Do you ever experience those moments when you’re walking along, enjoying the warm golden light, and suddenly it feels like you’re inside an idyllic painting? I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself well enough, but I often go through these little moments of personal bliss. It’ll be a few seconds long, and then everything returns to normal again. It happens when the rays of sunshine filter through the clouds and light up the leaves of a 150-year-old tree, or when a purple lining adorns the colossal fluffy clouds just before the sun sets.

Dutch Golden Age Paintings
A selection of six typical Dutch Golden Age paintings.

Dutch Golden Age Painters

I’ve been living in Amsterdam for about five years, and I regularly experience these micro-moments at the end of a sunny day, especially when I (sometimes unexpectedly) find myself at a heritage site. There are many places in and around the Dutch capital where you can still see the historic architecture and typical countryside meadows that inspired so many 17th-century painters. This century was a momentous period in Netherlandish art, also known as the Dutch Golden Age, as the industry made a complete transformation.

For the first time in history, it wasn’t just the catholic church or monarchy that requested paintings. Instead of the usual biblical themes and royal portraits, Dutch painters started depicting the simplest scenes from everyday life.

The Golden Age was a result of a growing middle class, of whom many had become successful merchants after the country’s rebirth as a republic. For the first time in history, it wasn’t just the catholic church or monarchy that requested paintings. Instead of the usual biblical themes and royal portraits, Dutch painters started depicting the simplest scenes from everyday life. Common scenes were cattle in green pastures, city squares with bustling markets, pious churchgoers, but also grand depictions of impressive sailing ships.

12 Photos Of Present-Day Amsterdam Resembling Golden Age Paintings

Dam Square in Amsterdam, with a horse and carriage in the background.
Pedestrians and a traditional horse-drawn carriage at Dam Square

Oude Kerk in Amsterdam

Inside the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam
Inside the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam

A Fascination with Architecture

Although the newly dominant protestant population in Holland disallowed religious pictures inside the church, Golden Age painters did become fascinated with the grand architecture of cathedrals. Painters like Dirck van Delen, Emanuel de Witte, and Pieter Saenredam intensely studied perspective and geometry. As a result, painters began to create more realistic depictions of church interiors.

The Oude Kerk (‘Old Church’) in Amsterdam was one of Emanuel de Witte’s favourite locations. I visited the church on a sunny day in winter, when the light that filtered through the windows created the most beautiful patterns on the medieval floor. The church is the oldest remaining building in Amsterdam and still holds services on Sundays.

Cattle at the Amsterdamse Bos
Grazing cattle at the Amsterdamse Bos (‘Amsterdam Forest’)
Cows in a Dutch meadow in Amstelland
A rural meadow in South-East Amsterdam, bordering Amstelveen

Meadows and Clouds

Another major genre within Golden Age painting were realistic depictions of everyday rural landscapes, usually featuring cattle in lush meadows. Often, the painters would create lower horizons so they had enough room to create spectacular cloud formations in the sky, which were typical of the Dutch climate.

The green fields and grazing cows create a peaceful scenery, which always has a calming effect on my mind. Just like so many centuries ago, the dramatic half-cloudy sunsets are still the cherry on top.

During the summer months, I love to hop on my bicycle and go for a little evening trip in the outer edges of the city. The green fields and grazing cows create a peaceful scenery, which always has a calming effect on my mind. Just like so many centuries ago, the dramatic half-cloudy sunsets are still the cherry on top.

A little boat on a canal in Amsterdam

A dressed-up sailor on a ship during SAIL Amsterdam 2015.

The Amsterdam harbor during SAIL 2015
Historic and modern boats of all sizes gather at the Amsterdam port during SAIL 2015

Maritime Paintings From A Colonial Nation

A significant genre within Golden Age Painting were maritime paintings, depicting the Dutch Republic as a seafaring empire. It is crucially important to realize that one of the biggest factors behind the merchants’ incredible wealth was the colonial Dutch East India Company (VOC). For this reason, the Dutch Golden Age remains a controversial topic.

I shot these photos during SAIL Amsterdam, one of the biggest nautical events in the world that only occurs once every five years. I had never seen the city so extremely crowded, and I don’t think I will ever forget those incredible few days. It is an unrivaled opportunity to admire historic tall trading ships.

A butterfly at the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Butterflies at the botanical garden in Amsterdam
Butterflies inside a greenhouse at the botanical garden in Amsterdam
Flamingos at Artis Zoo in Amsterdam
A group of flamingos at the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam
Rose-ringed parakeet in Amsterdam
A female rose-ringed parakeet rests in a tree at the Amstelpark

Tropical Themes From Foreign Lands

A side-effect from the heavily colonial character of the Dutch Golden Age were tropical or ‘foreign’ themes in painting. 17th-century still lifes often included expensive and exotic food items, but also tropical butterflies and other animals. During the same period, botanical gardens and greenhouses like the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam (1638) were also established. These greenhouses usually included a variety of imported plants and insects from Dutch colonies.

Rumor has it that the very first parakeets may have travelled to the Netherlands on board of the VOC ships.

Due to this colonial connection to tropical species, Amsterdam is still a surprisingly diverse city for animal lovers like me. City parks and places like the Hortus Botanicus and Artisplein are some of my favourite urban oases in Amsterdam. Near green spaces like the Vondelpark and Amstelpark, you can sometimes even find rose-ringed parakeets. Rumor has it that the very first parakeets may have travelled to the Netherlands on board of the VOC ships.

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