Visiting the Golden Age

What better way to learn about a country than through the eyes of visitors? This database-project, a collaboration between the RKD and the University of Geneva, analyzes the digitised editions of travel descriptions by foreigners who visited the Dutch Republic from around the time of its foundation until well into the eighteenth century.

A database of travel descriptions by foreigners traveling through the Dutch Republic (16th - mid-18th century)

Much has been said about the so-called Dutch Golden Age, in particular how exceptional the situation in the Netherlands during the long seventeenth century was. The account generally focuses on what was extraordinary, in terms of economy, society, religion and – of course – art. However, much of this narrative leans heavily on nineteenth-century constructions, colored by nationalistic tendencies. The project Un siècle d'Or? Repenser la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle, based at the University of Geneva and directed by professor Jan Blanc, examines and reconsiders deeply rooted ideas about the Dutch Golden Age, in particular in relation to its visual culture. As part of this endeavor, the database project Visiting the Golden Age examines how visitors experienced the country and what exactly they observed and remarked upon. Through the travel descriptions we learn about itineraries and travel experiences; the places foreigners visited; artists, collectors and other people they met; artworks, monuments and buildings they saw; and aspects of the Dutch society that surprised them. Each of the descriptions forms an eye witness report of the state of the United Provinces at a specific moment.

The corpus consists of published travel descriptions from visitors to the Dutch Republic in the long seventeenth century (1581-c.1750) in Italian, English, Latin, German and French. The digitised editions of these publications have been extracted and integrated in RKDexcerpts and for each page we tagged locations, persons, artworks and subjects that are mentioned, allowing the user of RKD Explore to search more easily through this valuable source material. In addition, the links to other parts of the database adds value to both the travel descriptions and the records on artworks, persons and portraits elsewhere in the database. When looking for a specific artist or artwork in RKD Explore, the user will also find the records with pages from travel descriptions on which this artist or their work is mentioned. This provides further insight into the appreciation, location or state of an artwork at a specific moment or the network and status of certain artists. Similarly, the subject-tags (e.g. 'Dutch East India Company', 'Catholicism' or 'beer') will lead to pages with observations of the visitors on these phenomena. As such, Visiting the Golden Age enriches and contextualizes the other information in the RKD databases.

Research team (University of Geneva):

  • Susanne Bartels, MA
  • Fabio Gaffo, MA
  • Dr Angela Jager
  • Dr Marije Osnabrugge (project coordinator)
  • Lucie Rochard, MA
  • Leïla Thomas, BA