In Praise of Painting
Dutch Masterpieces at The Met
Paintings from the seventeenth-century Dutch Golden Age have been a highlight of The Met collection since the Museum’s earliest days. This exhibition presents sixty-seven of the Museum’s greatest artworks in fresh combinations—including paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer—to shine a new light on this remarkable chapter of art history.
— Philips Angel, 17th-Century Dutch Painter
Let us see what we can bring to light for the praise of our art.
Get a fresh look at some of the most timeless paintings at The Met.
This Primer offers new perspectives on life, death, and lemon peels in the Dutch Golden Age—and brings you up close to details of these paintings.
In a single year, 1566, Protestant iconoclasts destroyed an estimated ninety percent of art in the Netherlands. It was the beginning of the Dutch revolt against Spanish Catholic Rule. Suddenly, public spaces once full of art were stripped bare. Artists in this new Dutch Republic could no longer rely on church and court commissions.
So painters experimented, developing genres new to European painting—like landscape and still life—and humanistic themes took center stage. Continue on to explore these innovations and how they still have tremendous impact on our view of art today.
Listen in on a contemporary poet, curator, cinematographer, artist, food stylist, and others, who reflect on these paintings in three chapters—please turn your sound on.
III. Lemon Peels
Traders at work, luxurious and drunken banquets, graffiti in church—here’s the mess and exuberance of daily life. These everyday scenes don’t just present life in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic—they reflect our own.
— Gavin Finney, Cinematographer
You don’t need a degree and you don’t need to be very learned in symbolism to understand these images. You just need experience of life.
Hear cinematographer Gavin Finney and curator Adam Eaker describe the inspiration of Dutch masterpieces.
Take an Audio Journey
Dutch masterpieces depict life, but reminders of its fragility are also hidden in plain sight. Fruit will rot, flowers will wilt, candles burn out, and skulls . . . well, skulls speak for themselves. Discover poetic, poignant, even creepy elements visible in these paintings, where morality and mortality remain close at hand.
— Ebony G. Patterson, Contemporary Artist
We always think about death in terms of its ominousness, when in fact it’s just the cyclical activity of life.
Uncover Images of Life and Death, Side by Side
Listen to poet Mark Doty and contemporary artist Ebony G. Patterson consider reminders of mortality visible in select paintings.
Take an Audio Journey
Dutch masterpieces capture universal themes of life, death, love, and luxury—but how? Take a closer look at the techniques and artistry that distinguish the work of this artistic renaissance, whether in a beam of light, an innovative composition, or an absurdly realistic lemon peel—lots and lots of lemon peels.
— Judy Kim, Food Stylist
The lemon’s the most realistic piece of all. It looks juicy, like you can taste it.
“One remarkable thing about this era is the culture of shared knowledge and technique. Dutch artists made handbooks about how to achieve particular kinds of effects—how to paint a wheel of cheese, candy, or walnuts. There seems to be a dedication to the act of seeing. And this seems so characteristic of the Dutch, too, with their fascination with lenses, with optics, and with the way light moved.”
—Mark Doty, Poet
“This lobster is so bright and vivid—and the little antennae! As a food stylist, you want a little bit of something that confuses your eye and also draws you in. You want there to be this little wild element. When we select food for a shoot, we want it to be wild, in all different directions, instead of perfectly pin-straight. We like a little bit of realism.”
—Judy Kim, Food Stylist
“Rembrandt has essentially painted this picture with white and black, some earth reds and browns, and some yellow ochre. That’s it. The other characteristic aspect of Rembrandt is the actual texture of his brushstrokes. The individual brushstrokes are set one next to the other. And the cool bluish tints let you see the translucency of the flesh.”
—Dorothy Mahon, Conservator
“How do you paint something that is in constant motion? Van Ruisdael captures a moment—almost a split second—in this picture. It’s like the moment you'd want to press the shutter on a camera, which is this gap in the clouds illuminating the woman and the child. They’re right on the edge of a shadow, and we know these clouds are moving. So in the next second, they will be in darkness.”
—Gavin Finney, Cinematographer
How to Paint Lemon Peels
Listen to florist Remco van Vliet and food stylist Judy Kim describe how the techniques of Old Masters provide rich inspiration for their own work.
Take an Audio Journey
Life, death, and lemon peels—these are only a few of the stories and details waiting for you to explore in paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.
Visit the exhibition In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at The Met to discover your own perspective on their lasting appeal. Don’t forget to take the Audio Guide when you go.
Mark Doty, Poet and Memoirist
Adam Eaker, Assistant Curator, Department of European Paintings, The Met
Gavin Finney, Cinematographer
Judy Kim, Food Stylist
Dorothy Mahon, Conservator, Department of Paintings Conservation, The Met
Ebony G. Patterson, Multimedia Artist and Painter
Remco van Vliet, Florist and Co-Founder, Van Vliet & Trap
Made possible by
and the Director's Fund.