Westermann Blakely Reflection 2

I chose this image from Westermann’s book as it depicts the local Dutch landscape for the simple townsperson. The picture is meant to show how the townsfolk live productive yet simple lives, specifically during the era of artistic revival in the seventeenth century, which was mainly run by the merchant elites. As the Dutch Republic was becoming dramatically more prosperous as well as gaining political power, this caused a rise in the production and consumption of artwork. “Urban institutions, wealthy merchants, and high officials” were eager to obtain the novel art pieces, exemplifying that they were part of the elite (178). Additionally, the most famous noble collectors of Europe would fervently desire the newest works of art; this industry was very successful. This era appealed to the wealthy, aristocratic individuals.This image contrasts the middle class with the upper class elites, by showing the simplicity of the lives that the common folk lived. However, even these frugal, middle class townspeople depicted in the image were still living more privileged lives than black people at this time. It seemed to be a regular, carefree day for the white Dutch folk, but this was at the expense of black people, as they were constantly enduring insults and threats on a daily basis. Blakely would analyze this picture by discussing the perspective of the black people in Dutch society during this era. Black people constantly would have to deal with derogatory remarks and supposed jokes simply for the amusement of the white people. As Blakely described in chapter 3, white families would often make innuendos degrading the skin color of black people as a joke, which further ingrained racism in Dutch society, normalizing it and making it more commonplace. While Westermann analyzes Dutch culture at this time through the middle class and the elite, Blakely would pay more attention to the invisible suffering of black people hidden behind this image.
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One thought on “Westermann Blakely Reflection 2

  1. I like the speculative focus on what such paintings don’t show: They’re already in some ways a rural fantasy held by generally urban elites who bought these paintings, so they already likely romantize rural life–though realism as an artistic value mitigated against romanticism to some extent, and the Dutch were pretty interested in seeing “warts and all” in their paintings of Dutch life. But you go further to imagine the verbal and cultural life of these people–the jokes they would tell, they ways they might reference their own lives in contrast to Black people they had likely only heard about (as most of the few Black people in Holland were in the bigger cities). There’s also the fact that buyers of paintings themselves were in many cases profiting off the labor of enslaved Africans and near-enslaved Indonesians in the colonies. Thinking about what a painting doesn’t show can be quite illuminating.

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