Report of General Monthly Meeting - Tuesday 14th January 2020

The Dutch Golden Age by John Lang


We were privileged to hear an outstanding talk from John Lang on the development of the Dutch Golden Age; why it succeeded and what led to its downfall.

He began by explaining the importance of the Rhine in the development of the Low Countries; that its wide delta encouraged trade and transport. Gradually, the fact that larger vessels were needed for longer journeys led to boat and ship building. This was assisted by the new urbanisation that was taking place in the fifteenth century and the fact that in the Low Countries there was a greater density of population. We learned that at this time the people were very small in stature (in contrast to the situation now, as the tallest nation!) due to their poor diet consisting mainly of bread, but gradually this was improved with fish from the Baltic and meat. At this time, the most important city in the region was Antwerp which was developing not only commerce but trade opportunities with the Far East, the Baltic countries and Scandinavia. The Catholic church dominated, but with the new doctrine of Protestantism coming from Luther and Calvin, the Low Countries rebelled. Since they were ruled from Spain where Philip II was a strong Catholic, this resulted in war between the Dutch and the Spanish. When Antwerp fell, the skilled workers were, surprisingly, allowed to leave, and went north to what subsequently became the independent state of the Netherlands. Trade and commerce in the newly developing Amsterdam thrived; John showed several visual illustrations from Rembrandt of the meetings of the burghers and the guilds which were becoming increasingly important in Dutch society.

John was able to use illustrations from other important Dutch artists of the time, such as Vermeer, de Hooch, Jan Steen and Avercamp to demonstrate the effects of the successful trading on Dutch society. We also learned about the Dutch developing new trade routes around the world enabling importation of, among other things, new plants including tulips!

This highly successful economy, in which women were valued and had greater chance of using their skill than in many other countries, began to decline when the Netherlands entered another war at the end of the seventeenth century which proved to be costly and drained resources. Evidence for the sophistication of the Golden Age is shown in the legacy of the wonderful paintings from that time.


Juliia Whitburn

Speaker Secretary