Crossroads of Amsterdam (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a late-spring 2010 faculty weekend seminar led by Mariët Westermann.

The Dutch naval blockade of Antwerp propelled Amsterdam’s rapid transformation from a medieval town to one of the first global cities, the premier port of Northern Europe, a magnet for Protestant talent from the Hapsburg Netherlands, and a crossroads of peoples, commodities, and refined products from all over the trading world. Amsterdam’s citizen elite drove innovations in town planning, urban engineering, financial systems, education, religious organization, and social services. Though eager to homogenize difference, the city fostered openness to foreign traders and immigrants on its own terms, as signaled in the representational scheme of the most imposing Town Hall in Northern Europe. Amsterdam’s intercultural condition features as problem and triumph in literature, theater, cartography, and painting, and these arts flourished even as they engendered Calvinist critique. This seminar investigated the successes and failures of the city to manage the tensions and stresses of urban expansion from roughly 1585 and 1700. It gathered a dozen faculty participants for interdisciplinary conversations framed by a set of shared advance readings and sharpened by participants’ own research. Particularly welcomed were projects that addressed the scope and limits of practices of tolerance and cosmopolitanism; and innovations in urban administration, social organization, and the built environment.

Director: Mariët Westermann is Provost of New York University Abu Dhabi and the Paulette Goddard Professor of Fine Arts at New York University. Her numerous books and articles include A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1700 (1996, 2005), Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt (2001), Rembrandt: Art and Ideas (2000), and Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675): Rijksmuseum Dossier (2004). She is currently writing a study of silence as a distinct resource of painting.