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The Dutch Republic of the 17th Century

The 17th century for Europe is the era of large kingdoms such as Poland, France, and England. Against this background, the Dutch Republic stood out both territorially, having much less land, and in terms of its structure. Unlike other countries, it did not have any absolute ruler. Instead, the political power rested with merchants and various product manufacturers. Most of it was concentrated in the province of Holland, namely in Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Delft. Thanks to access to the sea and the establishment of trade relations, this country created a prosperous economy, combined with a high standard of living. A different political and social structure allowed the active development of many areas that in other countries were more constrained, for example, art.

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The main reason for the more active development and dissemination of various forms of art, including painting, in the first place, is the wealth of the Dutch. As history shows, rich people and organizations such as the church often sponsored artists’ work. The Dutch, in this context, was the financial center of Europe, which gave many opportunities for the various wealthy patrons’ emergence. However, it must be considered that the social changes affected both the upper and the middle classes. Previously, art was considered the prerogative of only the privileged members of society. In the Dutch Republic, a person of average income could also become a collector of paintings thanks to the economy’s expansion. Their cost was meager than in other countries, significantly contributing to their distribution.

An essential role in the sale of paintings and their value was played by the fact that the artists produced many copies of the same piece. Consequently, the art lost its uniqueness, and because of this, the price decreased. This changed the way art was sold, while various genre scenes and interior paintings could circulate in huge numbers through anonymous markets. Such methods differed from Italy and Spain, which focused on large-scale religious works, massive ceiling frescoes, and expensive oil paintings. The increase in those wishing to purchase art gave rise to fundamental changes in the way artists communicate with customers. They used various sales methods depending on specialization and opportunity, contacting customers directly, using lotteries and exhibitions, and even paying off debts with works of art. All of this created a massive flow of art, making it even more accessible and forcing artists to continue to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace.

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