In the era before the television broadcasting system was there, I can imagine painting, play, and literature had bigger broadcasting alike features than now. Arts had power for delivering information, and artists were, in a way, reports, historians, and media. One of those features that Westermann suggests through chapter four of his book ‘A Worldly Art’ is structuring values or national identity.
As a newly independent republic from Spain, the Dutch needed value that everyone can share and live for. Rembrandt’s painting ‘the conspiracy of Claudius Civilis’ compared Dutch independence to the ancient history of the Germans by Tacitus and underscores the loyalty to the Dutch government. ‘Gouden Leeuw’ by Willem Van De Velde, and ‘Ships Running Aground in a Storm’ by Ludolf Backhyusen expresses Dutch’s prosperity, diligence, braveness, and productivity of international trade. Judging from the fact that these ideologies can be translated in today as well, the power of value structuring in Dutch paintings at that time was preeminence.
‘Ships Running Aground in a Storm’ captured my attention not only due to its magnificent kinetic portrait of drifting trade vessel, but also it symbolizes the risk and return of trade and braveness of Dutch. Those Dutch vessels’ risky sail against tempest reminds me of the battle Dutch had against nature to reclaimed the land. This painting is attempting to tell the righteousness of the trade that returns would worth more than this risk; in a way, it is implying the legitimacy of trade. Therefore, I believe, it is structuring trade as national identity and also raising support for such a value.
One question I had through reading was how accurate they were to the reality of that time. Since I know now, how much of ideology and symbolism is put into Dutch painting of that era, not to mention in a very realistic style of drawing, I question historical accuracy, especially in the negative side of history about those existing values that Dutch wanted to hide and eliminate. Some of the painting presents an ugly side such as ‘Brothel Scene’ by Nicolaes Knupfer, but something is still missing. For instance, I wonder how Dutch painted colonization and the slave trade.