CFP: The Dutch Golden Age: a new aurea ætas? The revival of a myth in the seventeenth-century Republic

Capture d_écran 2017-06-17 à 18.04.07

University of Geneva, May 31 – June 2, 2018
Deadline: Oct 1, 2017

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.

1. The Golden Age and its myths
In the introduction of the conference we seek to define the use and
functioning of myths in the construction of historical and political
imaginaries in early modern Europe, specifically the myth of the golden
age in the United Provinces during the seventeenth century.

2. The ‘time’ of the Dutch Golden Age
The first aspect of the Dutch reinterpretation of the golden age that
will be addressed is that of the ‘time’ of the myth, in other words:
the manner in which the seventeenth-century Dutchmen conceived and
constructed the relation between their ‘golden age’ and that of the
Ancients. Did Dutch artists see and construct the Golden Age as a
mythical past or rather as a radiant future? In which artistic
disciplines is the concept of the Golden Age most discernible and which
interpretation is pervasive (e.g. nostalgic, utopist, presentist)?

3. The ‘space’ of the Dutch Golden Age
We will also reflect on the imaginary spaces of the Golden Age. The
myth of the Golden Age was initially articulated within the context of
Greek and Latin mythological literature. These landscapes were thus
originally associated with the characteristics and topoi of ideal
landscapes of the Classical Antiquity and the Mediterranean. Was this
image of a primitive, pastoral, golden age central in artistic
representations of the subject; what were the consequences of such an
interpretation (e.g. for depictions of urban life); how was the idyllic
image communicated to non-Europeans? Or rather, did Dutch painters aim
to construct the image of another type of golden age, more
idiosyncratic and in line with the social, economic and environmental
reality of the Dutch Republic?

4. The ‘society’ of the Dutch Golden Age
The subject of the place of nature in the Golden Age automatically
leads to questions about its culture, that is to say: the societal
model that such a myth could or should propagate. Several
interpretations of society in a golden age existed: optimist (John
Locke), ‘erotic communism’ (Ernst Robert
Curtius) pessimist and restrictive (Erasmus, Adriaan van de Venne,
Thomas Hobbes), classless or hierarchical (Plato), paradoxical (Simon
Schama), etc. How were these versions of the societal model reflected
in literature and visual arts? What was the place of money and wealth
in the Dutch Golden

Each paper will be twenty minutes. Presentations and discussions will
be in French and English; passive knowledge of these two language is
thus advisable.
Proposals consist of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words), a
bibliography related to the subject and a short CV (max. 100 words).
Please submit your proposal to before October 1st,

Prof. Jan Blanc (Université de Genève), in collaboration with Dr.
Léonie Marquaille (Université de Lausanne) and Dr. Marije Osnabrugge
(Université de Genève), within the context of the project « Un Siècle


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