Holland had Europe’s wealthiest trade empire in the 17th century. In this era, Dutch art and architecture maintained a balance between grandeur on the one hand and down-to-earth realism, sometimes austerity, on the other. This dichotomy probably derived from the coexistence of Imperial wealth and sombre Calvinism. Amsterdam’s magnificent Baroque architecture is disciplined, far less florid than its Italian counterpart. Fine merchant houses, many with intricate gables, line Amsterdam’s canals. Scholars believe that the tree lined thoroughfares between its houses and canals inspired Parisian Boulevards. Rembrandt’s house, although not on a canal, is a fine example of a Baroque merchant palace.
The importance of Holland’s maritime trade empire and seafaring in general is reflected in the proliferation of fine 17th-century painted seascapes. Meanwhile, having wrested much land from the sea, the Dutch gave special meaning to landscape. The wonderful landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael, Salomon van Ruysdael, Meindert Hobbema, Aelbert Cuyp and many others influenced English painting. Holland’s wonderful art collections celebrate these and other masters. Amsterdam’s recently restored Rijksmuseum has masterpieces by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rubens, Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer. Its huge Rembrandt collection includes his great Night Watch, Isaac and Rebecca (The Jewish Bride) and The Syndics. Of the very few extant Vermeers, the Rijksmuseum has The Milkmaid, Woman Reading a Letter,View of Houses in Delft and The Love Letter. The Mauritshuis in Delft also has a marvellous collection, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earing and View of Delft and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholaes Tulp. Holland also has fine modern collections. Most famous is the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, with the world’s greatest Van Gogh collection. The Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, also has many fine Van Goghs, as well as 20th-century paintings and a fine sculpture park. Other excellent collections are the Stedelijk Museum with many Mondrians and Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Kunsthal. This city also has cutting-edge contemporary architecture.
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