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The Netherlands became a world power within the space of not much more than a generation. It was also an age of Dutch enlightenment, the age of Rembrandt, Spinoza, Grotius and Huygens. In those years, Amsterdam was the capital of the world…
In a few short years at the end of the 16th and the start of the 17th century, the Dutch republic made itself the hub of the world. State of the art shipping, weapons and science enabled them to capture and dominate the lucrative spice trade with the East Indies. Back in the Netherlands, the wealth and freedom fuelled by this trade brought a glittering age of writing, painting and technological invention. Their freedom of press and religion was a magnet to the rest of Europe. Its primary monument remains Amsterdam itself, so it is easy to feel the connection to this day.
In his modern classic, Vermeer’s Hat, Timothy Brook says simply that 17th-century Netherlands raised the curtain on the global world – which is our world. The Dutch bought and sold wherever they could find anything to trade. They wrote the fundamentals of international law to suit their needs. They mapped the globe and the heavens. Their way of life became multicultural. When Vermeer painted a geographer in 1669, he dressed him in a Japanese kimono and gave him a globe depicting the Indian Ocean.