The Exotic Gift and the Art of the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic
Rife, Ellen O'Neil
University of Kansas
History of Art
Copyright held by the author.
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This dissertation examines the intersection between art and the gifting of exotic objects in the seventeenth-century United Provinces, directing attention to a special class of imagery visualizing the remarkable extent to which Europe's first consumer culture became intertwined with foreign goods and influences. Its four chapters present representative case studies encompassing a range of media, including prints and paintings, and artistic genres, such as still life, portraiture, landscape, and allegory, from the mid- through the late- seventeenth century. These episodes of exotic gift exchange and their manifestation in art belonged to public and private spheres, the gifting of men and women, and multiple classes of society. In analyzing these images, my methodology draws on close readings; socioeconomic, historical, pictorial, and cultural contexts; gender; and issues in gift theory, including reciprocity, identity, personalization, and commodity/gift status, to explore the pictures' meanings or functions for their audiences. Chapter one posits that Rembrandt van Rijn's 1650 print of a Filipino shell was designed by the artist to function as a gift necessitating reciprocation, and/or as a work of art for sale, in an effort to ameliorate his tenuous financial situation. Chapter two provides a cultural biography of two c. 1665 paintings depicting Brazil by Frans Post, which Johan Maurits van Nassau gave to Louis XIV in 1678, and considers the pictures' significance for their original Dutch audience, the giver, and the French court. Chapter three focuses on Nicolaes Berchem's c. 1665 Harbor Scene and proposes that the exotic gift exchange portrayed in the allegorical picture conflates trade and gift in the context of the burgeoning commercial city of Amsterdam. Chapter four highlights Gerard Hoet's c. 1678 Portrait of Anna Elisabeth van Reede that appears to make a statement about the noblewoman's role in her family and society by virtue of her wearing a garment evocative of Japanese robes gifted to the Dutch, which became a convention of male portraiture. This representative selection of pictures reveals the incorporation of the exotic gift into the fabric of Dutch art and culture, indicating the significant role the exotic played in the formation of Dutch identity.
- Art History Dissertations and Theses 
- Dissertations 
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