Wednesday 15 May - Sophie Oosterwijk

Wine, women & song? Dutch genre painting by Vermeer and his contemporaries

On the surface, seventeenth-century society in the Dutch Republic might strike modern viewers as staunchly calvinistic, especially in portraits of merchants and dignitaries with their wives, all in stern black outfits and stiff white collars. Nonetheless, there was clearly another side to society, as genre paintings can reveal to us.

Genre paintings are often described simply as scenes of everyday life, but there is usually more to them than that. Whereas scenes in the work of Johannes Vermeer may seem above reproach with their sense of tranquility, he did work in the same context as his contemporaries Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu, to name but a few.

An elegant couple in a wellfurnished room may appear respectable enough, and not all that different from the image of society that portraits convey to us.

However, when we also start noticing a glass and a jug, musical instruments, and perhaps suggestive paintings on the walls in the background, it is quite likely that the artist intended his viewer to read a bit more into his painting: perhaps a proper courtship, but possibly something rather less proper.

This lecture aims to show some of the popular types of genre scenes and reveal more about what they may actually try to tell us about art and society in the Dutch Republic.

about our lecturer:

Dr Sophie Oosterwijk

Born in Gouda (Netherlands). Has an MA and PhD in English Literature (Leiden), an MA in Medieval Studies (York) and a PhD in Art History (Leicester). Has taught at the universities of St Andrews, Leicester, Nottingham and Manchester, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, National Trust, V&A, U3A, WEA and other organisations, and organised many study days, tours and visits. Also a regular lecturer for Cambridge University and Martin Randall Travel, and Honorary Research Fellow with the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews. Numerous publications.