Dutch Design: Why it’s so Good and How it Can be Applied to Dutch Golden Age Paintings

By: Sungwoo(Scott) Cho


Dutch architecture and design are unique. It is unique because of its different influences such as the landscape of the Netherlands. In my opinion, Dutch design is one of the best In Europe, and according to Aaron Betsky, Dutch design is so good because of the thought and innovation that goes into the planning of Dutch cities such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam. Dutch design is known for being Innovating and purposeful but can that also be applied to the Golden Age of Dutch paintings? During the golden age of Dutch paintings, the paintings were seen as distinctive and eye-catching. Dutch painters back then wanted to use different perspectives and interesting scenes to capture ones attention. Because of that Dutch painting during the golden age are distinct and often need a careful eye to analyze the art and understand the meaning behind the painting. I believe it is possible to apply the ideas of Dutch design to the golden age of paintings.

First, one of the reasons why Dutch architecture is good and unique is the landscape of the Netherlands. Important cities in the Netherlands such as Amsterdam were originally built on swampland. Because of that the city has limited space to expand and build, Dutch designers and architects have to plan carefully and use the space they have available wisely. Dutch design is so good because of this fact. Other major cities such as London or Paris don’t have the problem of limited space or having to clear swampland to create buildings and areas. The Dutch have to constantly innovate to survive. Because two-thirds of the Netherlands is below sea level the Dutch need to constantly find ways to keep the water contained and how to use it to their advantage. Aaron Betsky and Adam Eeuwens mentions in their book False Flat: Why Dutch Design Is So Good that if the dikes and the underground pumps didn’t hold back the water, then his house would currently be under the sea. This is a perfect example of why Dutch design is unique in the world because of their situation when it comes to land. Amsterdam is a city that is split up by the canals that run through it. The canals in the city are a good example of Dutch design and how they adapted to using the water to its advantages. Because of the innovation and uniqueness that comes with the distinctive landscape of the Netherlands, I believe that Dutch design is one of the best in the world.

Another reason why I believe Dutch design is one of the best is how everything has a purpose. Whether it is buliding roads in a specific way to accommodate pedestrians or to the layout of the city and the buildings. For example, the roads in the Netherlands are distinct and serve another purpose than for just automobile travel. In the Netherlands bike use is prevalent, and many people use bikes as a main form of transportation. Because of this, the roads have to be altered to accommodate the people to travel the roads using a bike. Roads and junctions in the Netherlands are designed for bike use and account for the safety of the bike users and the pedestrians. There are many littles things that are incorperated into the roads to ensure the safety of the pedestrians that are using bikes. For example, roundabouts are very common among roads in Europe and in the Netherlands. They might look the same in the Netherlands. However, there are many things that are added to make sure the bike users are safe. As seen in the image below, The circle in the roundabout is small and has a sharp entry angle making the cars that enter the roundabout slow down and unable to accelerate. The crosswalks for the roundabout are also at the entrances and the exits where the speed of the cars and the slowest allowing for safe crossing and few accidents in the roundabout. Little additions like these show that the roads were planned out with the safety of cars and pedestrians in mind. This and other examples of Dutch architecture having other purposes than what they mainly meant for shows to me that Dutch design is one of the best in the world.


Innovation is not a modern part of Dutch history. Since the beginning of Dutch history, the Dutch have always been innovative. This shows in the paintings during the Dutch Golden era. Dutch painters of that era didn’t want their paintings to be bland or passed by with just a glance so they had to come up with a way to capture their audiences. Celeste Brusati says that Dutch artists at the time used different perspectives to engage their audience and to make a painting seem more in depth. Dutch painters were innovate with their art and that allows for unique paintings that isn’t seen anywhere else. One of Betsky and Eeuwens’ main points of why Dutch design is so good is that in Dutch design everything has a purpose. Whether it is the flow of the buildings and houses or the structure of the roads, everything fits really well and the seamless transition of roads and buildings add to the design. This can also be added to Dutch paintings during the golden age. While Dutch paintings by themselves are interesting to look at and can be looked at from different perspectives, there are always little details that are not very noticeable but fit really well in the painting. Similar to Dutch design, minute details that are also added because they have a purpose. They might not always be noticeable at first glance add to the painting as a whole and make the image blend well. This makes the painting more attention grabbing because it will be easy to miss important details of the painting if not looked at more closely.




One great example is the painting shown above, Frederick Henry and Ernst Casimir of Nassau-Dietz at the Siege of ’s Hertogenbosch, the painting is of Prince Frederick Henry and his cousin Count Ernst Casimir on their horses at the siege of Hertogenbosch. In the painting, the main focus is, of course, the two men on their horses, but the entire background also adds to the scene. In the background, there are what looks to be soldiers marching towards a city that is in the distance. The soldiers in the background add to the whole feel of the painting as does the facial expressions of the two men. There are lots of minute details that add to the whole feel of the painting. Whether it is the gray sky or the expressions of the two men the solemn feel is strong in the painting. It is details like this that allow for comparison to Dutch design and architecture. Just like in Dutch design, golden age Dutch paintings have small details that might go unnoticed but have a purpose and add to the bigger picture.

Dutch design is a very innovative part of Dutch life and culture, and it looks like the innovation and the idea where everything has a purpose stems from the unique works of golden age Dutch artists. It is easy to see how the innovations of Dutch painters in the golden age influence Dutch design and make it so it, is possible for the Dutch to thrive and conquer with the limited space they have available.



Betsky, Aaron and Adam Eeuwens. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good. New York: Phaidon Press Inc. 2008. Print.

Wagenbuur, Mark. “Explaining the Dutch Roundabout Abroad.” Bicycle Dutch. N. p., 2015. Web. 3 June 2017.

Frederick Henry and Ernst Casimir of Nassau-Dietz at the Siege of ’s Hertogenbosch, Pauwels van Hillegaert, c. 1629 – c. 1635 Rijksmuseum. Web. 3 June 2017

Brusati, Celeste. “Perspective in Flux: Viewing Dutch Pictures in Real-Time.” Association of Art Historians. 2012. Web.



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