In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section 16th- and 17th-Century Flemish Art

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Image Collections
  • Journals and Book Series
  • Local and Urban Art Production
  • Painting
  • Drawing and Printmaking
  • Architecture and Sculpture
  • Tapestry and Applied Arts
  • Style and Iconography
  • Painting Technique and Workshop Practices
  • Art Theory
  • Art Markets and Collecting
  • International Context

Renaissance and Reformation 16th- and 17th-Century Flemish Art
Koenraad Jonckheere
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0168


Seventeenth-century Flemish art is one of the highlights in Western art history. Although the term Flemish is anachronistic and, in fact, primarily refers to the Antwerp school of painting, it is commonly used to describe the Southern Netherlandish baroque art of Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and their contemporaries. It is considered the counterpart of the Northern Netherlandish (or Dutch) baroque art of, among others, Rembrandt and Vermeer. This division in Netherlandish art between Flemish, Counter-Reformation art, and Dutch reformed art—it is an artificial and unsatisfying distinction—is said to have originated in 1585, when, after the fall of Antwerp, the Netherlands were de facto divided into the Southern provinces and the Dutch Republic in the North. The Southern (or Spanish) Netherlands resided under the authority of the king of Spain. They were predominantly Catholic, whereas the Northern Netherlands were officially reformed. Flanders was but one province in the Southern Netherlands at the time, and the Brabantine city of Antwerp was the most important center of art production. This Antwerp-centered look and the domination of the all-pervading Rubens has resulted in a substantial lack of research on other Southern Netherlandish art centers, such as Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Malines, and Liège and in a significant insufficiency of studies on sculpture, architecture, and the applied arts. However, research interests are changing rapidly, and these neglected areas now generate serious attention. Much scholarship on Flemish art is written in Dutch, French, or German.

General Overviews

The principal and, in fact, the only convenient overview on late-16th and early-17th-century Flemish art is Hans Vlieghe’s volume in the Pelican History of Art series (Vlieghe 1998a). Traditionally conceived, it offers a complete and well-balanced introduction to the Flemish baroque and excellent insights into its nature. The text consists of historical overviews of the different art forms, with a slight emphasis on painting. In addition to all other (partial) overviews of 17th-century Flemish art, of value is Hans Vlieghe’s landmark article (Vlieghe 1998b) on the nature of Flemish art, in which the cliché of a purely Counter-Reformation, absolutist art is downplayed, and the importance of the common artistic tradition in the Low Countries (until deep into the 17th century) is stressed. On baroque art in general, Martin 1977 is still the most significant reference. Instructive chapters on 17th-century Flemish art are to be found in other (art) historical overviews with broader scopes as well, such as Liebaers, et al. 1991 and DaCosta Kaufmann, et al. 2002. Good and more concise introductions to Flemish 17th-century art can also be found in some landmark exhibition catalogues, in particular Mai and Vlieghe 1993 and Sutton and Wieseman 1993. On women artists, Van der Stighelen, et al. 1999 is fundamental.

  • DaCosta Kaufmann, Thomas, Dominique Allart, Anne Egger, Martial Guedron, Anne-Marie Terel, and F. Everaars. L’art flamand et hollandais: Belgique et Pays-Bas, 1520–1914. L’art et les Grandes Civilisations. Paris: Citadelles & Mazenod, 2002.

    Overview of Netherlandish art (Flemish and Dutch) from 1520 onward; conceivably a bit too ambitious and therefore rather dense.

  • Liebaers, Herman, Piet Baudouin, et al., eds. Flemish Art from the Beginning till Now. Translated by John Cairns. Antwerp, Belgium: Mercatorfonds, 1991.

    Primarily commercial and vulgarizing overview of Flemish art in general, yet valuable.

  • Mai, Ekkehard, and Hans Vlieghe. Von Bruegel bis Rubens: Das goldene Jahrhundert der flämischen Malerei; Eine Austellung des Wallraf-Richartz-Museums, Köln, des Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen, und des Kunsthistorischen Museums, Wien. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1993.

    A landmark exhibition on Flemish baroque and its origins. Still very useful as a guide. Excellent essays.

  • Martin, John Rupert. Baroque. Style and Civilization. London: Allen Lane, 1977.

    The most commonly used but somewhat outdated handbook on northern and southern European baroque. Instructive in its analysis of the key issues in baroque art, including the Flemish.

  • Sutton, Peter C., and Marjorie E. Wieseman. The Age of Rubens. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1993.

    The Anglo-Saxon counterpart of the Von Bruegel bis Rubens exhibition, it has a broader spectrum.

  • Van der Stighelen, Katlijne, Mirjam Westen, and Maaike Meijer. Elck zijn waerom: Vrouwelijke kunstenaars in België en Nederland 1500–1950. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion, 1999.

    A good exhibition catalogue on women artists active in the Netherlands.

  • Vlieghe, Hans. Flemish Art and Architecture, 1585–1700. Yale University Press Pelican History of Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998a.

    Without a doubt the best and foremost study on Flemish 17th-century art.

  • Vlieghe, Hans. “Flemish Art, Does It Really Exist?” Simiolus: Kunsthistorisch tijdschrift (1998b) 26.3: 187–200.

    DOI: 10.2307/3780898

    An instructive article on the somewhat artificial division between Flemish and Dutch baroque.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.