The database

A Golden Age?


What better way to learn about a culture than through the eyes of outside observers? Whereas the descriptions by locals are unavoidably biased by pride and propaganda, an outsider can lay bare the truly exceptional features of a culture and society from a more critical perspective and is able to place what he encounters within a larger context.

Much has been said about the Dutch Golden Age, in particular about the exceptionality of the situation in the Netherlands during the long Seventeenth Century. The narrative focuses on what was extraordinary, in terms of economy, societal norms, religion and art. However, much of this narrative leans heavily on nineteenth-century constructions, coloured by nationalistic ambitions. The project ‘Un siècle d’Or? Repenser la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle’ aims to examine and reconsider deeply rooted ideas about the Dutch Golden Age, in particular in relation to its visual culture. As part of this examination, the project wants to know how visitors experienced the country and what they observed. In order to answer this question, we will form a corpus of travel descriptions from visitors to the Dutch Republic in the long Seventeenth Century (1581-c.1750). This corpus, which will be presented in a database, will allow us to better understand the exceptionality of the young country – as well as the similarities with other countries – and provide valuable first-hand information about the cultural, societal, economic and artistic situation.


The database project will consist of three phases. Firstly, the corpus of texts needs to be established. This corpus will include both published books and manuscripts in French, German, English, Dutch and Italian (with occasional excursions to texts in other languages such as Spanish, Danish and Swedish). Whereas most published books have already been digitized by the different libraries (and are part of the public domain), most manuscripts (c. 60) still need to be digitized. As such, the database will offer an important contribution to the accessibility of these – often scarcely known – sources.

During the next phase, the project team will analyze the texts in the corpus for the occurrence of themes, objects and persons that are relevant within the context of the research question. The selection process of relevant topics will be based on the texts, rather than on a pre-conceived list. Simultaneously, the data gathered from the analysis of the travel descriptions will be incorporated in a database structure.

Lastly, the database will be made available to the scientific community. The project team will use the database to reconsider existing ideas about the Dutch Golden Age.