During its Golden Age, the Dutch Republic became a hub of many things: the spice and sugar trade, diamond crafting, master artworks – and optics. Why the Netherlands?
So what does all this say about Rembrandt and Vermeer? Can we draw any conclusions about the two men based on the work they produced? As a writer myself, it’s hard for me to imagine that you can separate an artist from their creation. One depends upon the other.
Tourists from England, Germany and France were amazed to see Jews in Amsterdam living their lives freely and openly. These tourists wrote about what they saw, giving us a unique perspective on how the Portuguese Sephardic community of the 17th Century was perceived by its neighbors.
I finally did it: bit the bullet and got the PBS Passport membership so I could watch “The Miniaturist.” Suffice it to say, I loved it. But it also got me thinking, how good was it, historically speaking?
These days, Amsterdam is known as haven for human rights and open-minded people. The Netherlands was the first country to allow same-sex marriage, in 2001, and it had been known as a city of come-as-you-are inclusiveness for decades before that. As you might imagine, it wasn’t always that way.
Quick: Name the biggest company the world’s ever seen. Apple? Amazon? Some bank or real estate developer? Nope. To guess correctly, you’d have to pick a company that went out of business in 1799.
The Netherlands was a place where great forces were battling to see their view of the world hold sway. The Dutch Reformed Church with its predicant preachers, strict and orthodox, wanted to have the final world over the standards — both legal and social — being set in the new nation. They were opposed by the Remonstrants, their more liberal-minded rivals who were required to meet in private homes instead of public churches. And perhaps most powerful of all was the merchant class, whose vast wealth kept the heart of Amsterdam beating throughout the Dutch Golden Age.
Amsterdam may have been an incredibly open home to Jewish people in its time, but the welcome mat only stretched so far.