Life in Holland in the 1600's

Did you know?
The Dutch Republic was officially at war for more than half of Leeuwenhoek's life, about fifty years between 1632 and 1723.
Eighty Years' War 1568-1648
The first Anglo-Dutch War 1652–1654
Dutch-Swedish War 1657–1660
The second Anglo-Dutch War 1665–1667
The third Anglo-Dutch War 1672–1674
Franco-Dutch War 1672–1678
Nine Years' War 1688–1697
War of Spanish Succession 1701-1713

Leeuwenhoek's scientific life is well illustrated. Most of his three hundred plus letters reference figures drawn by professional artists, about 1,100 separately numbered figures. Most of the originals, mostly done with red chalk (now called Conte crayon), are lost. Copper plates for printing were etched by unknown artists in England for Philosophical Transactions and in the Netherlands for Leeuwenhoek's self-published volumes. The plates themeslves are long gone. The prints made from the plates accompany the published letters.

Leeuwenhoek's personal life is not well illustrated. There are a few portraits of him and a few more of some of his Hogenhouck relatives. Other than that, there is no visual record of him, his family, or his house on the Hippolytusbuurt.

However, Leeuwenhoek lived in a time and place that is better illustrated than almost any other society before the advent of photography in the mid-1800's. Financial prosperity and the comparatively high level of education in the Dutch Republic created a taste and market for pictures, mostly oil paintings and copper-plate etchings. This demand was met by a constant supply of genre art: landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still lifes, and historical scenes. Especially popular were the scenes from daily life, a detailed realism that depicted Dutch people working, eating, celebrating, and attending to daily chores like shopping and cleaning.

In order to give a sense of Leeuwenhoek's daily life, what he and his neighors wore and ate and did for work, this web has some of these genre paintings on both sidebars. However, this is not an art history web, so there is little about the painters or the paintings.

Learn more about Dutch Golden Age painting


Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)

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De Hooch was born in Rotterdam and studied in Haarlem. During the 1650's, he lived in Delft. He married Jannetje van der Burch on May 3, 1654, about two months before Leeuwenhoek married Barbara de Meij. Their marriage records are just two pages apart in the Gerecht or civil register. That is, neither of them registered their marriage in one of the Delft churches' Trouwboeken or marriage registers.

After the marriage and during the period his seven children were born, de Hooch painted scenes of domestic life. He paid close attention to mundane details of dress and interior furnishings. He exteriors, especially those set in little courtyards between houses in Delft, give a sense of the peaceful calm that charactized middle- and upper-class Dutch society. Most of his paintings were oils on canvas, but many were painted on wooden panels.

The self-portrait on the right was done in 1648 or 1649, at the beginning of his career.


Jan Steen (1626-1679)

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Steen was born and died in Leiden and was very productive for ten years in Haarlem. In 1649, he married Margriet van Goyen, daughter of a famous landscape painter, and they had eight children. In 1654, the same year that Leeuwenhoek moved back to Delft from Amsterdam, Steen moved to Delft and ran two breweries, De Roscam (Curry Comb) and De Slang (The Snake). Later, he lived in the village of Warmond, but that was decades after Leeuwenhoek went to school there.

Steen's oil paintings show Dutch people, especially the common people, in groups as they enjoyed life, eating, drinking, dancing, and celebrating. He painted life as it is lived so well that a cluttered house is still referred to in the Netherlands as "a Jan Steen household" (een huishouden van Jan Steen).

The self-portrait on the right was done in 1670, towards the end of his career.


Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685)

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This prolific painter and engraver spent most of his life in Haarlem even though the last name he used as a painter indicated that he was from the village of Ostade in the eastern part of the Dutch Republic. In Haarlme, Ostade was a member of the Saint Luke's guild. He had two short marriages, the second to Anna Ingels, both ending in the death of his wife.

Many painters, including Jan Steen, counted him as an important teacher. In addition to the influences of his teacher Frans Hals on his portraits, Ostade was influenced by Rembrandt.

Ostade's images of tavern scenes, village fairs, and country life are especially effective. Through attention to detail, they show the beauty in the coarse living conditions of the working classes in Holland. Ostade shows their homes, inside and out, and how they smoked, drank, argued, and entertained themselves with music and dancing.

The portrait on the right was done by Frans Hals in the mid-1640's when Ostade was in his 30's.


Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667)

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Metsu was the son of a Flemish painter living in Leiden, where he spent most of his life. He married Isabella de Wolff in 1658 and died nine years later before turning 40.

In 1648, the young painters Metsu and Jan Steen were founders of the Leiden chapter of the Guild of Saint Lucas. In other Dutch cities, this guild was already well established and helped ensure quality of artwork. It also restrained competition from non-guild members as well as guild members from other cities.

Metsu's interiors, especially at the end of his life, were influenced by Vermeer in their use of poses and light. Metsu also painted many young women buying and selling fish, poultry, fruit, and vegetables at open-air markets.

The self-portrait on the right shows Metsu and his wife in 1661.


Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

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Also a poet and painter, this engraver from Amsterdam published Spiegel van Het Menselyk Bedryf, usually translated as Book of Trades, in 1694. The one hundred images, each accompanied by a motto and verse, show Dutch people making their livelihoods in Leeuwenhoek's time.

Some of Luyken's engravings were after his death added to thousands of others in the Bowyer Bible, including the portrait on the right.