An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art

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University of California Press, Mar 20, 2002 - Art - 263 pages
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Martha Hollander's lively and gracefully written book considers one of the most intriguing features of seventeenth-century Dutch painting: the pictorial language of space, in particular the use of secondary scenes. Many Dutch pictures, especially genre scenes and portraits, introduce a gap through the trees; a view of distant mountains; views through windows, archways, open doors, and pulled-back curtains; or mirrors and pictures-within-pictures to comment on, explain, and enrich the primary scene that unfolds on the canvas. Hollander uncovers the meanings generated by the formal structure of such pictures, tracing their heritage in the medieval and Renaissance pictorial traditions of illuminated manuscripts, emblems, and stage design.

A number of Dutch painters, working for a fiercely competitive art market fostering experiment and novelty, created these secondary scenes in remarkably various and inventive ways. An Entrance for the Eyes focuses on striking features in the works of several artists who carried out bold experiments with space and meaning. Hollander introduces the ideas of pictorial organization formulated by Karel van Mander in both his paintings and his theoretical treatise Het Schilder-boeck. She explains how Gerard Dou (1613-1675), in his tightly constructed allegorical pictures, particularly those set in niches, used the secondary space to comment on the figure in the foreground. In a penetrating analysis of the early domestic scenes of Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693), she relates the juxtaposition of rooms in the household to the status and representation of women in seventeenth-century Holland. In the courtyard scenes and interiors of Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), always open to the outdoors, she examines the articulation of the still fluid relationship between public and private life.

Hollander's narrative deals with complex issues in lucid and direct language. In tracing how the inventive juxtaposing of public and private spaces played out social anxieties and ideals, she inspires readers to look more closely and thoughtfully at the paintings.

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About the author (2002)

Martha Hollander is Associate Professor of Art History at New College of Hofstra University. She is the author of a book of poems, The Game of Statues (1990).

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