During the seventeenth century, the Netherlands-a small country with just two million inhabitants and virtually no natural resources-enjoyed a "Golden Age" of economic success, world power, and tremendous artistic output. In this book Michael North examines the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch society boasted Europe's greatest number of cities and highest literacy rate, unusually large numbers of publicly and privately owned art works, religious tolerance, and a highly structured and wide-ranging social network. He explores the reasons for the country's success in trade and industry as it emerged from the Eighty Years' War against Spain, and the ways that art played a role in the innovative climate of the times.
North looks at the practical aspects of this Golden Age-the banking system, demographic changes, and what made such industries as textiles and shipbuilding so successful. In this period commercialization not only had far-reaching effects on the economic life of the Netherlands, it also affected art, as market forces proved more powerful than patronage for the first time in Europe. With fascinating information about many artists, including Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Pieter de Hooch, North considers painting as a profession, the exhibitions and sales of art works (including the Dutch lottery system), auctions, and the prices that were paid for art. He compares the prices of different artistic genres and studies patterns of picture ownership. Through a close analysis of the private collection of Rembrandt's money lender, Harman Becker, North reveals the function served by works of art in Dutch households. This rich, in-depth view of the Dutch Golden Age will intrigue all readers with an interest in social, economic, or art history.