Proud of the economic success of their new nation, 17th-century Dutch society placed great emphasis on the comforts of home and the virtues of domesticity. Particularly in the second half of the century, there was an appetite for paintings that presented an idealised vision of domestic life. Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, and Gerard ter Borch are among the many artists who painted scenes of elegant men and women relaxing, making music, or taking care of household duties.
Some Dutch paintings of everyday life (genre paintings) incorporate moralising themes, such as the critique of vice or the praise of virtue. Seeming familiarity, as in Caspar Netscher’s charming scene of a mother instructing children, was an important factor in making these messages more relevant to their original audience.
Whether Saenredam’s luminous, whitewashed churches, the succession of light and dark in de Hooch’s homely scenes, or Gerrit Dou’s clever window niche motif, Dutch artists excelled in the depiction of interior spaces. With meticulous brushstrokes, they skilfully rendered complex lighting effects and displayed their mastery of illusionism and perspective.