Determined to make the most out of our Van Art Gallery membership, Sara and I went to see the exhibition of the Dutch Masters this week. Although we were a little disappointed to see only one Vermeer painting (“The Love Letter”, pictured above), I had never been around such a large collection of Renaissance-era art. All of it came from one century-long period of history called “The Golden Age”. It started when seven provinces of the Netherlands rebelled against their Spanish oppressors, and ended in a disastrous war against an international coalition consisting of England, France, and several other European city states. During that time they produced innovations in Art, Science, and Economics that are still in use today.
The only art history course I ever took in University was in Modern Art at SFU. Every piece we looked at seemed to be about the deconstruction, emancipation, or the questioning of history, sexuality and culture in general. The paintings and sculptures all seemed to be created in response to a particular interpretation of reality, rather than just interpreting what was out there. With the Dutch Masters, they were part of a country that had just popped into being with the signature of the Union of Utrecht. They were more concerned with committing their images to history, rather than simply trying to impress other artists. Because of the outpouring of wealth from the trade missions, men of business were now displayed in portraits alongside Kings and Queens. There were scenes of battle, daily life, and old married couples holding hands. To these people, art was synonymous with life.
Today, creating an image is a simple matter of pressing a button on a camera. It’s easy to get worried that your picture isn’t very good, especially when you have people like the Dutch Masters showing up other periods of art history. Still, when you consider all the paintings the Dutch made, and all their other accomplishments during that brief period of history, sometimes it is just enough to be alive and to have that simple wish to be counted.