AH30630 Genre in the Age of Vermeer

Academic Year 2024/2025

Johannes Vermeer has become a pivotal figure in the Western European art tradition. This is largely due to the hushed solitude and enigmatic themes of his paintings, which seem to give a glimpse of social practices and material culture in the Dutch "Golden Age". AH30630 seeks to interrogate some of our preconceptions of Vermeer and his work and to situate him fully within the branch of painting that became his speciality - genre art. It will trace the evolution of genre imagery in Dutch art, from its roots in 15th- and 16th-century printmaking, and the peasant caricatures of Pieter Bruegel, to its apogee in the refined interior spaces of Vermeer and contemporaries such as Gerard ter Borch, and Gabriel Metsu. Despite its low ranking in the academic hierarchy of subject matter, these scenes of everyday life were painted in abundant numbers and widely appreciated. While we might regard genre paintings today as realistic and comprehensive in their scope, artists manipulated reality and depicted rather a restricted range of characters and situations. Lectures will focus on key practitioners, groups of related artists such as the Leiden "fine painters" and the Utrecht Caravaggisti, as well as socio-economic and contextual themes. Issues to be explored include contemporary reception and interpretation, the role of the art market in the production of paintings, and the extent to which these engaging, quotidian images are reflective of actual domestic practices in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century. We will also make extensive use of the National Gallery of Ireland's exemplary collection of Netherlandish art.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Identify major works of Dutch genre art from the 17th century and account for the essential developments in this category of painting;
2. Place significant genre paintings from this period in their political, cultural and economic contexts;
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the dynamics of the production and marketing of art during the period;
4. Demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of relevant 17th-century sources, which have a bearing on genre art, as well as present-day critical responses, such as the debates around meaning and interpretation.

Indicative Module Content:

The content of the module is updated regularly. Among the lectures and seminar themes will be:

- genre painters and the market
- the origins of genre art
- the interpretation of genre paintings
- early developments in Haarlem and Amsterdam
- Leiden fijnschilders and Utrecht Caravaggisti
- Frans Hals and painting in Haarlem
- Pieter de Hooch and images of domesticity
- Rembrandt and genre art
- the sophisticated art of Gerard ter Borch
- Humour in Dutch art
- Why do Vermeer's paintings look so different?
- the representation of women in Vermeer's work
- Jan Steen - master storyteller
- the aristocratisation of genre paining in the Dutch Republic.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a small=group seminar-based module. It is taught through a one-hour weekly lecture and a two-hour seminar. The weekly lecture provides an overview of the week's topic, focusing upon a key artist or group of artists, the socio-economic context, debates and issues. This is complemented by discussion and activities around prescribed readings, and student presentations, which form the basis of the weekly seminars. Advanced research, writing and citation skills are developed through a semester-long 4,000 word research project/essay. Autonomous learning is advanced through student-led debate and discussion of set primary and secondary sources each week. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade

Not yet recorded.

Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the in-semester assessments will be given in writing on the returned hardcopy. Feedback will be provided on an ongoing basis on preparatory plans and presentations for the research topic that will form the major essay. In addition, I will meet with students on a one-to-one basis to discuss the progress of their learning journal and research topic.