What Sense Is Seventeenth Century Dutch Painting An Art Of Describing?

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1. In what sense is seventeenth-century Dutch painting an art of describing? Focusing on two works of your choice, consider the possible relationships between artworks and contemporary forms of social behaviour and/or new knowledge. The distinctive pictorial mode of 17th Century Dutch painting can broadly be categorised as descriptive. Realism is employed in rendering scenes of everyday life through various iterations of subject matter found in the real world. Distinct from Renaissance art of the south, subject matter is predominately secular and attention to ways of rendering the world is favoured over an overt narrative. The further characterisation of the nature of Dutch painting is problematic. E. de Jongh argued that works were not secular slices of daily life but didactic in nature, imbued with symbolic iconography. Svetlana Alpers dismisses de Jonghs views as simplistic, arguing that virtuosity and mastery of naturalism were not a means to document or to make art for arts sake; but rather an intellectual exploration into ways of seeing. Vermeer’s The Milkmaid painted between 1657–1658 (fig. 1) and Jan Steens The Card Players painted ca. 1660 (fig. 2) are genre paintings that when contrasted appear to differ in subject and meaning. In analysing both paintings I will identify their descriptive qualities and rationalise that the conflicting points of view of De Jhong and Alpers are neither invalid nor mutually exclusive. The realism of Dutch painting can be
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