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Dutch Painting: 1600-1800.

Much of Seymour Slive's book was first published in 1966 in the Pelican volume Dutch Art and Architecture: 1600-1800. Written primarily by Jakob Rosenberg and Slive, that book contained minor sections by E.H. ter Kuile on sculpture and architecture. The volume under review replaces the earlier work, still available in paperback. Its virtues have remained constant: an infectious enthusiasm for Dutch paintings, extensive sections on individual artists, a knack for catching the distinguishing features of a picture, and a thorough, current bibliography.

The new edition's major change is an expansion in the number of illustrations from 284 to 432. A quarter of the illustrations is in illuminating color, with full-page details of works by Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, Steen, Van Ruisdael, and Ouwater. This choice of artists conforms to Slive's unapologetic emphasis on "great personalities" and on "realism" as the crowning Dutch achievement (1). His admiration for the heroes of Dutch realism still structures the book as it did in 1966; short of title adjustments, the chapter sequence is identical. The book is divided into a long section for 1600-1675 and a short one for 1675-1800. After a discussion of "Historical Background" (little interest in "context" here), one chapter rushes through "International Trends" between 1600 and 1625 (Mannerists, Pre-Rembrandtists, Caravaggisti) to get to fundamental chapters on Hals and Rembrandt, followed by a chapter on "Rembrandt's Pupils and Followers," three chapters on realist genre, landscape, and marine painting, and a chapter on "Italianate and Classical Painting." Portraiture, Architectural Painting, and Still Life conclude the survey for 1600 to 1675. Four broad chapters cover the next 125 years.

When the original Pelican volume appeared, it was criticized for its top-heavy approach in which early seventeenth-century painting leads to Hals and Rembrandt and later Dutch art in turn flows from them. Rosenberg and Slive inherited this conception from European surveys of Dutch art, along with the unspoken notions that realism is the truest condition of this painting and that Vermeer's death in 1675 precipitated its decline. These ideas still govern Slive's revision, although in places he has hedged previous reverence for Rembrandt's spirituality or Dutch veracity. In light of the recently studied transmission of seventeenth-century traditions to the eighteenth century, the 1675 cutoff date now appears especially arbitrary.

The book's emendations lay new stresses. Hendrick Goltzius gets more credit for his non-realist virtuosity; the patronage of the Orange court is given detailed consideration. Slive has replaced the most problematic Rembrandt illustrations, although he has retained and added a few debatable pictures. Rembrandt's followers have been individualized, but a stint with Rembrandt remains an awkward unifying principle. Thus Gerard Dou is divorced from the tradition of "fine" painting he inaugurated, although that mode receives more notice. Judith Leyster gains much coverage and stature. Slive acknowledges Vermeer's probable relationship to a maecenas, but does not explore its implications for his pictures. The marine chapter looks fresh with bright illustrations and recent interpretations. An enriched still life chapter treats symbolism with fair balance.

Much recent research has not been fully absorbed. There is no sustained introduction to the making and marketing of Dutch painting as studied by Rembrandt scholars and by Michael Montias. To understand the novel pleasures of Dutch landscape, the Haarlem print series of the 1610s are indispensable, even in a book on painting. While the chapter on Italianate art is properly expanded, Slive pays cursory, unillustrated attention to the pastoral vogue. Dutch art theory, extensively reexamined by Hessel Miedema, is still seen as an extract of Italian precedents, valuable mostly as documentation. Stimulating new arguments about the relationships among Dutch art, trade, and knowledge are relegated to footnotes. Without acknowledging debates about Dutch "realism," Slive celebrates it as uncomplicated and self-evident.

Although the book's old-fashioned organization and concerns may keep it from becoming a new standard, Slive's narrative detail and love of pictures give it value as teaching tool. Bob Haak's dry, decentralized, yet richly diversified The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century (New York: Abrams, 1984) remains the more historical account.

MARIET WESTERMANN Rutgers University
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Author:Westermann, Mariet
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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