Thinking About the Next Trip … Or Not

Before I’d even left for Ireland this fall, I read a piece in Time magazine about a show (going on now through 18 January 2016) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer

Here’s the blurb from the museum’s website:

From nobles to merchants to milkmaids, Dutch artists in the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer portrayed all levels of society in masterful detail.

Organized by the MFA, this groundbreaking exhibition proposes a new approach to understanding 17th-century Dutch painting. Through 75 carefully selected, beautifully preserved portraits, genre scenes, landscapes and seascapes borrowed from European and American public and private collections—including masterpieces never before seen in the United States—the show reflects, for the first time, the ways in which paintings represent the various socioeconomic groups of the new Dutch Republic, from the Princes of Orange to the most indigent.

Class distinctions had meaning and were expressed in the type of work depicted (or the lack thereof), costumes, a figure’s comportment and behavior, and his physical environment. Arranged according to 17th-century ideas about social stratification, paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Gabriel Metsu, are divided broadly into three classes—upper, middle and lower—and within them, into sub-groups.

Nobles, merchants, and milkmaids are among the figures in the thematic groupings, reflecting the social order of the new Dutch Republic. Viewers are encouraged to look closely at the images for clues that differentiate a mistress from a maid, or might distinguish a noble from a social-climbing merchant.

A final section explores the places where the classes in Dutch society met one another. Opportunities for these encounters arose in the city and the country, winter and summer, indoors and out, at leisure or at work, on the threshold of a house or of a business. Paintings depicting the meeting of the classes are among the liveliest of the era. Three table settings of objects used by each class (including salt cellars, candlesticks, mustard pots, and linens), but diverging in material and decoration—highlight material differences among the classes. The accompanying publication features essays by a team of distinguished Dutch scholars and exhibition curator Ronni Baer, the MFA’s William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings.

If you know me, you know how I feel about the Dutch Masters. So why not do it? Fly to Boston, see the museum, have a nice meal, spend the night, fly home. Why not, indeed? Back in early September, it sounded like fun. And I really am crazy about the Dutch Masters.

Vermeer: The Astronomer (1668), Louvre, Paris. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

Vermeer: The Astronomer (1668), Louvre, Paris. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

But now, in November, even with cheap Get Away fares on Southwest Airlines, it has begun to look like a lot of work (and expense). So we’ve decided not to do it. Neither of us have been to Boston, we’d both like to go … and we’d like to see more of it than we currently have time for. (Me, I want to see the USS Constitution. How about you?) For now, we’ll forgo Rembrandt, et al.

So why did I write this blog post, for pete’s sake?

First, if you’re in the Boston area, if you’re within driving distance, you should go. I think it will be a great show, the museum has several related events, videos, and galleries scheduled, and the exhibition book (also called Class Distinctions) looks fantastic.

But that’s not why either. No, while I was looking to see if the Class Distinctions exhibit would travel (apparently not), I discovered this:

CODART—Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CODART is “an international network for curators of art from the Low Countries. This website is the best guide to Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide.” (Read more about CODART here.)

Hello, gorgeous. If you’re a fan, this is the place for you. Aside from everything else, CODART (funded by the Dutch government) maintains a list of museums all over the world with significant collections of Dutch and Flemish art. There’s also an extensive research guide for the serious (and less-serious) art fan. All public, all in English.

So if you can’t go to Boston (or Paris, or Washington DC), perhaps you can find a museum closer to home! Enjoy—and be sure you let me know what you saw. 🙂

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