Peter – Visual History of the Black Dutch

Gemälde / Eichenholz (1654 oder 1659) von , Hendrick Heerschop , Bildmaß 74,8 x 60,5 cm , Inventar-Nr.: 825 , Hendrick Heerschop, Koning Caspar, 1654 of 1659. Credit: Berlijn, Staatliche Museen Preussischen Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie

I was surprised most by Rembrandt’s representations of the Black Dutch. I had never seen those paintings before, even though my freshman year UW class was on 17th Century Dutch Art. It was so interesting to contrast those paintings portraying Black Dutch citizens in lavish clothes with the paintings in the Blakely reading, where Black people were relegated to the shadows in servants roles; there were even a few where it took me a second to find the Black person in the painting because they were so blended in to the shadows. I’ve seen so many 17th century paintings like the ones in the Blakely reading where Black people are just an afterthought, so to have an entire collection of works where Black people are the focus was fantastic.

I love the fact that the Rembrandt House is making a conscious effort to reverse those visual representations. Influential artists like Rembrandt and his art have an incredible amount of normative power in how we conceive of a nation’s culture. So the Rembrandt House highlighting the fact that Rembrandt didn’t see any difference between his white subjects and his Black subjects can make progress towards reversing centuries of implicit signals in Dutch culture where white supremacy is embedded. However, I do think that the Dutch conversation on race is nowhere near as developed as the American dialogue on race; the American discourse on race has focused much more on implicit attitudes rather than explicit portrayals for racism, while Dutch people are still focusing on those explicit portrayals. For that racism to actually truly be reversed, I think there needs to be more dialogue surrounding those implicit attitudes.

I think racism and sustainability go hand in hand. A culture which oppresses significant portions of its population is not sustainable.

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