Window onto the Baroque (temporary collection presentation)
Poetry of the Sea
In the 17th century, wind and water were the lifeblood of the Netherlands. Large merchant ships traversed the oceans. Loaded with goods and slaves from the colonies, they brought vast wealth to the young republic whose dominance was secured by a powerful navy. The rivers and canals teemed with barges and ferries. Fishing provided food and income. Lakes were drained to create pasture land and much-needed space to house the steadily growing population. Dams, dikes and water pumps powered by windmills protected the country from waves and storms.
Art and culture reflected the pride in these successes, as well as an awareness of the dangers of the natural forces. The maritime world was the subject of countless books, poems, nautical maps, prints and paintings aimed to instruct, entertain or moralise.
Within the baroque concept of the transience of earthly joys, seafaring was a symbol of life’s journey and the vicissitudes of fortune. Waves symbolised certain emotional states, so for example a stormy sea represented the pangs of love.
Unlike traditional seafaring nations such as England or Spain, in the Netherlands marine painting flourished early. Its stylistic devices – the low horizon, colours muted by the salty sea air and the broad view of the water – revolutionised landscape art. Numerous artists specialised in the marine genre. They devoted themselves to the fairytale exoticism of distant shores, as well as the familiar polders and ports of the Netherlands. They captured waves, clouds and ships with great naturalism. But in the motifs and compositions they reveal artistic imagination and poetic mise-en-scène. Displayed here for the first time, the seascapes from a private collection in Cologne give a rich insight into this "invented reality".
The model of a Dutch two-decker from 1660/70 (Maritiem Museum Rotterdam) and the illustrated history of seafaring in verse, written by Elias Herckmans in 1634 (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud), complement the exhibition.