From the end of the Middle Ages to the 18th century, the Netherlands—spanning modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg—was an important center for artistic production. In the late 16th century, the Protestant Northern Netherlands gained independence from Catholic Spain and formed a self-governing republic. In the “Golden Age” that followed, the Dutch Republic, with its innovative stock market and burgeoning global trade network, became an economic world power. Nourished by a vibrant economy, artists and artisans expanded the possibilities of art and craft, leading to innovation and renown across artistic media. While the Southern Netherlands remained under Spanish rule, members of the Hapsburg family supported many artists at their court in Brussels, and the Flemish city of Antwerp flourished as a center of painting, glass, print, and book production.
The MFA holds one of the most important collections of Netherlandish Art in the United States, and has a long history of mounting trailblazing exhibitions, including: “Masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish Painting” (2017–18), “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer” (2015–16), “Rembrandt the Etcher” (2013–14), and “Triumph of the Winter Queen” (2013). The recent gift of 114 Dutch and Flemish paintings bolsters the MFA’s important holdings of Dutch and Flemish ceramics, decorative arts, sculpture, paintings, textiles, musical instruments, and works on paper. The MFA’s collection is the essential foundation for the program of the Center for Netherlandish Art, creating opportunities for innovative scholarship, conservation research, interpretation, and public engagement.