Following the Eighty Years War or War of Flanders (1568-1648) between Holland and Spain, the Seven Provinces of the northern Netherlands achieved independence and emerged from the conflict as a world power due to their powerful navy and merchant fleet. In addition, the successes of the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602 as the first multi-national corporation, contributed to the economic growth and artistic flowering that brought about the so-called Dutch Golden Age.

This golden age approximately corresponds to the 17th century, when the prevailing artistic style was that of the Baroque. The iconoclastic precepts of the Reformed Church resulted in a decline in the production of religious images for decorative or devotional purposes. Instead, artists depicted Old Testament scenes in a close-up, dramatic manner. Mythological subjects were approached with an allegorical-moralising intent rather than with a Renaissance sensuality. Dutch painting saw a period of remarkable achievements in the work of great masters such as Frans Hals (1580-1666), Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669) and Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).

 
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