The Art of Pride – Dutch Shipping in the 17th Century


By Victoria Chick


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Artist Victoria Chick discusses how the 17th Century Dutch Shipping Industry influenced art. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Podbean.


The Biblical Proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall,” could be applied to Dutch shipping of the 17th century.

The 17th Century began the heyday of shipbuilding and commerce. Navigation instruments had improved, and earlier maritime explorers had paved the way leading to confidence in long voyages to specific destinations. Dutch ships were smaller than those of other countries but were very maneuverable and able to operate in shallow waters or high seas.  With a long coastline on the North Sea and, indeed, established on a delta, using drainage and canals. Low Country people had an affinity for water travel, fishing, and, leading into the 17th century, for successful exploration and trade. Living in a low, flat country, one may wonder “where did the Dutch obtain ship-building materials”.  Most fine-grained hardwood for Dutch Ships came from tall oaks in the neighboring Baltic States, especially Poland, and to a lesser extent from English oak forests due to frequent maritime rivalry.  Logs were shaped into timbers with saws driven by windmill power.

In 1581 the Dutch residing in the lowland province of Holland revolted against the Spanish Crown who controlled the area and had imposed Catholicism on the Protestant-leaning Dutch.  The Dutch East India Company, which was the major foreign trade and colonizing entity, already smarting at Spain’s increasing demands for higher taxes and greater percentages of profits, joined in the revolt.

After 80 years of bloody battles, a Treaty was signed.

  • A Naval Encounter Between Dutch and Spanish Warships, c. 1618-1620, Cornelis Verbeeck
    A Naval Encounter Between Dutch and Spanish Warships, c. 1618-1620, Cornelis Verbeeck


Holland became the first European country without a king and a religious overlord.  It was a Republic governed by citizens that began to prosper and develop a middle class. There was a flourishing of art and commerce.

It was the first time in recorded history that the patrons of art were ordinary people, not Royalty or Religion. The subject matter of art changed. The Dutch became proud of their prosperity. Pride was reflected in their homes and possessions. Paintings of sailing ships, interiors of their houses, bowls of flowers, and prized livestock were common. Even paintings of people enjoying life like themselves were popular.  Luxury items such as oriental rugs, exotic fruit, or polished silver were brought from foreign places via Dutch shipping.

The success and wealth of the Dutch were envied by other European nations, especially those with colonies that wanted to control trade in their colonies.  In the mid – 17th century England passed several Acts of Navigation that restricted trade with England and attempted to gain control of some colonies settled by the Dutch. New Amsterdam was a colony the British over-ran and changed its name to New York.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Dutch were at war with England, that country was in the process of building its navy into the impressive size that allowed it to dominate the oceans for the next 100 years. During this same period, the Dutch experienced renewed conflict with France with whom it competed for commerce.  Dutch influence was weakened, ships were lost, and trade declined although it did not stop.

17th Century Dutch Shipping was immortalized in paintings. Artists rendered accurate depictions of the classes of ships and their paintings give us a strong picture of life around the harbors, and the peril that sometimes arose due to weather and conflict.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at

Cow Trail Art Studio

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About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico.

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