Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel

By Max J. Friedlænder | Go to book overview
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THE GEOGRAPHY OF NETHERLANDISH ART

WHEN we speak of Flemish and Dutch painting we mean the entire area--so rich in art during the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries--lying within the political boundaries of Belgium and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The contrast between Dutch and Flemish is especially clear in the painting of the seventeenth century and a comparison between the personalities of Rubens and Rembrandt imprints it firmly on our minds.

In the fifteenth century the dividing line is not equally clear. The political and religious differences were formed, or at least intensified, by the long wars of independence against the clerical and feudal domination of Spain. As a final result of these wars the Northern states, that is substantially the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands, became a self- contained Protestant community whilst the Southern provinces, that is substantially modern Belgium, remained orthodox and under Habsburg rule. In the South the doors were wide open to the influx of Latin culture; the North shut itself off with puritanical strictness and preserved its Germanic culture intact. In the fifteenth century the Netherlands were more of an entity with a uniform culture and the Germanic essence, blended it is true with Latin elements from France and Burgundy, flowed through the entire land. In their critical study of painting scholars have attempted, with some success, to discern even in the fifteenth century the contrast that was later to become so evident, but the scarcity of monuments in present-day Holland--a result of the iconoclasm of the sixteenth century--is a serious handicap.

To apply the term 'Flemish' to the Habsburg states in the South is not correct and posits a part for the whole. Strictly speaking this geographical concept embraces only the two counties of Flanders but leaves out Hainaut, Liège, Brabant and other parts which had a greater share in the art life of the non-Dutch Netherlands than had Flanders. It would be better to expand the concept Flemish, not incorrectly, and speak of the Southern Netherlands, modern Belgium, as opposed to the Northern Netherlands, modern Holland.

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