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The Dutch Republic in the 17th century witnessed one of the most powerfully creative periods in Western art. In the late 16th century, the predominantly Protestant northern Netherlands declared itself independent from Catholic Spanish rule. A new art was born as artists increasingly produced works not on commission but for a speculative market determined by the demands of a new class of prosperous citizens.

Pictures of traditional biblical and historical subjects (often called ‘history paintings’) persisted in the Republic. They were especially important for Rembrandt and his followers (see Rooms 24 and 27). Yet, increasingly these had to share the stage with several newly independent artistic genres, which had been pioneered by Flemish artists who had fled to the northern Netherlands to escape persecution by the Catholic authorities.

Assembled in Rooms 28, 25 and 27 are prime examples of those genres, including landscape, still life, portraiture and scenes of domestic life. 17th-century Dutch pictures are often called ‘realistic’, but these seemingly lifelike scenes owe as much to the inventive skills of their painters as any history painting.