The Gentleman-Scholar at Home: Domesticity, Masculinity, and Civility in Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting

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Thiel, Laura Elizabeth
Art History , Masculinity , Seventeenth century , Dutch
This dissertation examines the gentleman-scholar depicted at home in Dutch seventeenth-century genre paintings, focusing primarily on art created in the Northern Netherlands from the 1630s through the 1670s. The methodological approach is art historical but also pertains to history of architecture, history of dress, and gender studies. Employing the framework of the 'Ages of Man', this thesis investigates three related pictorial themes: the student, the scholar in his prime, and the aged scholar. Variations of male scholarly figures and the accoutrements of the study have a long history in Europe. Prototypical sources include religious history paintings of learned hermit-saints; artistic interest in the allegorical Saturnine persona; portraits of famous scholars; and the iconography of scholarly melancholy implied through vanitas allusions in portraiture and genre paintings. While the majority of Dutch genre paintings pertain to themes of women, male domestic routines form a small but important subset of this imagery and have not been studied. By the 1640s, this subject is readily identified by his setting, clothing, and actions. The ubiquity of scholarly attributes, such as books and globes, paired with the wearing of scholarly robes suggest the merits of intellectual curiosity and the privileges of studying as a pastime and designating a room as a study (studeerkamer). Distinct themes in genre also imply the challenges and rewards of scholarly activity pursued in concert with masculine civic and familial duty. Central to the development of this pictorial theme were: the innovative treatment of learned men by Rembrandt and his circle; the fijnschilder subjects of Dou; and the practice of amateur study by elite men, as suggested by the art of Vermeer. As this dissertation reveals, this convention did not grow to be consistent across the Northern Netherlands, nor was artistic interest limited to university towns. Rather, the larger relevance of scholars in Dutch society is evident in visual and literary sources. The domesticity of this figure in genre painting suggests that scholars mediated between an active and a contemplative life. Societal respect was garnered for scholars through their balance of familial and social duties with the honorable pastime of scholarly leisure.
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