In the 17th century, global commerce fueled the economy of the Netherlands and sparked an artistic boom. Dutch merchants sailed from Amsterdam and other ports across seas and oceans, joining trade networks that stretched from Asia to the Americas and Africa. This unprecedented movement of goods, ideas, and people, both free and enslaved, gave rise to what some have called the first age of globalization. Prosperous citizens commissioned and collected art in great volume and the artistic high points of this period continue to be deeply admired today.
A suite of seven renovated galleries at the MFA will employ up-to-date research to explore the nexus between art, commerce, and science in the Dutch Republic and Flanders. Nearly 100 paintings by the greatest masters—including Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Gerrit Dou, Frans Hals, and Anthony van Dyck—plus works on paper and decorative arts such as silver and Delft ceramics represent this rich visual culture. Organized thematically, the installation examines a variety of subjects: women artists and patrons; the growth of a modern art market; and the unexpected connection between still life paintings, the sugar trade, and slavery. Among the many highlights are Rembrandt’s moving Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh (1632), a Dutch doll’s house filled with nearly 200 miniature furnishings, and an early self-portrait by Van Dyck posing as Icarus, painted when the artist was just 19 years old.
The opening of the new galleries celebrates the launch of the Center for Netherlandish Art (CNA), an innovative center for scholarship housed at the MFA and the first resource of its kind in the US. The CNA was established with initial endowment funds from Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie, given as part of a landmark 2017 gift that also included many of the paintings on view in the installation.