The Reception of Netherlandish Art in the Indian Ocean Region and East Asia

Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), Wassenaar

In der Themengruppe des NIAS bündeln europäische, asiatische und amerikanische Kunsthistoriker und Historiker ihr Wissen, um den Kunstaustausch zwischen den Niederlanden und den verschiedenen Zivilisationen, die sich vom Kap der Guten Hoffnung über Persien und Indien bis nach Südostasien und darüber hinaus bis nach Japan und China erstrecken, zu untersuchen. Aufgrund der globalen Reichweite der holländischen Ostindischen Kompanie (VOC) und dem reichhaltigen überlieferten Quellenmaterial erschienen die Niederlande ein geeigneter Ausgangspunkt für eine solche Untersuchung zu sein. Das Endprodukt der Untersuchungen, ein Buch mit dem Titel „Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia“, wird vor allem für Kunst- und Kulturhistoriker, sowie für Kulturanthropologen und Studenten mit dem Studienschwerpunkt globaler Kulturaustausch von Interesse sein.

In the NIAS theme group European, Asian and American art historians and historians have joined forces to study artistic exchange between the Netherlands and different civilisations stretching from the Cape of Good Hope via Persia and India to Southeast Asia and beyond to Japan and China. The Netherlands seemed to provide an appropriate point of departure for such a study, considering the global reach of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the rich archival record it left behind.

Using the VOC as a framework, the participants in the project focused on artistic practice, patronage, market relations, gift exchange, iconography and visual imagery. Furthermore the group identified protagonists, objects and media of artistic transfer and examined the actual routes and directions of exchange. In this way we hope to stimulate theoretical debate on cultural exchange while contributing to the history of European-Asian relations in the early modern period.

Central to our project was the search for evidence of reciprocity. In that regard we observed a wide difference between various modes of reception, from the colonial societies in the Cape and Batavia, where artists from the Netherlands settled and worked for a local community of mixed composition, to the exclusivity of the situation in Japan, where works of European art ordered from the Dutch by the Japanese were actively copied and appropriated by Japanese artists. In order to accommodate the broad scope of our findings, our group has come to favour the concept of mediation as our basic model. This provides room not only for the role of the Dutch East India Company but also for the numerous agents and local protagonists acting in Asia within and outside the VOC framework. The final product of the group, a book entitled “Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia”, will be of interest to art historians, cultural historians, cultural anthropologists and students of global cultural exchange.

The Reception of Netherlandish Art and Architecture in the Cape Colony

My research showed that the production and reception of Netherlandish art in the Indian Ocean and in Asia were results of intensified market relations whereby the VOC (Dutch East India Company) played the role of a major actor. There existed, however, numerous local agents within and outside this framework. Art objects were commodities on the international but above all on the local markets. When people in Batavia or at the Cape moved there from Holland/Europe/America/Asia they brought only a small number of art objects for decorative or commemorative purposes, such as portraits, with them. So they had to commission art objects or buy them on the market whereby estate auctions provided a second-hand art market. Two processes of cultural exchange are visible. First a trickle down and dissemination process of Dutch decoration patterns from the Netherlands via the upper social strata of the Company to the middle classes and to the different indigenous groups. Second the expansion of Chinese art production. The Chinese decoration model penetrated into the European strata in Batavia in an early stage. A big market for Chinese art objects existed here already in the 1620s, whilst Chinese paintings entered into Dutch and Cape households only around 1700.

Michael North