Why the Amsterdam Museum will no longer say “Dutch Golden Age”

When it comes to history and art, the 17th century in the Netherlands is often referred to as the “Dutch Golden Age”, due in part to the country’s emergence as a world power and its healthy economy, which in turn lead to a prospering of art, culture and science. Recently however, the Amsterdam Museum has made the decision that it will no longer use the label to denote the period in time, stating that it is not as inclusive as it should be.

Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age Hermitage 1.jpg
The Portrait Gallery of the 17th century © The Amsterdam Museum

In an opinion piece published by the museum, the institution acknowledged that the time was a particularly prosperous one for the country, and one that is linked with national pride. However, they went on to state, “this era, in which Amsterdam held sway over various overseas territories that had been occupied by the Dutch, was also marked by poverty, war, forced labour and human trafficking. In addition, the phrase contributes to a situation in which the history of the Dutch 17th century is exclusively seen from the perspective of those in power.”

The museum also said that it wants to provide room for stories from the 17th century that have not yet been told, in the hope that they can become relevant for a larger group of people. 

Introducing Amsterdam

The museum will consequently be removing the phrase ‘Golden Age’ in all its communications at all locations where it presents its collection, as well as changing the name of its semi-permanent exhibition ‘Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age’ in the Amsterdam Wing of Hermitage Amsterdam to ‘Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century’. 

On 29 September, the Amsterdam Museum will also be organising a symposium for professionals from the field and the general public regarding which stories from the 17th century should be recounted, by whom, and how to approach this as inclusively as possible. On the same day, the museum will be opening the photo exhibition ‘Dutch Masters Re-Viewed’, about 13 people of colour who lived in or visited Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries. This exhibition is the first in a series of new perspectives presented by contemporary creators in the context of Black Achievement Month. 

More information is available at the official Amsterdam Museum website.