The Wonder of Everyday Life: Dutch Golden Age Prints
November 16, 2016–March 20, 2017
Stanford, California—The Cantor Arts Center is pleased to announce The Wonder of Everyday Life: Dutch Golden Age Prints, a major exhibition opening November 16 and running through March 20. The approximately 55 works on view, by Rembrandt van Rijn and his Dutch peers, were created during an extraordinary moment in the history of prints, when unprecedented economic prosperity and patronage elevated printmaking in the Dutch Republic during the 17th century, an era known as the Golden Age. While art imported from southern Europe and Dutch colonial outposts in Asia saturated the burgeoning market, newly wealthy collectors also demanded contemporary Dutch prints. Rembrandt and his peers responded with traditional biblical and mythological subjects, but also familiar landscapes and character studies inspired by daily life.
Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator of Drawings, Prints and Photographs, said, “These visionary artists held a mirror up to society, enabling the Dutch to contemplate their identity and values during a time of tremendous change. The resulting images are as psychologically engaging as they are beautiful.”
A hallmark of Golden Age prints is the emphasis—bordering on obsession—placed on depicting the material world. The images were often imagined scenes composed in the studio from previously observed vignettes. However, they so closely capture the details of Dutch culture as to feel like direct documentation. What’s more, the small scale of many prints meant that the viewer must physically engage with them—hold them close, feel the paper and smell the ink. These works inspired the public to regard visual art as capable of rivaling poetry at describing complex sensory and emotional experiences and helping people navigate spirituality’s role in a modern and affluent society.
Works in the show include portraits and self-portraits by Rembrandt that demonstrate how he revolutionized etching, using it with the intimacy and directness generally associated with drawing. Figure studies, such as Rembrandt’s well-known work The Pancake Woman (1635) and Adriaen van Ostade’s The Knife Grinder (1671), represent various trades and social types, and give descriptive attention to clothing and naturalistic gestures. A landscape Rembrandt created in 1641 captures the traditional architecture and the ways people lived in the areas outside Amsterdam, while landscapes by Anthonie Waterloo and Reinier Nooms demonstrate the Dutch fascination with manipulating light and dark to create visual drama.
Prints depicting disasters, which were very popular during the Golden Age, are also on display. Such images documented actual or imagined events while implying the thrill of disorder and danger, but at a safe distance. In an economy oriented around trade, the anxiety underpinning an image of men rescuing a ship in peril—Reinier Nooms’s Beached Ship (1652–54)—would have resonated with sailors and merchants. In Jan de Baen’s The Burning of the Town Hall in Amsterdam (1652), meanwhile, the primary light source is the raging fire that destroyed Amsterdam’s medieval town-hall building.
The exhibition’s religious subjects include Rembrandt’s Joseph Telling His Dreams (1638), wherein the artist used closely observed facial expressions and gestures to make the biblical narrative feel familiar and relatable. Rembrandt depicted the figures surrounding Joseph with a casual ease that echoes the interactions seen in the tavern scenes and other genre pictures on view in the exhibition. In The Star of the Kings: A Night Piece (1651), Rembrandt, inspired by Italian, Flemish and French Baroque painting, enhanced the psychological tension in the image by punctuating darkness with glimpses of bright light. The viewer’s attention is directed toward the somber faces of the participants in a Twelfth Night celebration preceding the Epiphany feast day, making this unremarkable event seem both humble and monumental.
The mezzotint process, an invention of the 17th century, is also represented in the exhibition. This process offered printmakers a completely different method for creating striking and visually naturalistic highlights. Revered for its fluid and painterly qualities, a mezzotint is printed from a copper plate that has been evenly roughened with a tool called a rocker. The artist then uses another tool with a flat end to smooth out the areas he wants to not hold ink and therefore appear white in the final image. To create One of the Crucified Thieves (after 1642), an unidentified artist deftly exploited the mezzotint’s capacity to express remarkable detail, as seen in the thief’s musculature and the texture of his hair.
The exhibition, on view in the Cantor’s Ruth Levison Halperin Gallery, is loosely organized into three sections: Life’s Rhythms and Rituals; Rembrandt: Faces and Shadows; and Science, Technology, and Nature. In addition to Jan de Baen, Reinier Nooms, Rembrandt van Rijn, Adriaen van Ostade and Anthonie Waterloo, artists represented are Cornelis Bega, Ferdinand Bol, Johannes Teyler, Wallerant Vaillant, Jan de Visscher and Claes Janszoon Visscher.
This exhibition is organized by the Cantor Arts Center. We gratefully acknowledge The Halperin Exhibitions Fund and The Burton and Deedee McMurtry Fund.
Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
Founded when the university opened in 1891, the museum was expanded and renamed in 1999 for lead donors Iris and B. Gerald Cantor. The Cantor’s collection spans 5,000 years and includes more than 38,000 works of art. Ranging from classical antiquities to contemporary works, the Cantor’s holdings include the largest collection of sculptures by renowned master Auguste Rodin in an American museum. With 24 galleries and more than 15 special exhibitions each year, the Cantor is one of the most visited university art museums in the country and is an established resource for teaching and research on campus. Free admission, tours, lectures, and family activities help the museum attract visitors from Stanford’s academic community, the San Francisco Bay Area, and from around the world.