The visual culture of the Netherlands is one of Europe’s treasures and has been the subject of much careful study. Innovatingly, Elisabeth de Bièvre, in her new book Dutch Art and Urban Cultures 1200–1700, is able to point out with considerable erudition that the scholars have been wrong to stress its “Dutchness,” which implies that its achievements grew out of a centrally organized and homogenous society. She emphasizes instead that the United Provinces were simply a loose confederation of individual towns, each of which had its own artistic tradition, even a degree of artistic isolation. In many towns, 60 percent of the art purchased was from local painters.

Accordingly, she has taken seven of the main cities—The Hague, Dordrecht, Haarlem, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam, and Utrecht—and shown how each had its own...


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