The exhibition explains how the Netherlands came to be a maritime nation, and tells the story of the Republic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through more than 50 masterpieces. The Main Gallery is the new starting point for visits to the museum and highlights the strong connection between the maritime world and Dutch society over the centuries.
Many Dutch cities experienced great growth in the seventeenth century. Amsterdam developed into an important port with connections all over the world. While the nobility and the church still controlled almost everything elsewhere in Europe, it was the merchants who were pulling the strings in the Low Countries. They traded in every corner of the world, helping to increase their homelands’ prosperity.
Global trade also led to the emergence of a maritime culture. Water played a big role in the lives of many inhabitants of the Dutch Republic. Merchants, admirals, and captains commissioned artists to produce paintings of their ships on distant shores or during successful naval battles. A new genre of painting emerged: marine art.
The great prosperity also had an uglier side. The ships of the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company literally had to fight their way to Asia and the Americas. The economic growth of the Dutch Republic came at the expense of the welfare of people elsewhere in the world and ultimately led to colonial oppression and the slave trade. The exhibition includes a porcelain figurine of an African man. This Chinese-made figurine was commissioned by a European (circa 1720). The figure features various elements typical of the Chinese style, such as the skirt and the lotus leaf, while the sun depicted on his forehead is a reference to the African continent. However, the golden collar around the figure's neck is a clear European reference to slavery.
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