Amsterdam—one city with many faces. Amsterdam was the metropolis in Europe during the 17th century. The economy and trade were booming, the population rapidly increased, and the arts and sciences flourished. An influential civic society shaped the city’s fortunes, captured in important paintings by the greatest Dutch masters. First and foremost was Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, but the artists Jakob Backer, Ferdinand Bol, Govert Flinck, Bartholomeus van der Helst and Jan Victors also reflect urban society’s self-image in Amsterdam group portraits.
The Städel Museum presents the exceptional portrait art of Rembrandt and his contemporaries in a large exhibition, bringing together some 100 paintings, sculptures and prints, as well as cultural and historical objects from leading Dutch and international museums. The starting point is an impressive collection of group portraits from the Amsterdam Museum, enhanced by outstanding works from the Städel Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the National Museum in Warsaw.
Paintings from the period known as “The Golden Age” in the Netherlands are critically questioned here because this economic and cultural flowering in the 17th century was based on an aggressive trade policy of the Dutch Republic, whose foundations were built on the establishment of colonies in Asia and South America and the enslavement and exploitation of people. Wars, poverty, and religious and political persecution in Europe provided a steadily growing migration to the Dutch Republic, particularly to Amsterdam. A strong job market and general religious tolerance gave many people hope for a better and freer life, which many, but by no means everyone, succeeded in achieving. Above all, Amsterdam’s urban elite has been intensively portrayed: Members of the marksmen’s guilds and “regents”, heads of social institutions supported by civil society. The exhibition shows these official and prestigious paintings while simultaneously casting its view onto how members of other social groups are represented. They are images and histories of a pluralistic Amsterdam society, which tell of wealth and inequality, fortune and ruin, power and powerlessness—narrated through an exhibition.
Prof. Dr Jochen Sander (Deputy Director and Head of German, Dutch and Flemish Paintings before 1800, Städel Museum)
ING Deutschland, Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.
Dagmar Westberg Stiftung, Fontana Stiftung