Two Republics: 17th Century Dutch &
19th Century American Art for the Common Man
Object information:
Map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands
1658
Joannes (or Johannes) Janssonius
part of his collection Belgii Foederati Nova Descriptio
Courtesy Archieven.nl Oude

The Dutch Republic was a federation of the seven northern Protestant provinces of the Netherlands: Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Friesland, Overijssel, Groningen, and Holland, the largest and most important. In 1579 they formed the Union of Utrecht and then declared independence from Catholic Spain in 1581; after seventy years of sporadic fighting, full independence was finally achieved in 1648. The Republic implemented an unusual mode of government: a loose federation of autonomous entities led by provincial executives and city leaders, which gave the union the character of a league of city-states or city-regions.

The seventeenth century in the Dutch Republic is known as the Gouden Eeuw or "Golden Age." Standing at the mouth of the Rhine, the northern Netherlands had been a prosperous trading center for quite some time, and during the seventeenth century the Dutch expanded their commerce worldwide. Dutch ships transported the goods of many other countries, and the Republic's religious toleration appealed to immigrants who brought their skills to the Netherlands. Capitalizing on native and international resources, the Dutch Republic developed into a global empire, a hub of international finance, and a cultural capital of Europe. This massive growth in commerce and trade led to the rise of a class of successful merchants, called regenten or "regents," who began to dominate local and national politics and culture. The newly wealthy families created massive profits within one generation and therefore had disposable income to spend and the desire to display their affluence through building city mansions and country estates, acquiring luxurious objects, wearing expensive clothing, and commissioning portraits.

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