Painting : mass production for a new market.
During the 17th century, the production of paintings in the Dutch republic was enormous. Estimated over 5 million works, by about 50.000 professional painters.
Only a fraction of the paintings survived time.
Production and prizes were such that for the first time in history, even modest people could afford to buy and decorate their house with a painting. Prints were of course much cheaper, mass-produced, and available for anyone.
To the astonishment of foreign visitors, like the Englishman Peter Mundy.
In 1640, when in Amsterdam, he recorded : " All in generall striving to adorne their houses, especially the outer or street roome, with costly peeces. Butchers and bakers not much inferior in their shoppes, ... , yea many tymes blacksmithes, coblers, etc, will have some picture or other by their forge and in their stalle."
Clearly, there was a market here, and customers, with painters supplying.
Generally they worked on demand. Although ready-made paintings could also be purchased on the regular open air markets.
Today we think of a painter as being an artist.
In those days a painter was primarily an artisan. With most painters sticking to a genre, making name in a specialty, to provide a specific segment of the market.
The majority of painters worked on their own, with one or two apprentices.
But it was broadly known, and accepted, that the workshop of successful painters looked like a conveyor belt producing paintings. Mates specializing in, for example, hands, lacework or backgrounds, with the master designing and overseeing, doing essential parts like faces, and of course, signing with his name, and collecting the money.
The genre "historical piece" was most prestigious for a painter. Biblical representations, mythology and allegory, history interpretations. And if the rich and famous commissioned their portrait.
A notorious representative of this category : Rembrandt in his heydays. When he was acclaimed, respected, highly valued, and highly paid. Until he lost his credibility.
There were all kinds of genre specializations.
Landscapes and seascapes, with or without naval battles.
Townscapes. With, why not, the home of the client on it as well.
Still lifes and flowers, or richly set tables.
Peasants scenes for the amusement of city dwellers. Or fine cattle painted, probably also for the country folks themselves.
"You name it, we paint it."
Striking is the number of paintings dealing with everyday life.
Serious, intimate, or on the contrary exuberantly festive.
Simply people in all dimensions of being. In life, and in death too.
And keep in mind that for all genres and themes, even though curious in our eyes, it was a matter of supply and demand. Market and business.
All aspects of life on this scale : in this respect the Netherlands were different from any other nation in Europe.
Here, the taste of the citizen set the tone. Not royalty or nobility.
Even the very rich preferred generally to be depicted as commonly human, hard working, rational people.
That there apparently was a market for these paintings says something about Dutch taste and mentality at the time. People willing to pay for a piece of everyday life on the wall.
Consider it a statement : "See, this is who and what we are. Normal, common people, but proud to be a citizen of Holland". (Or Friesland, or Zeeland, or any other state of the Republic of the Netherlands)
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