional metaphor for its imitative function from the fifteenth century onwards. The idea of beggars as ‘idle’ was equally conventional, based as it was on the notion that such rogues voluntarily chose the easy or ‘luxurious’ way of the beggar over the life of work, as ordained by God following man’s fall from paradise. What is more revealing is the casual and uncomplicated manner in which van de Velde combines the aesthetic topos of ‘objective’ naturalism with the use of art as a didactic or ideological tool for the exposure of moral weakness and failing.

This paper will argue that the rhetoric describing art in terms of mirror-like objectivity or lifelikeness served, in this context, as a kind of legitimating mask for ideology, making it appear as relatively value-free. Close attention to the ‘given’ and the real in the accidental forms of nature served to disguise the connotative meanings of the false beggar image. This approach had, of course, long been an aspect of the favoured practice of disguising symbolism beneath the naturalistic veil in the northern Renaissance tradition. In beggar images from the sixteenth century by artists such as Lucas van Leyden and Roleandt Savery style was similarly linked to subject, the closely descriptive style lending socially coded imagery the authority of the ‘natural’. Rembrandt’s naturalism has often been linked to his supposedly humane and non-didactic approach to the beggar subject. Noting the stylistic similarities between Rembrandt’s etchings and drawings devoted to this subject and those of the beggar print cycles, this paper will challenge the favoured sentimental ‘humanist’ reading. But it will also be noted that Rembrandt simultaneously undermined the conventional satirical-didactic response to such subjects, or at least rendered it ambiguous. In doing so, he drew on the other great tradition of beggar representation in early modern European art which showed the beggar in the role of the exalted sanctus pauper.

A merry company for a living: the case of Anthony Palamedesz (1601-1673), by Elmer Kolfin, Universiteit van Amsterdam

In the seventeenth century there were essentially three ideas about painting as a social activity. It could be regarded as merely pleasant, honourable or profitable. Then as now the last idea was considered the least lofty at least, in classical art theory. However, painters in the Dutch Republic had their own ideas and theory was easily made to conform to practice, which meant that most painters painted for a living. It would seem logical to assume that this condition largely determined a painter’s oeuvre, yet how such a prosaic process exactly took shape has seldom been the focus of art historical research. This paper sets out to do just that, taking as a case in point a so called minor master of which the Dutch Republic had so many, namely Anthony Palamedesz (1601-1673).
Palamedesz lived and worked all of his life in Delft where he produced mainly merry companies, guardroom scenes and portraits. I will try to define the relation between the development of Palamedesz’ oeuvre and his need to survive economically in a highly dynamic and competitive art market. Three elements will be investigated: Palamedesz’ choice of subject matter, his artistic relation to his colleagues and Palamedesz’ production process. Finally the success of his strategies will be examined, providing a ground for reflections on the relation between art theory and the practice of painting.

Merry companies: admiration and acquisition, by Marten Jan Bok, Universiteit van Amsterdam

The economic history of the Dutch art market and more specifically, the market for paintings in the Dutch Golden Age has become an important focus of attention for economic historians and art historians alike. In a previously unheard of collaboration, they have been working together to unravel its mechanisms. Today, however we know much more about the supply side of this market than about the origins of the extraordinary demand for paintings in the Dutch Republic. This paper concentrates on the—at times—extraordinary ways by which suppliers of paintings tried to induce the Dutch consumers to acquire paintings for the decoration of their homes. Art dealers organized lotteries, raffles, arching contests and auctions, all of which brought together crowds of people who were just as interested in the pleasure of attending these festivities, as they were in acquiring works of art.
In this paper I will attempt to determine to what extent such activities may have played a role in shaping public debate about art and in fostering a taste for paintings. Did they play a role identical to that of the French ‘salons’ and the English coffees houses or are we confronted with a phenomenon that was unique for the Dutch Republic?

Early modern Dutch identity: Jan Janszoon Struijs and his three calamitous journeys, by Kees Boterblom, Nipissing University

In Gulliver’s travels, Jonathan Swift depicts seamen as desperate social misfits yet even though the sailors of the Dutch Golden Age were subject to the vagaries of the global economy and worked in a particularly dangerous occupation, they occasionally enjoyed an exceptional possibility to climb the social ladder in the Republic, as the cases of the elder Tromp and of de Ruyter show. Dutch sailors had the additional option of escaping the restrictions of the limitations imposed upon them by their society by finding employment in ‘foreign’ service.
While the denizens of the United Provinces may have developed an allegiance to their country that had modern overtones, for sailors such as Jan Struys the necessity of providing for their daily bread overrode any national allegiance, as evidenced by his enlistment, as a middle-aged husband and father, to serve the Russian tsar in the late 1660s. This then is how Jan Struys participated in capitalism’s developing international labour market and after experiencing harrowing calamities, Struys returned home to relate an account of his travels, which found its way into print in 1676. It became an international bestseller, giving its author a measured celebrity, and its sales are evidence of the gradual emergence of the traits of a modern economy orientated toward capitalism and consumerism.

Wealth and social limitations: the rise of the Huygens dynasty in the Republic, by Frans Blom, Universiteit van Amsterdam

As new comers to Dutch society, the Huygens family managed to achieve a formidable status in a relatively short period of time. Their status was reinforced by the enormous capital that they were able to acquire and accumulate in hard currency as well as in real estate and art. At the same time, the Huygens fabulous fortune provided them entry into fashionable society and provided them with a broad network of influential friends.
My contribution to Representation and Regulation will begin with an examination of factors that facilitated the Huygens family’s tremendous capital gains. I will then investigate the manner in which the family dealt with their newfound status: How, for example, did these new cultural and financial magnates relate to the notion of being fabulously wealthy? How did they disseminate the secret of their wealth? And more importantly, how did the Huygens represent and display their wealth in society?