To see how some of the Dutch cities featured in the exhibition have changed since the 17th century, click on one of the six paintings below and compare it with a contemporary photograph taken from the same viewpoint.
In the 17th century the Dutch took enormous pride in their cities. The Dutch Republic boasted dozens, each distinctive in history and character, from elegant Dordrecht, the oldest in the province of Holland, and Haarlem, with its great cathedral, St. Bavo, to The Hague, seat of Dutch government, and Amsterdam, the grandest and most dynamic of them all. Dutch cities experienced unprecedented prosperity during this period, with international trade and the arts flourishing even as the republic successfully fought for independence from oppressive Spanish rule.
The Dutch were the first to formulate the cityscape as an independent genre. Civic officials commissioned these scenes to record their town's historic towers and spires, as well as the stately new buildings and imposing bulwarks that reflected municipal wealth and authority. Residents bought portraits of their cities on the open market and proudly displayed them in their homes. In such paintings, the thriving urban environment is remarkably pristine, with few hints of the more troublesome aspects of living in a crowded space. Rather, artists captured panoramic skylines from afar, painted scenes of historical events, and portrayed idealized views of town squares and urban streets. Their works provide insight into the beauty and spirit of Dutch cities in the Golden Age.