Experience 17th-Century Holland at the NGA

Craig Meklir Uncategorized

The Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery of Art showcases 70 genre paintings of Dutch life from the mid to late 1600s — a time that seems to get further away at the speed of light.

Although we frequently visit museums so we can get a taste for events that happened in the past, recent technological advancements have made a difference in our daily lives that rivals the invention of the wheel. The world as it was even 25 years ago can seem starkly different than the one we live in today. Thus, life 300 years in the past can seem almost unfathomable.

Many of the works curated for this exhibit feature the subject, dressed in yards of fine fabric, sitting at a desk in a poorly lit room writing or reading a letter. (Presumably, some people had to be outdoors or working, but these were not favored subjects.) The details in these depictions are stunning. Yet it’s almost an irony that these quiet scenes were chosen to be memorialized at a time when Dutch wealth and prosperity were exploding.

During the Dutch Golden Age, as it was known, the country welcomed in many refugees and immigrants, opened trade routes and grew steadily in power and innovation.

Perhaps it was the country’s newfound wealth that allowed Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries the leisure time to perfect their craft. Who knows what it would have looked like if they had been holding their phones instead of their paintbrushes?

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, through Jan. 21, National Gallery of Art, 6th & Constitution Ave. NW; Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays; free.

Photo credit: Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection