The Dutch Republic and American Independence

By Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt; Herbert H. Rowen | Go to book overview

Prologue

Holland is altogether different from any other part of the globe.

LORD AUCHINLECK

They are not airy enough for joy, nor warm enough for love.

ABIGAIL ADAMS

AN we imagine a more harmonious reality than that presented to us by Dutch painters of the eighteenth century in their vivid paintings? It seems a world washed clean, where everything is sparkling and bright; white clouds sail by over the wide landscape that swarms with plump cattle, or they are mirrored in the canals of the cities, where everything breathes neatness and industry. In a word, it is a world that has long basked in pleasant peace, from which all pain and passion have been banned, a bourgeois world in the best sense of the term.

Art historian Anthony Staring has suggested that this Dutch harmony, this calm and purity, was the result of great changes in the political life of the Republic. 1 The country was no longer what it had been in the seventeenth century, a great power with the passions, bravado, and international involvement that came with being a great power. It was a country that had made its fortune and was living on its investments (indeed, making investments was its greatest concern); it lived with what was within reach, not beyond the horizon, and with aims that could be fixed and counted. It is probable, as another art historian has written, that the mantle of the Baroque was a bit too heavy for Dutch shoulders, and that this attitude of acceptance of reality brought with it not only loss but a gain in a wise return to what was their own self. "In its satisfaction with the world as it is, Dutch art showed a preference for order, neatness and regularity; it lacked burning passion, the exaltation of a fiery faith, and the extremes of doubt." 2

The painters' intention, so it was said, was only to reproduce the

-3-

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