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Kunstschilders, gilde en academie Over het probleem van de emancipatie van de kunstschilders in de Noordelijke Nederlanden van de 16de en 17de eeuw

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This article is a report on research undertaken in 1984-5 by a working group of art history students of the University of Amsterdam into the problem of the emancipation of artists f rom the craft guilds (Note 1). The research was based on Hoogewerff's excellently documented book on the Guilds of St. Luke and on published source material. The idea that artists and especially painters regarded the guilds as oppressive is a deeply rooted one (Note 2) and people are all too readily inclined to write of 'the artists' gaining their emancipation' from the Guilds of St. Luke. However, it is now clear that professional painters covered such a wide social spectrum that it is impossible to lump them all together under a single heading (Note 5), while a provisional investigation mainly, focussed on the first half of the 17th century even suggested that there could have been no question at all of emancipation. It became clear that the guilds continued to function all over the Northern Netherlands in the 17th century as Protectors of the profession, that there was no evidence of their hampering artistry and that if there was any emancipation, it took place within the guild itself. A factor that makes such research difficult is that the literary sources are by no means unambiguous or even reliable. In contrast to the meaning current in their day qf someone who does something with paint and a brush, Vasari and Van Mander used the term 'painter' only for those who painted scenes and portraits, not, for example, for those who did banners or ornamental work (Notes 7,8). Thus Van Mander's freguently cited tirade against the guild (Note 9) loses much of its force in respect of the emancipation theory. Moreover, it is the only text of that type in the Netherlands. Houbraken twisted the facts to fit his vision of the artist, projecting his idea of the artist's superiority on to the historical situation (Note II). Thus this study moved between two poles : on the one hand it again confirmed (Note 12) that the guilds continued to function until late in the 18th century, while on the other there was a growing need among their more successful members for an enhanced status and regard, which manifested itself in their assuming control of the guild and restructuring it more clearly and also in their uniting in additional groupings, in which the emphasis was laid on more intellectual and theoretical, aspects and links were sought with amateurs. Although both these moves could be regarded as a certain form of emancipation, neither can be ascribed to an urge for artistic freedom which was hampered by the guilds.


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