Seventeenth Century Differences Between Dutch & Italian Paintings

Written by g.d. palmer
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Seventeenth Century Differences Between Dutch & Italian Paintings
Seventeenth century Dutch paintings often featured scenes from everyday life. ( Images)

Many art historians refer to 17th century painting as simply "Baroque." However, painting styles, technique and subject matter actually varied significantly over the course of the period. Italy, particularly Rome, and the Netherlands formed two major artistic centres during this century. While paintings from these countries share a number of characteristics, they also include several notable differences.

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Dutch Subject Matter

Dutch paintings of the 17th century, also known as the "Dutch Golden Age," often feature scenes of country life and interiors. Many works include images of windmills, a common sight in the 17th century Dutch countryside. Commemorative paintings, such as Gerard tor Borch's "The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Munster" or Rembrant van Rijn's "The Night Watch," are specifically Dutch and tend to feature many figures.

Italian Subject Matter

Italian painting of this period included more religious subject matter, such as Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" or Tintoretto's "Christ at the Sea of Galilee." Still lifes were popular in both countries, but in Italy, religious and still life paintings sometimes merged, such as in Domenico Fetti's "The Veil of Veronica." Mythological subjects were also popular in Italy, as they had been during the Renaissance, and were included in paintings like Crespi's "Tarquin and Lucretia."

Stylistic Features

Baroque stylings, much more ornate and dramatic than the Classicism of the Renaissance, originated in Rome and spread throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. Italian paintings of the 17th century frequently include bold, unnatural colour and broad gestures. Dutch Golden Age painting used fewer of these ornamental and dramatic features, instead focusing on the everyday. Most of the colours in Dutch painting of this period are muted, with a few bright notes to draw attention.


While most Dutch and Italian 17th century painting can be easily separated, not all artists in these countries shared the same characteristics. Despite the great distance between the two countries, some "cross-pollination" still occurred. For instance, according to the Dayton Art Institute, some Dutch artists, such as Hendrick Terbrugghen and Gerrit van Honthorst, drew inspiration for dramatic subjects and theatrical lighting from Italian painters like Caravaggio. Italian landscapes of the 17th century were often inspired by the 16th century Northern European tradition of landscape painting.

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