Dutch Old Master Treatise

The Golden Age of Dutch painting occurred in the 16th to 18th centuries when artists from the Netherlands were at the height of their influence in the art world. The term “Dutch Old Masters” refers to the significant artists of this period. Gerrit Dou, Rembrandt, Jan van Huysum, Rubens, Vermeer, Jacob van Ruisdael and Jan Davidsz de Heem were some of the major painters. Still life with fruit and flowers, religious themes, landscapes and genre painting – everyday scenes of life - were popular subject matter with Dutch and Flemish painters.

Dutch painters were trying to create highly realistic, detailed and refined illusions of real life. In their elaborate floral and fruit still lifes, they often added small touches to simulate a life experience such as a drop of dew glistening on a leaf or the presence of a tiny insect. Religion was a strong influence, infusing a moral undertone with the idea that earthly things are transient. Landscapes depicted illusions of great space and distance with the focal point on the light of a dawning day or on stormy darkening skies.

The Dutch Old Master style of painting often used a limited palette, dark backgrounds, richly toned colors with rhymically balanced compositions. To pull the focal point of a still life forward into more light and clear focus, vibrant colors were used while sinking the background into dark shadows. Nearly everything in Dutch paintings is in clear focus. Still life objects are set up at eye level, giving them the appearance of being even closer to the viewer.

Trompe l’Oeil paintings (fool the eye), were thought to have been used as a teaching tool. ‘Trompe’ paintings were obviously entertaining for both the artist and the viewer, the idea of pulling off an illusion of three dimensional reality on a flat canvas or panel was quite enjoyable! This technique within the Dutch Old Masters period was popularized by artists Gerrit Dou, Jan Gossaert, Samuel van Hoogstraten and Cornelius Gijsbrechts to name a few. Trompe l’Oeil is a form of still life employing perspective, color, texture, form and light painted so skillfully as to deceive the viewer into believing he is looking at the real thing.

by Cynthia McBride

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