CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

The original truth of black and white: a view of the Dutch and Flemish prints collection from the National Museum in Belgrade

Exhibition: 18 May - 19 June 2011

Information from the museum, 17 May 2011

The Graphic Art Cabinet of the National Museum in Belgrade keeps a collection of two hundred and twenty graphic sheets produced in the print shops of the Netherlands, Holland and Flanders in the period from the early 16th to the 18th century. Together with other one hundred graphic prints from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century from the Netherlands and about fifty from Belgium this rather small assemblage – particularly in comparison with the graphic art production in this part of Europe – is still specific in its own way.

The collection has been assembled gradually since the 1930s. The first acquisitions were an engraving by Johan Sadeler – The Last Supper – and nine sheets with representations of the holy martyrs and The Annunciation by Hendrik Goltzius. The most prints were bought from private owners in the period between 1949 and 1967.

Forty–five graphic prints have been chosen for the exhibition The Original Truth of Black and White. A View of the Dutch and Flemish Prints Collection from the National Museum in Belgrade. They are a representative sample of the collection and will be shown to the public for the first time.

Graphic prints were the first works of art that could satisfy a lasting human urge – the desire for projection which, according to Edgar Morin, represents a particular aspect of human progress.

If we assume that this hypothesis is correct, then the scenes signed by Jan and Andreas Both, Andreas van Ostade, Emil Luca Vorsterman I or Jacobus Herrewijn, could be interpreted as doubled images of reality. Notwithstanding their differences by which they show and prove the stylistic divergence immanent to the Baroque, they also depict real situations with recognizable elements so that the audience can identify, but they are also very specific because their interpreter was the engraver.

Starting from the level of meaning, the genre scenes and landscapes can be understood as precursors of photography: they satisfy, on the one hand, the need to possess a part of reality and on the other, to experience it more forcefully.

In their etchings the Dutch graphic artists varied the possibilities of the Baroque concept of light and shadow. Their experiments showed that graphic art carried in its genome the potential of what Roland Barthes called „the original truth of black and white“.

Graphic art always requires an appropriate cultural and economic environment such as the one in the Netherlands (Holland and Flanders) at the beginning of early modern age. Owing to this, graphic art was fashioned as a complex tool of visual expression with many significant meanings, and also as a new and essential means of social communication. If we tried from this temporal distance and on the examples of Dutch and Flemish graphic prints to comprehend the significance of this art and medium, we could perceive that it has been firmly involved in a broader context of its time, becoming a referential value for the image a society has about itself. In its thematic and iconographic scope, the graphic print is an all encompassing, total picture of a certain time.