The Financial Times this weekend had a wonderful article by Simon Schama about the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. He writes: “In an age of interchangeable international art fairs, all flogging indistinguishable contemporary art, there is something deeply stirring about a great art institution being unafraid to reassert the distinctiveness of its national culture and history, and to make it a cause for popular rejoicing rather than uncool embarrassment.”
The article sent me back to Schama’s 1987 book The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age.
The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age
It’s a brilliant account of the feedbacks between cultural innovation and confidence and economic strength, although Schama doesn’t express it in those terms. Still, the country had by the 17th century a troubled and war-torn recent history, nor is it without geographical disadvantages (small and potentially very wet). Its military and economic success calls for explanation.