Call for Papers: The Dutch Golden Age: a new aurea aetas? (Deadline 1 October)
The revival of a myth in the seventeenth-century Republic
Geneva, 31 May – 2 June 2018
In 1719, the painter Arnold Houbraken voiced his regret about the end of the prosperity that had reigned in the Dutch Republic around the middle of the seventeenth century. He indicates this period as especially favorable to artists and speaks of a ‘golden age for art’ (Gulde Eeuw voor de Konst). But what exactly was Houbraken talking about? The word eeuw is ambiguous: it could refer to the length of a century as well as to an undetermined period, relatively long and historically undefined. In fact, since the sixteenth century, the expression gulde(n) eeuw or goude(n) eeuw referred to two separate realities as they can be distinguished today: the ‘golden century’, that is to say a period that is part of history; and the ‘golden age’, a mythical epoch under the reign of Saturn, during which men and women lived like gods, were loved by them, and enjoyed peace and happiness and harmony with nature.
Following Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid, the principal authors of the Renaissance evoked the myth of a golden age and presented it as a model for the ideal society. This was equally the case for the young Republic of the United Provinces. From the sixteenth century onwards, Dutch artists expressed the desire to revive the golden age of ancient art. This mythical revival could likewise serve as a justification of the political choices of the Seven Provinces. This is apparent when, in 1604, Karel van Mander remarks that it is necessary that the “kings” and “lords” are “fair and wise in the countries that they govern” and that “man” enjoys a “safe, calm and joyous life thanks to the application of good laws and unbending justice”, so that one may speak of a ‘golden age’ (gulden Eeuwe). More in general the reference to the golden age functioned as a statement about the prosperity in the Dutch Republic.
Within the context of that which we might call an ‘imagined community of the golden age’ – following the words of Benedict Anderson (1983) – historians, philosophers, lawyers and theologians but even more so painters, poets and playwrights were mobilized in the seventeenth century to participate in the formation of the Dutch Golden Age. Organized within the project “Un Siècle d’Or? Repenser la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle” (2017-2021), this conference is devoted to the artistic construction of the Dutch Golden Age during the seventeenth century. It will address four themes with regard to the Dutch Golden Age: the myth, the role of time, of space and of society.
For more information and an extensive version of the call for papers, see www.unige.che.