Rezension über:

Marsely L. Kehoe: Trade, Globalization, and Dutch Art and Architecture. Interrogating Dutchness and the Golden Age (= Visual and Material Culture, 1300-1700), Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2023, 235 S., 8 Farb-, 55 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-9-4637-2363-3, EUR 124,00
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Rezension von:
Angela Vanhaelen
Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University, Montreal, QC
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Anna K. Grasskamp
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Angela Vanhaelen: Rezension von: Marsely L. Kehoe: Trade, Globalization, and Dutch Art and Architecture. Interrogating Dutchness and the Golden Age, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 4 [15.04.2024], URL:

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Marsely L. Kehoe: Trade, Globalization, and Dutch Art and Architecture

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As the title indicates, Trade, Globalization, and Dutch Art and Architecture is an ambitious and far-reaching book. Ranging geographically from Willemstad, Curaçao to Jakarta, Indonesia and Holland, Michigan in the USA, Kehoe interrogates how a practice that she calls 'Dutching' shapes selected works of art, architecture, and material culture from the seventeenth century to the present day. Dutching refers to the artful exercise of remaking something - a seashell, a city street, a flower, a spice - so that it is perceived to be 'Dutch.' The tulip is the quintessential example: this plant from Turkiyë was imported, cultivated, and domesticated into an enduring symbol of Dutchness. The Dutching of the tulip continues today with cultural events like tulip festivals and Dutch days that are held in North American towns like Holland. As the case of the tulip suggests, Dutching invents a preferred vision of Dutch heritage - the happy, colourful, beneficent, and charming world of wooden shoes, canals, gabled townhouses, windmills, and blue-and-white porcelain (which was Dutched from China).

Kehoe describes Dutching as a fictive re-enactment of a mythic idealized Dutch past. Drawing on scholarship about collective memory, especially the classic 1925 study by Maurice Halbwachs, the main premise of Kehoe's book is that works of art and material culture are symbols that play a crucial role in the formation of group identity by creating a narrative about the past (24). A collective sense of Dutchness, Kehoe asserts, tends to centre on the art, architecture, and material culture of the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic: "The so-called Dutch 'Golden Age' is the primary time and place around which Dutch collective identity and memory rallies - the very naming of it as a golden age underscores its importance". (25) Kehoe emphasizes that collective remembering always involves collective forgetting, and the aim of the book is to demystify and decolonize by exposing how the difficult, messy, and ugly aspects of the Dutch colonial past have been expunged from national consciousness. Adding her voice to current debates about Dutch colonial history, Kehoe rightly insists that we interrogate both Dutchness as an essentializing concept and the notion of the golden age as an exclusionary historical framework. The introduction of the book, "Grasping at the Past," lays out this argument and situates the work within a burgeoning corpus of studies grouped as "Global Dutch Art History". (30-31) While the author offers a brief overview of this literature, a critical engagement with different theories and methods would have been useful to give readers a sense of the complexities of diverse approaches to global art history and how Kehoe's methodological contribution - a turn to collective memory - meets these challenges.

Each of the book's four main chapters, which follow the introduction presented in Chapter 1, focuses on a specific case study. Chapter 2 opens with a discussion of the nautilus cup. Popular in seventeenth-century collections and still life paintings, a nautilus cup is a large seashell mounted on an ornate metalwork base. The chapter intersperses its assessment of this idiosyncratic luxury item with surveys of general historical background, such as the spread of European trade, the establishment of the Dutch Republic, the foundation of the Dutch East and West India Companies, the Twelve Years' Truce, and the writings of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) on the freedom of the seas. Much of this information will be useful to readers who are new to the field, but familiar to scholars and students of the period. Kehoe concludes that the nautilus cup is a metaphor for the 'ocean contained in a cage' expressing the Dutch desire to dominate the seas and monopolize world trade (41, 57). Global commerce is also the emphasis of Chapter 3, "Gathering the Goods," which examines pronk (luxury) still life paintings, centring on the representation of pepper in relation to the spice trade. Kehoe differentiates her study from Julie Hochstrasser's book [1], which considers still life paintings of commodities in terms of the erasure of colonial violence, exploitation, and enslaved labour. Kehoe augments Hochstrasser's approach by arguing that luxury still life paintings also erase distance by gathering imported goods and presenting them on the Dutch table. The chapter concludes that these paintings express Dutch anxieties about declining trade and wealth (109).

Chapters 3 and 4 move to the context of the Dutch colonial cities of Batavia (present-day Jakarta) and Willemstad. In eighteenth-century Batavia, Dutch colonists flouted the rules of decorum, making it difficult to categorize people according to the social hierarchies which the city's gridded urban plan reinforced. Kehoe argues that the ostentatious dress and lifestyle of these Dutch settlers was perceived by "observers then and now" as "very unDutch" (126) because it was not sober, orderly, and modest. Colonial sumptuary regulation is an understudied area, and Kehoe's enquiry brings forward fascinating evidence and relates it to colonial urban planning, which is an innovative approach. Direct references to historical sources that employ terms like 'unDutch' would have helped to build the argument and to address the questions that this chapter raises about how unDutching might relate to Dutching. The final chapter "Simplifying the Past" also foregrounds understudied material, exploring the architectural development of Willemstad in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Curaçao. Kehoe examines the promotion of a style of building - the gabled townhouse - whose proliferation resulted in a characterization of the cityscape as predominantly Dutch. The analysis determines that this Dutching of the urban fabric obscures the complexity of Curaçao's colonial past.

In sum, Trade, Globalization, and Dutch Art and Architecture is a wide-ranging investigation of collective memory, which postulates that a global process of Dutching has been in operation since the seventeenth century. Throughout, Kehoe deliberately employs passive gerund verbs like Dutching, grasping, gathering, and simplifying. Lacking a specific subject, these verbs highlight the problem of Dutchness itself, which often seems to be a motivating agent of Dutching. This study thus raises important questions about art history and nationalism. Readers are left to wonder if essentializing classifications like 'Dutch' are useful and, if not, how to deconstruct Dutchness without reifying it.


[1] Julie Berger Hochstrasser: Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age, New Haven 2007.

Angela Vanhaelen