The Golden Age of 17th-Century Dutch Painting

Join us as we explore the genres of portraiture, still life and landscapes and discover the symbolism and allegories contained in these exquisite works of art.

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Course outline

Dutch painting flourished during the Golden Age of the 17th century, when Dutch trade and science were among the most acclaimed in the world. This course will discuss the major painters of the period – Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch and Franz Hals – and their sponsors. The question of how their art was socially and politically embedded in the 17th century will steer the progress of the course as well as critical analysis and discussion of the different genres (historical/biblical painting, landscape and cityscape, portraiture, still life and genre painting).

Different genres such as portraiture, still life or historical paintings often included allegories which carried symbolical meanings (e.g. a skull, an hourglass, a candle to symbolize death). Genre paintings of activities undertaken by people of all classes and social ranks give not only insight to the daily life of this time but also show a new confidence of the painters who regarded these themes worthwhile capturing. Nevertheless, these paintings often also contained a moralistic message or even illustrated Dutch proverbs and sayings. Large historical or Biblical scenes were produced less frequently than in other countries, where religious and noble patrons of art often sought to overwhelm the viewer.

Our study of Dutch art will be embedded in comparative studies of the other great centres of this time, from Bernini’s powerful commissions in Papal Rome, Anthony van Dyck’s portraits in Tudor England and Velazquez’ Spanish court portraits.

Dutch painters aimed to invoke emotion by letting the viewer to be a bystander at a scene of profound intimacy. Portrait painting in particular – mostly commissioned by wealthy tradesmen, politicians, etc. – thrived during this time. While portraits at the beginning of the 17th century were quite formally composed, the composition changed and became livelier during the second half of the century. In addition to portraiture, landscape painting was a major genre. While 16th century paintings were painted mostly in the artist’s studio, by the 17th century artists now started to capture landscapes more realistically with drawings made on site.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, students will be familiar with the key themes and major artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Students will be able to identify and differentiate major artists of this period. Students will demonstrate the ability to critically analyse these paintings in the social and political context in which they were produced.

Who should attend?

This course is designed for anyone interested in art history and those particularly interested in Dutch painting of this era. No prior knowledge is necessary.


  • 7 x Tuesdays 12:30 - 2:30pm, 16 February - 30 March
  • $245.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Linda Yang

Seminar presenter

Linda Yang

Linda Yang

Professional Teaching Fellowship

Linda Yang completed a Professional Teaching Fellowship in Art History at the University of Auckland, where she previously attained her Masters in Art History. Linda has also completed an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and was an Educator at the Auckland Art Gallery.

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