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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

New Age of Portraiture in Dutch Painting

This online gallery supports the Museum of Fine Arts exhibition Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the age of Rembrandt and Vermeer October 11, 2015-January 18, 2015.


New Age of Portraiture


In the 17th century Dutch society, the meaning of portraiture was changing. Once reserved for royalty, portraits were emblematic of wealth and power within a social hierarchy. However a new wave of wealthy Dutch merchants and professionals redefined this tradition. Some citizens reinvented their social status through the talents of Frans Hals, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, and others.  The painting’s size, along with the sitter’s appearance, background, and details within the portrait elevated one’s status.

17th Century Dutch history indicates that the rise of the middle class during this “golden age” resulted from several factors. The Netherlands became an important country with its active ports and shipping industries. Trade between other European countries, the New Americas, and routes across the Baltic Sea created a constant stream of valuable goods to the Netherlands. The Dutch had agricultural goods, grains, cattle, and fish to exchange as well as textiles. As a republic, religious tolerance and quality of life drew migrants to port cities. The working class stretched over a range of jobs from wealthy merchants to more labor-intensive work.

Paintings became more commonplace across Dutch society. Once reserved for the wealthy or the church, the middle class also purchased landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings to hang in their homes.


Learning goals:

In exploring this lesson, students will:

·      Discover a variety of portrait styles within the Dutch republic

·      Explore how a new middle class of patrons used portraits to show their wealth and power

·      Learn stories of individuals within visual art

This discovery will require students to:

-Look closely at the compositions and make observations based on visual evidence. 

-Make connections between the visual art and the history that encompasses its creation


Using this resource: 

·      Visual Art teachers and students will be interested in loose brushwork of Hals and interpretation of sitter

·      Visual Art teachers will be interested in the unique style of Rembrandt

·      History teachers and students will be interested in Rembrandt and Hals’s depiction of historical figures

·      History teachers and students will be interested in the paintings connections to Dutch culture in the 17th century

 The objects in this lesson are just the beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web source—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this exhibition.

Sources: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Painting in the Dutch Golden Age: A profile of the Seventeenth Century –National Gallery of Art

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