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Time Line


30000 BC Earliest traces of human settlement in the east of the country.

4500 Agriculturists settle in Limburg; their pottery belongs to the Spiral Meander Ware culture.


2000 The megalithic Hunebed culture flourishes in the Drenthe area.

2200 A nomadic people settles to the north of the great rivers; stroke ornamented pottery ware.

2000 Bell-Beaker civilisation, notably in the Drenthe. New settlements in the alluvial areas of the delta.

1900 Bronze Age. The dead are buried in burial mounds.

800 In the east the people incinerate their dead and bury them in urnfields.

750-400 First Iron Age: Hallstatt Period.

500 First terps are built in Friesland and the Groningen area.

450 South of the Great rivers, Second Iron Age: La Tène Period.

300 Germanic and Celtic tribes arrive in the area south of the Rhine.

Romans – Vikings

57-51 South of the Rhine, Caesar defeats the Menapii and Eburones, Celtic tribes belonging to the Roman province of Gallia Belgica.

12 The Germanic tribe the Batavi settle the banks of the great rivers.

AD 69-70 Batavian uprising against the Roman garrisons.

3C Incursions by Germanic tribes: the Franks settle the banks of the Rhine. At this time the main tribes occupying the territory are the Franks, Saxons and Frisians.

Late 3C The area south of the Rhine belongs to the Roman province of Germania Secunda (capital: Cologne).

4C Power struggle between the Salian Franks and the Romans.

382 St Servatius transfers his bishopric from Tongeren to Maastricht and the region’s gradual conversion to Christianity begins.

Early 6C The Merovingian kingdom under Clovis (465–511) extends from the north of Gaul to the Rhine.

561 The Merovingian kingdom is divided into Neustria (west of the river Scheldt) and Austrasia (east of the Scheldt; the present Netherlands).

Late 7C The Northumbrian missionary Willibrord evangelises Friesland.

800 Charlemagne is crowned Emperor of the West, a territory which covers the whole of the country and is centred on Aachen.

834 First of the Viking raids at Dorestad.

843 Treaty of Verdun. The Carolingian Empire is divided into three kingdoms: Germania, Francia and, between the two, a Middle Kingdom stretching from the North Sea to the Mediterranean and including the present-day Netherlands. The Middle Kingdom (Lotharingia) was short-lived and Lothair II received only the northern part.

879-882 Viking invasions: from their base in Utrecht they make raids into the surrounding countryside.

925 The German King Henry I, the Fowler, annexes Lotharingia.

959 Lotharingia is divided into Upper Lotharingia (Lorraine) and Lower Lotharingia, covering nearly all the present country.

Counties and Duchies

10C Bishop Balderic (919–76) extends the See of Utrecht.

Early 11C The Duchy of Brabant is founded by Lambert, Count of Leuven.

11C Creation of the county of Gelderland.

Late 11C The county of Holland is extended at the expense of the county of Flanders (in Zeeland) and the See of Utrecht.

Early 13C Zutphen and Veluwe become part of the county of Gelderland.

Late 13C Floris V, Count of Holland, conquers West Friesland.

1323 Zeeland passes from Flanders to Holland.

1350 Start of the civil war between the Hooks (Hoeken – backed by Margaret of Bavaria) and the Cods (Kabbeljauwen – backed by her son William V).

Consolidation of Burgundian power

Late 14C The Duchy of Burgundy is extended northwards when Philip the Bold acquires Limburg and certain rights over Brabant.

1428 Philip the Good deposes Jacoba and makes himself ruler of Holland and Zeeland.

1473 Charles the Bold acquires Gelderland; the only territory not in Burgundian hands is Friesland.

The Habsburgs

1477 Death of Charles the Bold; his daughter and heir Mary of Burgundy marries Maximilian of Austria, one of the Habsburgs.

Mary is forced to sign the Great Privilege, a charter conferring far-reaching local powers.

1494 Philip the Fair, their son, inherits the Low Countries when Maximilian is elected Holy Roman Emperor.

1515 Charles I of Spain, son of Philip the Fair, inherits the Low Countries. In 1516 he becomes King of Spain, and then in 1519 Emperor of Germany as Charles V. He adds Friesland to the Low Countries in 1523; the See of Utrecht in 1527; Overijssel in 1528; and takes Groningen and Drenthe by force in 1536.

1543 The Duke of Gelderland cedes his dukedom to Charles V, who thus rules over nearly the whole of Europe.

1548 Charles V groups the 17 provinces of the Low Countries and the Franche-Comté into the independent Burgundian Kreis.

The Spanish Netherlands

1555 Charles V abdicates his claim to the Low Countries in favour of his son Philip II, soon to become King of Spain.

1555-79 The Revolt of the Netherlands; the rise of Protestantism.

1566 The Compromise of Breda, also known as the Compromise of the Nobility; the Beggars protest against the Inquisition.

The Iconoclasm, involving riots and destruction of Church property.

1567 The Duke of Alba is appointed Governor of the Low Countries.

1568 William the Silent raises an army; beginning of the Eighty Years’ War.

1572 Capture of Brielle by the Sea Beggars; Vlissingen and Enkhuizen follow.

1579 Union of Arras is signed by Catholic Hainaut, Artois and Douai, pledging allegiance to Philip; in reply the northern Protestant provinces form an essentially military alliance and sign the Union of Utrecht.

The United Provinces

1581 Creation of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, a federation of seven provinces, independent of Spanish rule; Philip II is deposed.

1584 William the Silent is assassinated in Delft.

1585 His second son, Maurice of Nassau, succeeds his father as Stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland. He becomes undisputed leader of the United Provinces in 1618 on the death of his elder brother.

1596 Cornelis de Houtman establishes trading relations with Java.

1598 Edict of Nantes.

1602 Dutch East India Company founded to trade with Asia.

1609-21 Twelve Years’ Truce with Spain. Henry Hudson sails up the American river, later named after him, in his ship the Half Moon, while on a voyage for the Dutch East India Company.

1614 The name New Netherland is first used for the colony founded in the New World.

1618 Synod of Dort. Reprobation of the Remonstrants.

1619 Founding of Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies.

1620 The Pilgrim Fathers arrive on the Mayflower and establish Plymouth Colony.

1621 Founding of the Dutch West India Company to trade with America. Renewal of hostilities with Spain.

1624-54 Colonisation of northeast Brazil.

1625 The Dutch trading post on Manhattan Island is called Nieuw Amsterdam.

1626 Peter Minuit of the Dutch West India Company buys Manhattan from the Indians for a pittance.

1634 Dutch West India Company establishes a trading post in Curaçao in the Antilles.

1648 Treaty of Westphalia ends the Thirty Years’ War, also called the Eighty Years’ War. In the Peace of Münster Philip IV of Spain recognises the independence of the United Provinces.

1651 The English Navigation Act augurs ill for Dutch trade.

1652 Jan van Riebeeck founds the Cape Colony.

1652-54 First Anglo-Dutch War: commercial and colonial rivalry lead to what is essentially a war at sea; the Dutch fleet is commanded by Admiral Tromp.

1653-72 Stadtholderless Period: the statesman Johan de Witt governs as Grand Pensionary.


1795 Colonisation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

1664 The English seize New Netherland and rename its capital New York after the Duke of York, later James II.

1665-67 Second Anglo-Dutch War. Admiral de Ruyter earns distinction as commander of the Dutch fleet. Under the Treaty of Breda, Dutch Guiana (Surinam) is ceded to the Dutch in exchange for control of New Netherland.

1667-68 War of Devolution led by Louis XIV; Treaty of Aachen.

1672 William III becomes Stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland.

1677 William marries Mary, the daughter of James II.

1672-78 War with France.

1678-79 Peace of Nijmegen

1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

1688 Glorious Revolution: British crown offered jointly to William and Mary following the flight of James II.

1689 William becomes King of England.

1701-13 Spanish War of Succession: alliance of several countries, including the United Provinces, against Louis XIV. Treaty of Utrecht.

1702 Stadtholder William III dies without an heir. The title of Prince of Orange passes to the Frisian Stadtholder, Jan Willem Friso.

1702-47 Stadtholderless Period.

1747 William IV, the son of Jan Willem Friso, is the first elected Stadtholder of the United Provinces.

1751-95 William V, William IV’s son, is Stadtholder.

French domination

1795 A French army under General Pichegru overruns the country; William V flees to England; the United Provinces become the Batavian Republic (1795–1806).

1806 Louis Bonaparte becomes king of the Kingdom of Holland with Amsterdam as the capital.

1810-13 Louis Bonaparte abdicates; the country becomes part of the French Empire under Napoleon.

Union with Belgium

Dec 1813 William VI of Orange, son of William V, becomes last Stadtholder of the Netherlands.

1815 Battle of Waterloo and the fall of Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna recognises William VI, Prince of Orange, as the King of the Netherlands (including Belgium) under the name William I. In addition, he becomes Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

The Western seaboard of New Guinea is colonised.

1830 Brussels Revolution leads to Belgium’s independence.

An independent Kingdom

1831 Parts of Limburg and Brabant are ceded to Belgium but William I only ratifies the treaty in 1839.

1839 The first railway line is built between Haarlem and Amsterdam.


1948 Reign of Queen Wilhelmina.

1932 Zuiderzee Project.

May 1940 The country is invaded by the German army. The Queen and her family leave for London.

5 May

1945 German army surrenders, and the Queen returns.

1948 Queen Wilhelmina abdicates in favour of her daughter Juliana. Economic Union of Benelux.

Dec 1949 Independence of the Dutch East Indies which become the Republic of Indonesia.

1954 Autonomy of Dutch Guiana or Surinam and the archipelago of the Dutch Antilles.

1957 The Netherlands joins the EEC.

1960 The Benelux economic union comes into effect.

Nov 1975 Dutch Guiana becomes independent as the Republic of Surinam.

30 April

1980 Queen Juliana abdicates in favour of her daughter Beatrix.

1 Jan

1986 Aruba is separated from the Netherlands Antilles and becomes an internally self-governing integral part of the Netherlands realm.

1986 Flevoland becomes the 12th province.

1987 Inauguration of the Oosterschelde storm-surge barrier.

1992 Treaty of Maastricht signed by the twelve EC members.

1998 Completion of the Delta Plan.

The new millennium

2000 The Netherlands and Belgium co-host the Euro 2000 football championships.

2000 Parliament legalises euthanasia, setting strict guidelines for doctors.

Apr 2001 Four homosexual couples marry in Amsterdam under brand new legislation. It is the first ceremony of its kind in the Netherlands.

Jan 2002 The euro replaces the Dutch guilder.

Apr 2002 Following an official report that criticised its role in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 when ill-equipped Dutch peacekeeping forces failed to stop Bosnian Serb forces from murdering thousands of Muslims, Wim Kok’s government resigns.

May 2002 Anti-immigration party leader Pim Fortuyn is assassinated. Nearly a year later animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf is sentenced to 18 years for the killing.

Mar 2004 Queen mother Juliana dies, aged 94.

Jun 2006 Prime Minister Balkenende forms a temporary minority government after his coalition collapses in a row over immigration.

Nov 2006 New coalition government formed after a general election which brings large gains for the country’s Socialist Party.

Jan 2008 Controversy rages over the release of a short anti-Islam film by the Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders.

Ties Between the British and the Dutch

The Netherlands and Britain were two small seafaring nations with a strong Protestant tradition, in an otherwise predominantly Catholic world. They were linked politically, religiously, commercially, intellectually and artistically long before William III’s reign, though it was during his time that their friendship reached its peak.

William III, Prince of Orange, was the nephew and son-in-law of King James II (1685–88) of England, and Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He married Mary, James’ daughter, in 1677. James set about establishing Catholicism, which created nationwide unrest and dissent. The British wrote to William in June 1688 asking him to restore peace and unity to the country. William landed in October 1688, James abdicated, and Mary, the nearest Protestant claimant to the throne, was crowned jointly with William in April 1689. During their reign (1689–1702) a vogue for all things Dutch developed.

Political decisions were closely linked to commercial interests, and the Dutch, English and Scots had been exchanging naval techniques and trading together for years, in areas such as the wool and shipbuilding industries.

Once commercial links had been established between the two countries, Dutch goods and influences began appearing in Britain. These included bricks and gables, sash windows, Dutch-style gardens, marine painting and portraits, and interior decoration. Dutch influence reached its peak during William and Mary’s reign with the transformation of Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, where the influence of their Dutch residence, Het Loo, is apparent. They employed Grinling Gibbons to do carvings, Daniël Marot as their architect and interior decorator, and Sir Godfrey Kneller to paint portraits; all were in some way connected with the Netherlands. Many stately homes, such as Belton, Ashdown and Easton, contained Dutch-style decorative features including carvings, tulip vases, lacquerware cabinets and upholstered cabriole-legged chairs, and reflected Mary’s great love of porcelain and William’s for gardens.

The Dutch tradition of religious tolerance and freedom of expression also attracted political and religious refugees from Britain. With the reign of William and Mary, a wave of tolerance spread through Britain, rendering exile to the Netherlands unnecessary.

Overseas Expansion

In the middle of the 16C, Amsterdam traders went to Antwerp to obtain goods brought back from the Indies by Portuguese ships. Since the mouth of the Scheldt was cut off by the Sea Beggars, the traders started sailing to Lisbon in 1580, the same year that Philip II of Spain invaded Portugal. In 1585 he placed an embargo on Dutch trade in Spain and Portugal. The Dutch merchants, forced to handle shipments themselves, clashed with the Spanish, Portuguese and above all the English, who were fearsome competitors in the overseas markets.

The route to the East

While looking for a passage to India from the north of Europe, Willem Barents discovered Novaya Zemlya in 1594 and Spitsbergen in 1596. In the same year, Cornelis de Houtman landed in Java. Jacob van Neck conquered the island of Mauritius in 1598. After the establishment of Batavia (now Jakarta) by Jan Pieterszoon Coen in 1619, Java became a Dutch colony. In 1641, Malacca was wrested from the Portuguese, and in the following year the explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman, an explorer working for the East India Company, discovered the islands of Tasmania and New Zealand. Australia was first mapped by Dutch cartographers, who called it Nieuw-Holland. Jan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck established the Cape Colony (South Africa) in 1652, and Ceylon was occupied in 1658.

The East India Company

To coordinate the large number of trading companies sailing to the East, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt founded the United East India Company or VOC in 1602. The Company obtained a monopoly over shipping and trade to the east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Strait of Magellan, it soon became the biggest trading company of the 17C, with trading posts all over Asia. From these settlements, the VOC brought back costly spices (nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, saffron, ginger and cloves) and Chinese porcelain; these were largely replaced by tea, coffee, silk and cotton from the 18C onwards. The journey from the Netherlands to Java took eight months, and to coordinate all these expeditions a central administration was set up in Batavia. Here, all products from Sumatra, Borneo, the Moluccas, and also India, China, Japan and Persia, were centralised for transportation to the home country, and they played a major part in creating the prosperity that was the Golden Age. The VOC was finally disbanded in 1789.

The Americas

In the 17C, Dutch trade also turned towards the New World. The first expedition was that of Hudson in 1609; Amsterdam merchants established a factory in Surinam in 1613, and Willem Schouten discovered Cape Horn in 1616.

The Dutch West India Company (WIC), created in 1621, traded both with Africa and the Americas; the “commodities” included slaves. It set up trading posts on the coasts of both continents, and also conquered many islands in the Caribbean: Bonaire, Tobago, Curaçao, Sint-Maarten and the other Antilles.

In Brazil, Johan Maurits van Nassau (1604–79) was appointed governor-general (1636–44). He was a great patron of the arts and sciences, and assembled a team of academics and artists who documented the country in great detail.

The WIC concentrated mainly on southern America, but in 1624 it established Nieuw Amsterdam on the east coast of North America, and the Dutch colonialist Peter Stuyvesant became its governor shortly afterwards. Under his rule, Nieuw Amsterdam developed rapidly, but in 1664 it was taken by the English and renamed New York.


Many of the Dutch conquests in Asia and America were only temporary. However, they succeeded in establishing lasting settlements in Indonesia (until 1949) and Surinam (until 1975). The Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Bonaire, St Eustatius, Saba and St Martin) and Aruba still form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, having become an internally self-governing integral part of the Netherlands in 1954 and 1986 respectively.

Traditional Structures


The lovely farmhouses, which are scattered over the countryside, are part of the country’s familiar landscape. They are largest in the polder areas.

Frisian farmhouses

These buildings with huge roofs can be seen all over Friesland, in areas which were formerly part of Friesland, such as the north of the province of Noord-Holland, and in the province of Groningen.

Pyramid-roofed farmhouses (Stolpboerderijen)

There are many of these in the north of the province of Noord-Holland. Their enormous pyramid-shaped roofs are reminiscent of haystacks, and the stables, barn and living quarters are all under one roof. On one side of the roof, the thatch is partially replaced by tiles forming a decorative pattern. Sometimes, in the more elaborate farmhouses, the façade has a richly decorated brick pediment. Similar buildings which are rectangular are found in southern Friesland.

“Head-neck-trunk” farmhouses (Kop-hals-rompboerderijen)

These can be seen in the north of Friesland and the province of Groningen. These are made up of three parts: the living quarters (the “head”) are linked by a narrow section (the “neck”) to a large building (the “trunk”), which includes the cowshed, barn, and in some cases a stable. Traditionally, the living quarters have a tiled roof, whereas the barn is thatched. This kind of farmhouse is often built on a mound. At either end of the ridge of the barn roof, there is an ornamental triangular board with holes in it, which were placed there to allow owls to fly in and out of the building, nest in the hay and catch mice. The boards are often decorated with carved wooden motifs depicting two swans.

“Head-neck” farmhouses (Kop-rompboerderijen)

These are found in the same areas as “Head-neck-trunk” farmhouses, and are similar to them except that, although the living quarters have a tiled roof, there is also some living accommodation in the thatched section. Sometimes, the back of the house gradually widens out to form the barn.

Oldambt farmhouses

These are named after the region of Oldambt, in the east of Groningen province, where they were first built. They can now be seen all over the province, and have staggered side walls which merge into those of the barn. The tall, wide living quarters often have stucco mouldings around the front door, making the building look very elegant. There are small windows in the attic, and the living quarters have a tiled roof, while the barn is usually thatched. Sometimes a second or even a third barn would be attached to the first to cope with large harvests.

Hall-houses (Hallenhuizen)

These are the most widespread type found in the Netherlands, particularly in the provinces of Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland and Utrecht; they can also be seen in Zuid-Holland and in the Gooi. Inside, the ceiling rests on two rows of piles connected by crossbeams. These divide the interior into a wide central “nave” and two narrower “side aisles”.

All hall-houses derived from losse hoes or open houses. The interior consisted of one large room with no partitions and with an open fireplace; the family and cattle shared the same space, and the hay was stored on the beams beneath the roof. A separate living area for the parents was sometimes built on to the side of the house. This type of farmhouse can still be found in Twente.

Twente farmhouses (Twentse boerderijen)

In Twente and around Winterswijk (Gelderland), there are still some half-timbered farmhouses. The walls were formerly made from woven wicker and clay, but are now made of brick. The buildings have two-sided roofs with wooden gable ends.

Drenthe farmhouses (Drentse boerderijen)

These are elongated in shape, with a usually thatched four-sided roof to both the house and the barn and stable section. At the back of the building, the roof has a section taken out of it to create sufficient height for the stable doors, so that hay carts can pass through. From the 18C onwards, some farmhouses in southwest Drenthe and to the north of Overijssel had the stable doors at the back replaced by side doors in order to increase the space in the barn.

T-shaped farmhouses (T-huizen)

In the Achterhoek, the IJssel area, the provinces of Utrecht and Zuid-Holland, and in Gooi, the house is set crosswise to the barn, creating a T shape. This design owes its existence to the prosperity of farmers in the fertile areas along the main rivers, who extended their houses on either side. Carts entered through the back of the building, which had a single long roof.

Local variations on the hall-type farmhouse can also be seen in Staphorst and Giethoorn. They also exist in the Krimpenerwaard and Alblasserwaard, where the living quarters have a raised floor because of the risk of floods. In the provinces of Utrecht Zuid-Holland, cheese-making farms had a dairy and a cheese storage area in the basement of the house.

Transverse farmhouses (Dwarshuizen)

These farmhouses have their longest side at the front, and the rooms are side by side, with the living quarters set at right angles to the barn. They can be seen in Limburg and in the eastern part of Noord-Brabant.


This is the only province in the Netherlands where farmhouses have a square enclosed courtyard, which is reached from the outside via a large gateway. In Southern Limburg, some of the buildings often have black and white half-timbered walls.


This province has a distinctive long-fronted style of farmhouse, langgevelboerderijen, with the doors and windows facing the road and a long thatched or tiled roof. Because these farmhouses often provided limited space, a Flemish barn would often be built beside them, with wooden walls and a thatched roof.


Here, the various buildings were kept separate. The largest was the wooden barn, which had tarred walls and white door and window frames.


There are still some 1 000 windmills in the Netherlands, and they are one of the most distinctive features of the landscape. Some overlook the old walls of towns and dykes; others stand at the entrances to villages or beside lakes. The most famous group of windmills is at Kinderdijk.

The language of windmills

The sails of a windmill turn anticlockwise. When stationary, their position could be used to send messages to the people of the surrounding area, as follows:

Ο two vertical sails (+): windmill is at rest, but ready to be operated again

Ο two diagonal sails (x): polder windmill, at rest for a longer period

Ο upper sail just to the right of vertical (x): a sign of celebration

Ο upper sail just to the left of vertical (x): a symbol of mourning.

Windmill decorations

Many wooden windmills are painted green with white edging. The windshaft, where the sails cross, is often painted with a red and yellow or blue and white star, with a decorative board underneath stating the windmill’s name and the date of its construction. When a wedding took place, the sails would be abundantly decorated with garlands and symbolic motifs.

Main types of windmills

There are two main kinds of windmills: polder mills and industrial mills. Polder mills were used for drainage purposes, and there are none in the east of the country, where the height above sea level ensures natural drainage of water. Industrial mills were used for a wide variety of purposes, such as milling wheat, extracting oil, hulling rice and peppercorns, and sawing wood. Some of these are still in use.

The oldest type of windmill

Originally, the only mills in the Netherlands were the watermill and the horse-powered treadmill. The first windmills appeared in the mid 13C, and may have derived from the stone-built ones used in Persia to mill corn. The body and sails rotate round a heavy fixed wooden post made out of a tree trunk, so that the mill is always facing into the wind. When the sails turn, they rotate the grindstones inside. Outside, on the side opposite the sails, a tail pole joined to the post and operated by a wheel enables the windmill to be turned round. The ladder fixed to the main body of the windmill also turns with it. Few windmills of this type remain in the country.

The first polder mills

The first windmill used for drainage, in about 1350, was a post-mill adapted specifically for the purpose by replacing the solid central post with a hollow one, through which the drive-shaft was placed. This was known as a hollow post-mill; the earliest known example dates from 1513. This had a smaller tower and a larger base to allow space for a scoop, resembling a paddle-wheel, which was used to lift the water. In most cases, however, the scoop was on the outside and the base was used as living accommodation, particularly in Zuid-Holland.

The sleeve windmill (kokermolen) was easier to turn into the wind: the wooden spindle was replaced by a sleeve, around which the sails and the top part of the windmill rotated. In Friesland, there is a smaller version of the hollow post-mill known as the spinnekop (spider’s head) because it looks like a spider from a distance. The weidemolentje of Noord-Holland is even smaller. In Friesland and Overijssel, there are still a few examples of the tjasker, a simply constructed windmill with a tilted spindle.

Mills with rotating caps

Turning the whole windmill into the wind was heavy work, and the Dutch invention of the smock mill represented a major improvement. This had a small rotating cap and sails on a large fixed tower. The wheel used to turn the cap and sails was usually on the outside, though there was also a form in Noord-Holland where the wheel was inside the mill, making it larger.

These mills were built of wood. They often had a thatched roof and an octagonal shape, in which case the base was made of stone. Sometimes, the wooden frame was clad in brick, giving it a truncated cone shape.

Industrial mills

In the 16C, the windmill was adapted for industrial purposes. The first oil windmill began operation in Alkmaar in 1582. In 1592, Cornelis Corneliszoon of Uitgeest built the first sawmill, which subsequently underwent many improvements and resulted in the first post-mill used for sawing, which rotated on its base. Next, hulling mills were built to hull first barley and then, when the Dutch began trading in the Far East, rice. The first of these was built in 1639 in Koog aan de Zaan. Paper mills were first used in about 1600, and became more widespread in 1673 when French paper manufacturers relocated to the Zaanstreek.

It was here that the greatest concentration could be found until the 19C; they were specially built for making paper and sawing wood for boat-building. Most of the other different types of windmills developed in this area; they included tobacco snuffmills, hemp mills for making ropes, tanning mills for leather, spice mills mainly for mustard, and fulling mills for textiles. Most of these were very tall, with a balcony around the side and a workshop at the bottom.

Tower mills

Industrial windmills were often built in towns, and had to be several storeys high if they were to catch the wind. Because they were so tall, the sails could not be set from the ground, and so this was done from a balcony halfway up the windmill; the miller’s accommodation and the storage area were below this. Alternatively, instead of a balcony, an earth wall was built around the windmill and served the same purpose. Most tower mills were made of stone and were a truncated cone shape. In Groningen province, they had octagonal bases made of brick, and in the Zaanstreek there was a workshop in the wooden base.

Architecture and Sculpture

Over the centuries, the Netherlands has made a major contribution to Western art. Sculpture occupies a relatively modest place in the Dutch artistic heritage, perhaps due to a shortage of materials until the 20C, and so does music. But the country’s architecture has been outstanding during some periods of its history, and its paintings, too, make the Netherlands a place of pilgrimage and inspiration.

Romanesque art and architecture

Examples of Romanesque art and architecture can be seen throughout the country.

Rhenish-Mosan Art

This form of Romanesque developed in the Maas Valley and in particular at Maastricht, which belonged to the diocese of Liège. The style is very similar to that of the Rhine Valley, hence its name (Mosan being the adjective for Maas or Meuse).

Maastricht was an important town in the Roman era and then a place of pilgrimage where the relics of St Servatius, who died in 384, were venerated. The town has some magnificent buildings, such as the St-Servaasbasiliek and the Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek. In its early days, Mosan art borrowed a great deal from Carolingian architecture. Apart from the St-Nicolaaskapel at Nijmegen, whose shape imitated the octagonal basilica of Charlemagne in Aachen Cathedral, Carolingian churches usually have two chancels, an imposing westwork, and a court chapel. Inside, there is a flat wooden ceiling and square pillars. Construction of the St-Servaasbasiliek began in about 1000, starting with a westwork with two large towers decorated with Lombard arcading. The Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek, dating from the same period, also has a massive westwork, flanked by round turrets. The St-Amelbergakerk at Susteren, built in the second half of the 11C, is very plain.

In the 12C, Mosan architecture mellowed and became more decorative, and sculpture started appearing on the capitals, low reliefs and portals. It was during this period that both the St-Servaasbasiliek and the Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek were altered, and the chancel of the latter, viewed from the nave, is one of the most beautiful Romanesque achievements in the country. The original trefoiled plan of Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade also shows a Rhenish influence. The Onze Lieve Vrouwe Munsterkerk at Roermond, although restored, retains some Rhenish-Mosan characteristics. The crypts of these Romanesque churches are often very beautiful.

Other centres

Utrecht, which was an important bishopric in the Middle Ages, became a centre of Romanesque church architecture at an early stage. However, apart from the Pieterskerk dating from 1148, there are only a few remains of the fine Romanesque buildings erected by Bishop Bernulphus. Among the churches in the diocese of Utrecht, the Grote Kerk at Deventer has preserved the remains of a double transept and a westwork which links it to Mosan churches. At Oldenzaal, the great St-Plechelmusbasiliek is later (early 12C) and has a nave with groined vaulting supported by powerful pillars. Beginning in the mid-12C, regional versions of the Romanesque style appeared in Friesland and in the province of Groningen, where brick decoration was used on the outside walls of village churches. inside, there are often the remains of frescoes.

Gothic architecture

Gothic architecture appeared in the Netherlands during the 14C and 15C. Many churches, and some town halls, date from this period.


Noord-Brabant, a province where the majority of the inhabitants are Catholic, has most of the large churches and cathedrals in the country. These were built in the Brabant Gothic style, which resembles Flamboyant Gothic and is found in many buildings in Belgium. Their exteriors have open-work gables and crocket spires, tall windows, flying buttresses, and a tall belfry, while the interiors have a slender central nave with pointed vaulting resting on round columns with crocket capitals and a triforium.

The Grote Kerk in Breda is a typical example of Brabant Gothic, as is the St-Janskathedraal in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which was begun in the 14C and is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the country, as well as being the largest. Unlike other buildings, its vaults rest not on columns but on a cluster of small columns without capitals. Brabant Gothic influenced the style of many other churches in the country. In Noord- and Zuid-Holland, the stone vault was rare and churches had flat or barrel-vaulted wooden ceilings; the only exception is the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht. Other beautiful Gothic buildings include the Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden, the Grote Kerk in Alkmaar, the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the St-Janskerk in Gouda, and the St-Bavokerk in Haarlem. The cathedral in Utrecht unfortunately did not survive the great storm of 1672, but its elegant bell-tower, the Domtoren, still stands, and influenced many other bell-towers around the country, including that of Amersfoort. In the same diocese, the Gothic St-Nicolaaskerk in Kampen is also interesting.

Town halls (Stadhuisen)

Two town halls in the Flamboyant Gothic style are particularly remarkable. That of Gouda is delightful, its façade a mass of pinnacles and slender spires. The town hall in Middelburg is sumptuous; it was built by the Belgian architect family Keldermans and shows the influence of Brussels town hall.


Although sculpture is not as abundant as in Belgium, there are some interesting 15C and early 16C woodcarvings. Thegroups by Adriaen van Wesel (late 15C) displayed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are carved with a remarkable sense of composition and a great strength of expression. The Brabant altarpieces are triptychs in the Flamboyant style, with a carved central panel showing very lively scenes. This is flanked by two painted panels. The altarpieces can be seen at St.-Janskathedraal in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Onze Lieve Vrouwe Munsterkerk in Roermond. There are some fine examples of choir stalls, often carved with satirical themes, in churches including the Martinikerk in Bolsward and the Grote Kerk in Breda.

The Renaissance and Mannerism

The Renaissance reached the Netherlands at a relatively late stage, and its pure Italian form appears hardly at all. However, Mannerism (a transitional form between Renaissance and Baroque) flourished, particularly in Holland.


This was not influenced by the Renaissance until the mid 16C. The style was brought here by Italian artists such as Thomas Vincidor da Bologna, who designed Breda Castle; it was then taken up by local architects. In fact, Renaissance elements were used without making major architectural changes, and the traditional Gothic plan was often retained. They were mainly apparent in details, such as shell-shaped window tympana, dormer windows with pinnacles, and octagonal turrets.

Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527–c. 1603) was a great advocate of Renaissance decoration applied to architecture, but did not do much work in his own country. His theoretical writings had an important influence on the architecture of the Low Countries. The Fleming Lieven de Key worked a great deal in Haarlem, where he was the municipal architect. The old meat market, or Vleeshal (1603), is his finest work. Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) was both a sculptor and architect. He built several churches, mainly in Amsterdam (including the Zuiderkerk and Westerkerk) and large town houses (Huis Bartolotti)). De Keyser’s Mannerist style, like that of Lieven de Key, also contained Baroque elements; his buildings were more monumental, with an imposing feeling of line.

Renaissance influences were particularly apparent in Friesland, where the penchant for geometric decoration and playful detail, which was already apparent in Romanesque churches, spread to many other buildings. The new style was used in town halls, such as those of Franeker and Bolsward, law courts (the Kanselarij in Leeuwarden), and town gateways (the Waterpoort in Sneek). The east and west of the country were less affected by these influences, though the weigh-house in Nijmegen is a good example of the Renaissance style.


Increasing numbers of funerary monuments were made in the Italian Renaissance style. Thomas Vincidor da Bologna made the tomb of Engelbert II of Nassau in Breda. Hendrick de Keyser continued this trend in the early 17C with the tomb of William the Silent in Delft. He also designed the bronze statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam. In Friesland, the Renaissance style was expressed in woodwork. Some churches, such as the Martinikerk in Bolsward and the Grote Kerk in Dokkum, have pulpits whose panels are carved with symbolic scenes. The remarkable 17C choir stalls of Dordrecht’s Grote Kerk are also inspired by the Renaissance, and the magnificent stained glass of the St-Janskerk in Gouda is one of the finest examples of Renaissance art.

The Golden Age

In the middle of the 17C, the playful ornamentation of Mannerism began to disappear. Architecture became dominated by symmetry and proportion, although this was much more restrained in the Netherlands than the Baroque style of other countries, and is sometimes called “Classicism”.

One of the most famous architects of the Golden Age was Jacob van Campen (1595–1657), designer of Amsterdam’s town hall (1648), which subsequently became the royal palace. This is square in shape, with severe lines softened a little by the slightly projecting façade, sculpted pediments and small tower. It is a majestic work which greatly influenced architecture throughout the country. Pieter Post (1608–69), who built the royal palace (Huis ten Bosch) and the Mauritshuis in The Hague based on plans by Van Campen, and the town hall in Maastricht, continued this trend. Jacob Roman built Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn in a similar style in 1685. This stately architectural style, reflecting the Golden Age, is also apparent in the town houses along Amsterdam’s main canals. One of the most beautiful examples is the Trippenhuis built by Justus Vingboons (c. 1620–98), who worked a great deal with his brother Philips.

Many of the Protestant churches of this period are circular, often with a dome; one example is the Nieuwe Kerk, or Ronde Lutherse Kerk, in Amsterdam (1671). In the south of the country, some buildings were constructed using the more extravagant Baroque style; one example is the Jezuïtenkerk in Maastricht.

18C and 19C

The French-born architect and decorative designer Daniël Marot (1661–1752) built a number of elegant town houses in The Hague. From now on, the French influence and the Louis XV and XVI styles predominated; the Rococo or Louis XV style was mainly apparent in the external sculpture, and in the grilles and imposts used to decorate the doors, though it also appeared in stucco interior decoration.

In the early 19C, architects began once again to seek their inspiration in the past; first ancient Greece and Rome (Neoclassicism), and later the Middle Ages and Renaissance (neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance). In Eclecticism, these stylistic elements were used together. One of the most important architects in this period, PJH Cuypers (1827-1921), introduced a form of neo-Gothic to his buildings, which included the Rijksmuseum and the central railway station in Amsterdam, and carried out radical restorations of several medieval buildings such as Kasteel De Haar. Although the architecture of earlier eras provided such a major source of inspiration for that of the 19C, it was also during this period that new materials such as cast iron and steel were first used.

20C and 21C

During the 20C and 21C, architecture has experienced something of a renaissance in the Netherlands, and there has also been a renewed interest in sculpture.


HP Berlage (1856–1934), who built Amsterdam’s Stock Exchange (1897–1903), was the precursor of Rationalism, an architectural movement which placed a great deal of emphasis on materials and function. KPC de Bazel (1869–1923) worked in a similar way with his building for Algemene Bank Nederland, Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam School (c. 1912–23) strove for a less austere architecture than that of Berlage, and Michel de Klerk, Peter Kramer and JM van der Mey were the great masters of urban renewal; their work made expressionistic use of brick. WM Dudok stood slightly apart from the Amsterdam School; he was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and is best known as the designer of the town hall in Hilversum.

At the same time, the De Stijl movement was being founded by the painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg and the architect JJP Oud. Architects such as Gerrit Rietveld (who also designed furniture), J Duiker and B Bijvoet also gained their inspiration from the movement, using concrete skeletonnes and superimposing and juxtaposing cube-shaped spaces to form a whole. This was known as Nieuwe Bouwen (New Building) or Functionalism, and was at its height from 1920–40. One of the highlights of this style is the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam by the architects Brinkman and Van der Vlugt, a masterpiece in steel, glass and concrete.

Around 1950, particularly during the rebuilding of Rotterdam, urban planners began taking more account of local people’s needs. The Lijnbaan (1952–54), designed by JH Van den Broek and JB Bakema, was the first pedestrian precinct in Europe. The Forum generation, as it was called, also included Aldo van Eyck (who built the Burgerweeshuis and Moederhuis in Amsterdam), Herman Hertzberger (responsible for the Vredenburg in Utrecht and the VROM building in The Hague), and Piet Blom, the architect of the famous cube-shaped apartments and the building known as Het Potlood, both in Rotterdam. Wim Quist built the Willemswerf, an office block in the same city, and various museums including the Museum Beelden aan Zee, the seaside sculpture museum in The Hague.

Rem Koolhaas (b. 1944) is one of the country’s leading contemporary architects. He established a firm of international architects, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in Rotterdam in 1975. Koolhaas has become famous in the Netherlands for buildings such as the Nederlands Danstheater in The Hague and the Museumpark and Kunst hal in Rotterdam. He has also gained an international reputation for work such as his urban plan for the French city of Lille. The local environment and traditional building styles play an important part in the work of Jo Coenen (b. 1949), whose most important project has been the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut in Rotterdam. Finally, among the younger generation of architects, Ben van Berkel (b. 1957) designed Rotterdam’s Erasmusbrug, or Erasmus Bridge, completed in 1996.


Most Dutch towns and cities have used sculpture in a wide variety of materials to enliven their pedestrian precincts and parks. Many modern buildings have façades decorated with mosaics, coloured ornamentation or bronze figures.

Mari Andriessen (1897–1979) was one of the greatest Dutch sculptors of the 20C. He created the statue of a docker near the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, the monument in the Volkspark in Enschede, and the statue of Queen Wilhelmina in the Wilhelminapark in Utrecht.

Other leading contemporary sculptors are the Fortuyn/O’Brien duo, whose light, elegant compositions feature wooden slats wrapped in paper or silk. Carel Visser (b. 1928) was one of the first Dutch sculptors to work in metal, and made collage sculptures, including a wide variety of found objects. His recent work is more detailed and intricate. Henk Visch (b. 1950) is mainly known for his figurative sculptures, often consisting of contemplative human or animal figures with poetic titles.

Military architecture

All over the Netherlands there are the remains of fortifications built over the centuries to defend the country against invasion.

In the Middle Ages, defensive works initially consisted of walls of earth surrounded by a ditch and a ring of stakes; later on, castles and fortresses were built. Some of the finest examples are the fortress in Leiden, the Muiderslot, and Slot Loevestein. As towns began to develop, so earthworks were replaced by stone walls with towers and impressive gateways. Parts of these walls can still be seen in Amersfoort and Elburg. Typical features included machicolations and parapet walks along the tops of walls and towers, and crenels and other holes through which stones and burning pitch could be thrown.

The walls of fortified towns were not able to withstand the cannons introduced in the early 15C, and so the high walls and towers were lowered and provided with moats or earthworks which could not be breached by these weapons. The Spanjaardsgat in Breda is an example of this kind of construction.

The next step was to build bigger but shorter towers known as roundels; a fine example of these is De Vijf Koppen in Maastricht. However, their round shape was not very practical, since there was not enough room for armaments at the top and there was a blind spot straight in front of the roundel. As a result, Italian engineers in the early 16C developed the bastion, a five-sided projecting fortification intended to overcome the drawbacks of roundels. This new structure was soon adopted in the Netherlands.

During the Eighty Years’ War, a variety of Italian-inspired changes resulted in the development of a new form of defence known as the Old Dutch System. The Flemish engineer Simon Stevin (1548–1620) developed the theoretical basis for this system. The fortifications were made of earth, so that cannon balls would simply become lodged in them, and were nearly always surrounded by a ditch in which small islands known as demilunes. The leading builder of fortifications at this time was Adriaan Anthoniszoon (c. 1543–1620), who worked on nearly 30 towns and forts around the country. The best-preserved examples of these are at Willemstad, Heusden, and Bourtange. Naarden, whose fortifications are better preserved than any other in the country, was built using the so-called French System, with larger bastions and a double ring of defences. In 1685, Colonel Menno van Coehoorn (1641–1704) designed the New Dutch System exemplified by Hellevoetsluis and Bergen op Zoom. This had large bastions placed close together, making the walls between them (known as curtain walls) shorter and shorter, eventually resulting in the tenaille system of star-shaped fortifications formed by a succession of bastions with no curtain walls (Linie van Doesburg).

The development of longer-range artillery meant that fortifications had to be built at increasing distances from the towns they were built to defend. Forts were built in a circle around the fortifications, as in the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (1840–60) around Utrecht. The main purpose of these “water lines” was to flood the land to a depth of about 40cm/15.7in to slow the enemy down; this was done using a system of sluices and quays. Forts were built in places which could not be flooded, such as the huge fort at Rijnauwen, near Bunnik. The circle of some 40 forts that form the Amsterdam Citadel is an average of 12km/7.4mi from the capital; one is the island fort of Pampus in the IJsselmeer. This famous citadel has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. The earlier citadel of Den Helder was built by Napoleon in 1811.

After the First World War, defensive lines of concrete bunkers were built; the best known are the Grebbelinie and the bunkers on the Afsluitdijk near De Oever and Kornwerderwand (now a museum). The most prominent Second World War fortifications in the Netherlands are the long series of bunkers along the coast, which formed part of the German Atlantic Wall. The most recent are the Rijn-IJssellinie, built in 1951 as part of NATO defences. The project was cancelled in 1954 as a result of changes in NATO’s strategic plans.

Industrial heritage

The Industrial Revolution did not take place in the Netherlands until the end of the 19C. Factories were built, steam power began to be used, as were iron and steel. But as far back as the 17C, the Netherlands had Europe’s biggest industrial area, the Zaanstreek, where nearly a thousand windmills were used to manufacture paper, dye, and foodstuffs.

Factories and workers’ housing

The first factories were built in Twente and Noord-Brabant, making cotton and wool. Many of these were subsequently demolished, but some have been put to new uses, such as the 19C wool factory in Tilburg, which is now the Nederlands Textielmuseum, and the Jannink spinning mill in Enschede. In the early 20C, the use of concrete, glass and steel enabled larger factories to be built, such as the Wiebengahal of the former Sphinx Céramique factory in Maastricht and Rotterdam’s Van Nelle factory (1926–30). Examples of whole districts built specially to house the multitude of workers include the Agnetapark in Delft and Philipsdorp in Eindhoven.


There are still some impressive limekilns to be seen here and there (such as in the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen); these were bottle-shaped structures used to burn shells to make lime. There are some fascinating remains of Zuid-Limburg’s coal industry, including the Nulland pit in Kerkrade and the Oranje Nassau mine in Heerlen. The reconstructed mine at Valkenbrug gives a first-hand view of how coal was dug.


The oldest surviving railway station in the Netherlands is the building at Valkenburg, dating from 1853. Amsterdam’s Centraal Station was designed by PJH Cuypers (1827–1921), and the elegant Art Nouveau station at Haarlem is by the architect Margadant. The enormous iron roofs of such stations as ‘s-Hertogenbosch and The Hague were also a major technological innovation. The history of railways is chronicled in the Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht.


Amsterdam still has a 19C wharf with cast iron roofs, ‘t Kromhout. In Rotterdam, which was largely destroyed in 1945, there are still some old warehouses such as De Vijf Werelddelen (now a shopping and entertainment centre). The former headquarters of the Holland-Amerika shipping line (1901) on Wilhelmskade has been converted into a hotel. De Hef, an old lifting railway bridge, is on permanent display in the raised position.

Steam-operated pumping stations

The first time that steam pumping stations were used was in the draining of the Haarlemmermeer. One of these was the Cruquius, which is now a museum. These stations were used in increasing numbers in the second half of the 19C; they included the Vier Noorder Koggen (now the Nederlands Stoommachinemuseum), and the Ir Lely station at Medemblik and the steam pumping station near Halfweg, now a museum. The Ir. D.F. Wouda steam pumping station just outside Lemmer is the largest in Europe; this highly impressive structure was built in 1917 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

Water towers and lighthouses

The oldest water tower in the country is in Rotterdam and dates from 1873. The oldest lighthouse, the Brandaris on the island of Terschelling, was built in 1594. The brick lighthouse at Haamstede used to be depicted on the old 250fl banknote. The Waterleidingmuseum, situated in Utrecht’s oldest water tower, describes the history of the mains water supply in the Netherlands. The neo-Gothic water tower of Schoonhoven is the centre of the Zilver in Beweging initiative.


Dutch painting was initially very similar to that of Flanders, and was later influenced by Italian art. It reached its peak in the 17C, reflecting the country’s increasing prosperity.


One of the greatest of all Dutch artists was Hieronymus Bosch, who was active in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the late 15C. His work was extraordinarily imaginative for its time. Although his vision of a world dominated by the spectre of sin was a medieval one, his realism presaged that of 17C painting, and his work has many features of modern Surrealism. Other artists had more in common with the Flemish primitives. The work of Geertgen tot Sint Jans is akin to miniature art. Cornelis Engebrechtszoon painted lively, colourful scenes full of people; a number of his works can be seen in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden. Another of the early Dutch painters was Jan Mostaert.


Jan van Scorel, a pupil of Jacob Corneliszoon van Oostsanen, introduced the Renaissance to the northern Netherlands when he returned from Rome in 1524. He was the first Dutch painter to be influenced by Italian art, and painted portraits of great sensitivity, such as the Portrait of a Young Scholar in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam, as well as rather Mannerist religious pictures. One of his pupils was Maarten van Heemskerck. Lucas van Leyden, a pupil of Cornelis Engebrechtszoon, was also influenced by the Renaissance. He painted large, carefully composed canvases such as the Last Judgement in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden. Pieter Aertsen was not at all influenced by Italian art. This great Amsterdam artist, who also lived in Antwerp for a time, painted subtle landscapes and interior scenes with still life compositions in the background. Antoon Mor became famous under the Spanish name of Antonio Moro, since he was the court painter to Charles V and Philip II of Spain. He later worked at the English court.

The Golden Age

The 17C may have been dominated by such great figures as Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer and Ruisdael, but it had many other highly talented artists. While the Flemish continued to paint large numbers of religious scenes, Dutch art was more secular and varied, since much of it was painted for well-off middle-class homes. It also provides a remarkable record of the daily life of the period.

Group portraits

During the Golden Age, there was a considerable demand for group portraits from bodies such as guilds, companies of the civic guard, groups of surgeons, and the governing bodies of almshouses. Bartholomeus van der Helst painted many traditional, formal portraits of wealthy citizens and members of the House of Orange, as well as numerous group portraits. Frans Hals had the nonconformist style that came with genius. Most of his large group portraits are in the Frans Hals Museum, in his home town of Haarlem. He also painted striking and lively individual portraits, such as The Jolly Drinker, now in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Rembrandt and his pupils

Rembrandt also painted group portraits, such as The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulp, now in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, but the best-known is the Night Watch, in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. This museum has an excellent collection of Rembrandt’s work, notably Biblical scenes, portraits and self-portraits, with brightly lit, solemn figures against dark backgrounds. Rembrandt had a number of pupils: Gerard Dou, who did chiaroscuro genre paintings; Ferdinand Bol, one of the closest to Rembrandt in style; Nicolaes Maes, who used warm colours to paint calm interior scenes; Samuel van Hoogstraten; Aert van Gelder; Carel Fabritius, who died young, but was the most gifted of all; and Philips Koninck, mainly a landscape painter.

Landscape and seascape painters

Although Rembrandt produced many landscape drawings and etchings, he painted few landscapes. Many artists specialised in this genre; these included Hercules Seghers, Salomon van Ruysdael and Jan van Goyen. They painted luminous, serene compositions with wide horizons, still rivers, sunlight filtering through the clouds, and silhouetted trees, churches and windmills. The greatest landscape painter of the time, Jacob van Ruisdael, had a penchant for romantic scenes.

Meindert Hobbema painted tall trees with vivid green sunlit foliage, while Cornelis van Poelenburgh preferred Italian-style landscapes and sunsets. Sometimes landscapes were a pretext to depict human figures, as with Albert Cuyp; elsewhere, they included shepherds and their flocks in the case of Nicolaes Berchem, cows and horses in the case of Paulus Potter, and horses and their riders in the paintings of Philips Wouwerman. Hendrick Avercamp was slightly different: his paintings were similar to miniatures, with subtle colours bringing to life the picturesque world of ice-skaters. Aert van der Neer also painted winter scenes and rivers by moonlight.

Willem van de Velde the Elder, and more especially his son Willem the Younger, were remarkable marine painters, as were Ludolf Bakhuizen, Jan van de Cappelle and the Ghent painter Jan Porcellis. Pieter Saenredam and Emanuel de Witte whose work was highly appreciated during their lifetime, depict church interiors in carefully studied compositions. Job Berckheyde and his younger brother Gerrit were also painters of architecture.

Genre pieces

Apart from some of Rembrandt’s pupils, many other painters specialised in domestic interiors. Gerard Terborch, Frans van Mieris the Elder and Gabriel Metsu re-created domestic scenes with delicate brushwork, while Pieter de Hooch, a remarkable colourist and virtuoso of perspective, depicted the daily lives of the wealthy. Vermeer was neglected for a long period, but is now regarded as one of the greatest of all artists. He mainly painted interior scenes, which were realistic but extraordinarily poetic. Although simple in appearance, they make highly sophisticated use of colours, composition and light. Adriaen van Ostade was a painter of rollicking peasant scenes, and was influenced by the Flemish artist Adriaen Brouwer. Van Ostade’s pupil Jan Steen painted similarly cheerful and humorous pictures, though with a moral message.

In Utrecht, the Italian influence which was widespread in the 16C made itself felt in the work of Abraham Bloemaert. One of his pupils, Hendrick Terbrugghen, introduced “Caravaggism” to the Netherlands along with Gerard van Honthorst. Their work is characterised by strong light-dark contrasts, half-length portraits of ordinary people, and people playing music. Judith Leyster, a pupil of Frans Hals, was also clearly influenced by Caravaggio.

Still-life paintings

The tradition of still-life painting had its origins in Flanders, in the work of artists such as Fyt and Snyders. It was taken up in Haarlem by Pieter Claeszoon and Willem Claeszoon Heda and Floris Claeszoon van Dijck. Their favourite subject was a table covered with the remains of a meal, and glasses and dishes reflecting the light. Their paintings were less crowded than those of their Flemish predecessors, with flatter colours and strictly geometrical compositions. The works of Willem Kalff, Abraham van Beyeren and Jan Davidszoon de Heem were more colourful and Baroque.

Drawings and prints

17C painters also produced very large numbers of drawings and prints, particularly etchings, and Rembrandt excelled in this form of art.


In the 18C, a decline set in. One notable exception was Cornelis Troost, an Amsterdam painter whose work was inspired by the theatre, and evokes Watteau and Hogarth. Jacob Wit was known for his grisailles (in Dutch: witjes), which were popular forms of household decoration among the wealthy. Wouter Joannes van Troostwijk immortalised the streets of Amsterdam in his paintings.

In the 19C, with The Hague School led by Jozef Israëls, Dutch art enjoyed a rebirth. Nature, beaches, dunes and the lives of fishermen provided an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the artists of this school. JB Jongkind was a precursor of the Impressionists, and his paintings were full of light and atmosphere. This was also true of George Hendrick Breitner, who is known for his pictures of horsemen and of old Amsterdam. Isaac Israëls, the son of Jozef, painted beach scenes and numerous portraits.

Vincent van Gogh was the greatest figure of the late 19C. His early paintings were sombre, but under the influence of Impressionism his canvases became lighter and more colourful. From 1886 onwards he worked mainly in Paris and near Arles in Provence. Many of his masterpieces can be seen in the Kröller-Müller Museum, near Arnhem, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Jan Toorop was born in Java. He began his career as an Impressionist, before turning to Symbolism, a movement in which he held an important place in Europe along with Johan Thorn Prikker. Later, Toorop briefly allied himself with the pointillists and divisionists, and also took an interest in the Art Nouveau movement, painting a large number of posters in this style.

Piet Mondrian was one of the greatest innovators of his time. He was the driving force behind the De Stijl movement (1917–31) and its magazine of the same name, along with Theo van Doesburg and JJP Oud. In so doing, he helped to found the constructivist movement.

One of the most intriguing artists of the inter-war period was Herman Kruyder, whose work is highly enigmatic. Jan Wiegers was the leader of the Expressionist movement De Ploeg (1918–30), characterised by dramatic contrasts in colour. Hendrik Werkman is now regarded as the most important member of De Ploeg; he introduced radical innovations in woodcuts and typography. After a brief Expressionist period, Charley Toorop, the daughter of Jan Toorop, subsequently adopted a realist style of painting. Kees van Dongen became a famous artist in Paris.

The main exponents of magic realism (or new objectivity; 1920–30) in the Netherlands were Raoul Hynckes, Pyke Koch and Carel Willink. Their strange, near-photographic realism, tinged with surrealism, influenced many young artists. One of their contemporaries was MC Escher (1898–1972), the Netherlands’ leading graphic artist, whose ingenious play on spaces and dimensions became world famous.

The international group of experimental artists CoBrA (1948-51) was named from the initial letters of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. Its main members were the Dane Asger Jorn, the Belgian artist Dotremont and three Dutchmen, Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille. The movement advocated free, spontaneous creation, often inspired by children’s drawings.

The year 1960 saw the creation of the Dutch group Nul (Zero) whose three principles were impersonality, detachment and objectivity. Its most important representative was Jan Schoonhoven, best known for his monochrome reliefs.

During the 1970s, Jan Dibbets and Ger van Elk used photography as a means of expression; Dibbets turned reality into abstraction by creating trick montages characterised by a strong sense of perspective. Rob van Koningsbruggen uses unconventional techniques to produce his quasi-monochrome pictures: he takes canvases painted in black, white or primary colours and rubs one or more unpainted canvases over them.

The leading artistic figures of the 1980s were Rob Scholte and Marlene Dumas who, despite their different styles, both draw inspiration from the visual imagery generated by newspapers, magazines and other media.

Decorative arts

Pottery and porcelain

The Museum Het Princessehof in Leeuwarden has a comprehensive collection of Dutch pottery and porcelain.

From sandstone and majolica to delftware

The majolica technique was brought to Antwerp and other parts of northern Europe by Italian potters in the 16C. After the fall of Antwerp in 1585, many potters moved to the Netherlands, where majolica production subsequently flourished. Very soon, this technique replaced the traditional Rhine sandstone pottery.

In the early 17C, large quantities of Chinese eggshell porcelain were imported by the United East India Company. These damaged the domestic market and bankrupted many potters. Some majolica-makers switched to making tiles or domestic objects not made by the Chinese, such as mustard pots and apothecaries’ jars, often imitating oriental styles of decoration. Others tried to discover the secret of eggshell porcelain, but initially they had no success. However, a few manufacturers in Delft and Haarlem did manage to make a better-quality product than traditional majolica to compete with porcelain from the Far East. This new technique, called faience, used a different mixture of clays to make thinner ceramics. The lead glaze was replaced by a white tin glaze closely resembling white porcelain, and the pieces were decorated with both Chinese and Dutch motifs; Italian-inspired decoration was also popular.

When imports of Asian porcelain declined around 1650 as the result of a civil war in China, delftware enjoyed a huge success. Delft potters responded quickly to the gap in the market, and specialist faience factories began producing on a larger scale.

Frisian majolica

In the second half of the 17C, Makkum and Harlingen became the centres of Frisian majolica production, consisting mainly of tiles and tableware. This bore considerable similarities to the pottery produced in Delft, but was simpler in style and less imitative of Chinese porcelain. Also, the Frisian pieces rarely bore a manufacturer’s mark; most were inscribed with the name of the client for whom they were made. Plates made in the port of Lemmer were particularly distinctive. The Tichelaar factory in Makkelum was established in the late 17C and is still in operation.

Dutch porcelain

True porcelain was first successfully produced in the German town of Meissen in the early 18C, and other west European countries began making it shortly afterwards. Porcelain was made in the Netherlands only for a short period of about 50 years, mainly in imitation of the German variety. The typically Dutch porcelain cabinet was designed to display and protect these costly objects; it consisted of a tall, flat display case on a base.

The first Dutch factory was established in Weesp, producing Rococo forms with multicoloured decoration, but this closed ten years later. Its equipment and stock were acquired by a priest in Loosdrecht to provide jobs for poor people in his area, and the Loosdrecht factory produced beautifully painted tableware and ornaments between 1774 and 1784. After the priest’s death, the factory moved to Ouder-Amstel, where it produced its own Louis XVI-style designs between 1784 and 1809. In that year it moved to Nieuwer-Amstel and continued making Empire-style porcelain until it closed in 1814.

Hague porcelain was made in The Hague from 1776 to 1790; porcelain imported mainly from Ansbach and Tournai was used and then painted.

Dutch porcelain was of reasonably high quality, but high production costs and a limited market meant that large-scale production was not possible.

Dutch Art Nouveau

In the second half of the 19C, Petrus Regout’s factory in Maastricht made mainly white dinner services, sometimes with printed decoration; these were strongly influenced by, and sometimes copied from, Wedgwood and other British manufacturers.

Art Nouveau did not become widespread in the Netherlands until the end of the 19C. The Rozenburg delftware factory in The Hague made pottery with stylised, often fanciful flower and plant motifs. The designer TAC Colenbrander was a great innovator who devised some highly imaginative forms and decorations. Another very successful product of the Rozenburg factory, under JJ Kok, was eggshell porcelain with very fine, naturalistic decoration. In Gouda, too, brightly coloured ceramics, known as Gouds plateel, were made between 1900 and 1930.

Modern ceramics

Despite increasing industrialisation at the beginning of the 20C, smaller-scale production of stoneware and earthenware has continued, and ceramics have become unique works of art. Leading modern Dutch ceramicists inclde Chris Lannooy, Bert Nienhuis, WC Brouwer, Johan van Loon and Jan van der Vaart.


The Nederlands Tegelmuseum in Otterlo and Museum Het Princessehof in Leeuwarden have a comprehensive collection of Dutch tiles.

Like majolica, tiles arrived in the Netherlands in the 16C via Italy and Flanders. They were initially used as floor tiles, but the thin tin glaze was easily damaged, and soon wall tiles were being made instead. These were initially painted in bright colours and decorated with geometric motifs, animals and fruit. Later, under the influence of Chinese porcelain, they were often decorated entirely in blue.

After 1750, the demand among townspeople for painted tiles tailed off almost to nothing; they preferred to decorate their walls with expensive fabrics. In the countryside, however, they remained a popular form of decoration. They depicted mainly craftsmen and women, imaginary sea creatures, children playing, soldiers and ships. Later on in the 18C, biblical and pastoral scenes became increasingly popular. After 1800, however, interest declined as people began using wallpaper, and also machine-produced tiles from England.

Tile pictures

Huge tile pictures were made in the Netherlands from about 1620 until well into the 18C. These were placed either against the back of a fireplace or in other positions such as in passageways, on walls or above the hearth. They included beautifully painted vases of flowers; in the 18C, a wider variety of motifs was produced, including scenes from rural life, allegorical pictures, naval battles, townscapes, dogs and parrots. Tile pictures enjoyed a small-scale revival at the beginning of the 20C; they were made mainly for commercial purposes such as shop interiors or advertising on the outsides of buildings.


Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has a comprehensive collection of furniture.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

The late-Gothic period produced carved oak chests, small side-tables with shelves and dressers decorated with letterbox motifs. From 1550 onwards, the Italian Renaissance inspired ornamentation with carved panels depicting medallions and grotesques, and heavy tables in the Flemish style (bolpoottafels) with turned feet widening into vase-like shapes.

Chests in the Golden Age

The most beautiful items of furniture from the late 16C and the Golden Age were linen chests. The Dutch chest (Hollandse kast) was perhaps the most common kind. It had very varied decoration: lion’s heads, caryatids, friezes of foliated scrolls, grotesque masks, etc. The chest had a wide plinth, four doors and a heavy cornice decorated with a frieze of plants. Its uprights consisted of pilasters, and subsequently columns: it was then called a columned chest (kolommenkast).

By the second half of the 17C magnificent chests in various kinds of wood were being made, known as bombé chests (kussenkast) because of the bulging shape of their panels, usually veneered with ebony. The chest rested on enormous ball feet. A set of five delft vases would often be placed on the cornice.

Marquetry and inlaid work

In the 17C and 18C, marquetry and inlays of ebony, tortoiseshell, metal and ivory became increasingly popular. Both in the Netherlands and in Flanders, they were used on inkstands and cabinets with numerous drawers used to store precious objects.

18C and 19C chests

The Louis XV style, imported by the French Huguenots, was very much in vogue in the 18C, though it was freely adapted. 18C cabinets had two doors and a base with drawers, which in the middle of the century acquired a characteristic bulge, and undulating cornices on their tops. Inlays and marquetry remained popular during this period.

At the end of the 18C, the influence of the more austere Louis XVI style became apparent; this was much more faithfully reproduced. In the 19C, the Empire style became popular following the arrival in the Netherlands of King Louis Napoleon and his wife Hortense, both of whom were very fond of Parisian fashions.

Painted furniture

The north of the country specialised in the production of painted furniture in the 18C. This was mainly made by fishermen in the Zuiderzee ports during the months when they did not fish, and they used methods they had seen during their travels in the Baltic or the East. This furniture was elaborately carved, and painted in bright colours in a style reminiscent of naive popular art. Many different objects were painted in this manner: chests, box beds, cradles, chairs, and even children’s wooden satchels. There are fine collections of this form of furniture in the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen, the Hidde Nijland Stichting in Hindeloopen, and the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum in Arnhem.


After the famous scholar Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock in 1656, clocks became a great deal more accurate, and long-case or grandfather clocks became increasingly popular in well-off households. These had a tall ornamented plinth containing the weights and pendulum, with the mechanism contained in a case above this and an arched pediment at the top. The dial was often painted with pictures of the night sky and moving human figures or boats; some showed the month, the day of the week, the date and the phase of the moon as well as the time. Amsterdam was a great clock-making centre in the 18C, and wall clocks in Louis XV style were also popular.

The provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe had their own distinctive form of clocks known as stoeltjesklokken. These had ornate openwork decoration, similar to that of the painted furniture described earlier, and the mechanism rested on a console. Zaandam clocks were more elegant.

Several museums have very fine clock collections, in particular the Nederlands Goud-, Zilver- en Klokkenmuseum in Schoonhoven and the Museum van het Nederlandse uurwerk in the Zaanse Schans to the north of Amsterdam

Gold and silverware

Romanesque period

All over the bishopric of Liège in Belgium, the gold and silversmiths of the Maasland produced many masterpieces. The shrine of St Servatius in the St.-Servaaskerk in Maastricht, for example, is made of copper gilt decorated with enamel and precious stones, with depictions of Christ, St Servatius and the apostles around it. The Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht contains examples of gold and silverware that reflect the prosperity of bishops in the region during the Romanesque period; they include monstrances, pyxes, shrines, processional crosses, and books.

The Golden Age

In the 16C, and even more so in the 17C, it was a common practice among town councils, guilds and well-off ordinary people to commission finely engraved and chased silver objects to commemorate particular events. Most museums have collections of these items; they include large and small goblets, dishes, water jugs, nautilus-shell cups (made with a nautilus shell on a silver base), chains of office and other ceremonial items. The churches also owned much gold and silverware. Many beautiful brandy bowls were made during this period. They were oval in shape, with handles, and were highly decorated. The most famous silversmiths were the Van Vianen brothers.

A distinctive feature of the 17C interiors of Holland are the brass candelabras, also prevalent in churches.



One famous Renaissance musician was JP Sweelinck, who was organist of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, and composed vocal and instrumental works. During the same period, the poet and diplomat Constantijn Huygens composed a number of pieces of music, as well as writing about the subject.

In the 19C, the composer and conductor Johannes Verhulst made an important contribution to music in the Netherlands, as did Richard Hol, a conductor, pianist and composer of cantatas and symphonies. One of Hol’s students was Johan Wagenaar, an organist who composed works in his own very distinctive style. Wagenaar in turn taught the composer Willem Pijper, who was also known for his essays on music.

Today, the Netherlands has two of the world’s leading orchestras: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague. The first conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra was Willem Mengelberg, who had a particular interest in the works of contemporary composers such as Mahler. Under his leadership, the orchestra became known for its exceptionally high standard of performance, and he was succeeded by Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink and Riccardo Chailly.


This instrument was first developed in Byzantium, imported into Western Europe in the 9C, and played an important part in Catholic worship from the 12C onwards. The instrument was also used in people’s homes from an early stage, and therefore escaped the destruction wrought by the iconoclasm of the 16C. However, organ music was at first condemned by the Calvinist religion, and it was only in the mid 17C that it spread into Protestant churches. Numerous instruments were made during this and the following century. The sons of the famous German organ-builder Arp Schnitger, who had moved to Groningen, perfected the instrument in the Netherlands and built the great organ in Zwolle’s Grote Kerk. The impressive 18C organ of St-Bavokerk in Haarlem, built by Christiaan Müller, is one of the best-known in the world.

Most of the organ cases date from the Baroque era, and are sumptuous achievements with statues and carvings above the pipes.

Mechanical organs

The first such instrument was a barrel organ, probably invented by an Italian in the 18C. A barrel covered in pins and turned by a handle raises levers which admit air to a set of organ pipes. Wheeled organs of this kind became widespread in 19C Europe. In 1892, Gavioli built the first mechanical organ to use a perforated paper roll instead of a barrel. Turning the handle moves a continuous sheet of perforated paper across a keyboard. The organ’s repertoire was almost unlimited, since the paper rolls were interchangeable. The mechanical-organ builder Carl Frei established a business in Breda in 1920, but most of the instruments were imported from abroad, from Belgium (Mortier) and France (Gasparini and Limonaire Frères).

At the end of the 19C, the dance-hall organ became popular; this was an impressive instrument with a beautifully ornamented front. The beginning of the 20C saw the introduction of the fairground organ, which produced loud music intended to be heard above the hubbub of the fair. Finally, in 1945, an electric dance-hall organ appeared, with many built-in automatic instruments imitating the sound of a full orchestra.

The Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement (museum of mechanical music) in Utrecht has an interesting collection of mechanical organs.


Countless churches and town halls in the Netherlands have carillons. These are believed to have been first used in the 15C, and are operated by barrels in a similar way to mechanical organs.

In the 17C, François and Pierre Hemony, famous bell-founders from Lorraine, played a very important role in the development of the carillon in the Netherlands. Of the many carillons they made, the best-known are those of the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Toren in Amersfoort, the Martini Toren in Groningen and the Domtoren in Utrecht. In 1941, a bell-founder in Heiligerlee, in Groningen province, invented an electromagnetic system to replace the barrel. In 1953, the Netherlands Carillon School was established in Amersfoort.

The town of Asten has an interesting National Carillon Museum. Details of carillon concerts are given in the descriptions of individual towns.

Language and Literature

The Dutch language is spoken by about 22 million people throughout the world: in the Netherlands itself, in part of Belgium, and in the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam. Dutch is one of the western branches of the Germanic family of languages, and resembles both German and English. Frisian is not a dialect of Dutch, but a language in its own right. It was only on 29 January 1993 that Dutch was recognised by law as being the official national language, and Frisian was accorded the status of the second governmental language. Many Dutch people speak English, French and German as well as their native Dutch.

Literature: the Middle Ages

Although most literature until the Middle Ages was written in Latin, a number of mystical works were published in Dutch during the 13C, by authors including Jan van Ruusbroeck and Hadewych. Other works written in Dutch were those of the Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant, the anonymous animal epic Reynard the Fox, the miracle play Mariken van Nieumeghen, the morality play Elckerlyc (Everyman) and the works of Thomas à Kempis.


The great 16C and 17C humanists wrote in Latin; they included Erasmus, Jansenius (1585–1638), the theologian Hugo de Groot or Grotius, and the jurist and Jewish philosopher Spinoza (1634–77). The country, and especially Amsterdam, became known for its liberal attitude; many foreign scholars and philosophers, such as John Locke, Descartes and Pierre Bayle, sought shelter in the Netherlands and found freedom to publish. The two great figures in Dutch literature of the period were the poet and historian PC Hooft (1581–1647), and the poet and dramatist Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679); both belonged to the Muiderkring, a circle of artists, writers and musicians founded by Hooft.

18 C : the age of Enlightenment

The Dutch presses continued to print the uncensored works of great foreigners, including such prophets of enlightenment as Voltaire and Diderot, but for Dutch literature this was a period of decline.


Eduard Douwes Dekker, known under the pseudonym of Multatuli, gained an international reputation with his novel Max Havelaar, a satire on colonial life in the Dutch East Indies. Louis Couperus was an important novelist of the 1880 literary revival, and is best known for Eline Vere, dealing with contemporary life in The Hague, and Old People and the Things That Pass.


Other writers of the early 20C include the historian Johan Huizinga, known for the lively style of his book The Waning of the Middle Ages, the prolific writer sometimes copied from, Wedgwood and other British manufacturers.

Art Nouveau did not become widespread in the Netherlands until the end of the 19C. The Rozenburg delftware factory in The Hague made pottery with stylised, often fanciful flower and plant motifs. The designer TAC Colenbrander was a great innovator who devised some highly imaginative forms and decorations. Another very successful product of the Rozenburg factory, under JJ Kok, was eggshell porcelain with very fine, naturalistic decoration. In Gouda, too, brightly coloured ceramics, known as Gouds plateel, were made between 1900 and 1930.

Frisian literature

The highly gifted poet Gysbert Japicx (1603-66) was the first to use the Frisian language in literature; a literary prize named after him is awarded in Bolsward every two years.

Traditional sports

Many sports from earlier times are being kept alive, and in some cases are highly popular. Archery is one such example; it is particularly widely practised in Limburg, and dates from a time when citizens felt it necessary to arm themselves against possible enemies. Members of a large number of local societies or guilds of archers congregate at an annual gathering, the Oud Limburgs Schuttersfeest (Old Limburg Archers’ Festival) and give a colourful demonstration of their sport. In Friesland, kaatsen is a traditional ball game similar to fives, with six players divided into two teams, and the skûtsjesilen are spectacular annual regattas using traditional boats called skûtsjes. Pole-vaulting (known as fierljeppen in Frisian) is another equally exciting traditional sport. It originates from the time when people hunting birds’ eggs in the fields used to cross the many canals with the help of a long pole. In the Zeeland town of Middelburg, the sport of ringrijderijen has been revived. This is a tournament where riders on horseback gallop past and try to place their lances through a ring.

Skating was not only a traditional sport and pastime, but also a practical means of transport in the harsh winters of years gone by. The delightful winter scenes of the 17C Dutch master Hendrick Avercamp show how popular skating was at the time, and how sleighs were also used on the ice. Another activity that Avercamp portrayed in his paintings is kolf. This game was also played on ice with a club (kolf) and ball, and the aim was to hit a pole stuck into the ice. This game has been a subject of controversy between the Dutch and the Scots for centuries. The Dutch claim that it was the origin of the game of golf. However, the Scots claim that the early ball-and-stick version of golf was already being played on the sandy links of Scotland in 1457, when an Act of the Scottish Parliament was passed requiring that “futeball and the golfe be utterly cryit down” in favour of church attendance and archery practice. The tradition of the Friese Elfstedentocht, or Eleven Towns Race, is thought to go back to the 18C.

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