Seventeenth-century travel descriptions in RKD Research

header visiting the golden age

What better way to learn about a country than through the eyes of visitors? This database-project, a collaboration between the RKD and the University of Geneva, analyses the digitised editions of travel descriptions by foreigners who visited the Dutch Republic from around the time of its foundation until well into the eighteenth century.

Visiting the Golden Age

Much has been said and written about the so-called Dutch Golden Age, in particular how exceptional the situation in the Netherlands during the long seventeenth century was. The account generally focuses on what was extraordinary, in terms of economy, society, religion and – of course – art. However, much of this narrative leans heavily on nineteenth-century constructions, colored by nationalistic tendencies. The project Un siècle d’Or? Repenser la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle based at the University of Geneva and directed by professor Jan Blanc, examined and reconsidered deeply rooted ideas about the Dutch Golden Age, in particular in relation to its visual culture. As part of this endeavor, the database project Visiting the Golden Age examined how visitors experienced the country and what exactly they observed and remarked upon. Through the travel descriptions we learn about itineraries and travel experiences; the places foreigners visited; artists, collectors and other people they met; artworks, monuments and buildings they saw; and aspects of the Dutch society that surprised them. Each of the descriptions forms an eye witness report of the state of the United Provinces at a specific moment. 

Schilderij van Salomon Ruysdael getiteld Rivierlandschap met een veerboot
Salomon van Ruysdael, River Landscape wit Ferry, 1649, collection Rijksmuseum

Integration into RKD Research

The corpus consists of published travel descriptions from visitors to the Dutch Republic in the long seventeenth century (c. 1581-c. 1750) in Italian, English, Latin, German and French. The digitised editions of these publications have been extracted and integrated in RKDexerpts and for each page locations, persons, artworks and subjects that are mentioned have been tagged, allowing the user of RKD Research to search more easily through this valuable source material. In addition, the links to other parts of the database adds value to both the travel descriptions and the records on artworks, persons and portraits elsewhere in the database. When looking for a specific artist or artwork in RKD Research, the user will also find the records with pages from travel descriptions on which this artist or their work is mentioned. This provides further insight into the appreciation, location or state of an artwork at a specific moment or the network and status of certain artists. Similarly, the subject-tags (e.g. ‘Dutch East India Company’, ‘Catholicism’ or ‘beer’) will lead to pages with observations of the visitors on these phenomena. As such, Visiting the Golden Age enriches and contextualizes the other information in RKD Research.

Project group

The database was developed by a team of six researchers from the University of Geneva, Susanne Bartels MA, Fabio Gaffo MA, Dr Angela Jager, Lucie Rochard MA and Leïla Thomas MA, led by Dr Marije Osnabrugge, as part of the research project Un siècle d'or? Repenser la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle (led by Prof Jan Blanc) and was funded by the Fonds National Suisse (FNS) and the Fonds Général de l'Université de Genève.

In collaboration with

Université de Gèneve