Tell Don't Show: The invisible plague in seventeenth-century Dutch interior paintings

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Abstract

Throughout most of the seventeenth century plague epidemics raged through Dutch cities and took their toll in an enormous loss of life. However, seventeenth-century paintings of domestic life do not show the sorrow or the death toll, but portray healthy, thriving mothers and children in sunlit interiors. The sunny imagery of the seventeenth-century painting is so strong that it defies the historic reality of the countless plague victims. In a strange contradiction, up until the Dutch language harbours numerous references to The Plague, or pest as it is called in Dutch. My perception of the glorious Dutch Golden Age, and the sunny imagery if seventeenth-century interior paintings in particular, changed after reading the published transcripts of seventeenth-century Dutch letters written by women to their husbands at sea. What struck me most were the women's heartbreaking accounts of the loss of children due to The Plague. I have since tried to detect evidence of this daily reality in the paintings, given that art historians have warned against their deceptive realism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInteriors in the Era of Covid-19
Subtitle of host publicationInterior Design between the Public and Private Realms
EditorsPenny Sparke, Ersi Ioannidou, Pat Kirkham, Stephen Knott, Jana Scholze
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury
Chapter11
Pages141-153
Number of pages13
Edition1
ISBN (Print)9781350294219
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository 'You share, we take care!' - Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.

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