Michael North Abstract

Collecting European and Asian Art Objects in the Dutch Colonial Empire,

17th and 18th Centuries

Michael North
Ernst Moritz Arndt Universität Greifswald, Greifswald

After John Maurice had been named stadholder of Brazil by the West India Company he took the painters Frans Post and Albert Eeckhout with him on his Brazilian travels as members of his entourage of learned men to record what they saw in the country, both scientifically and artistically. The painters depicted almost everything they saw; Post painted mainly landscapes and Eeckhout people and their work. They thus made an important contribution to contemporary Europe’s knowledge of Brazil. Compared with this series of paintings, produced over the course of only six years, the visual documents of the Dutch presence in Asia have, apart from the graphical reproduction of Batavia, found less attention, although the Dutch East India Company (VOC) has long attracted the attention of scholarship. Its lengthy history, widespread enterprises, and the survival of massive amounts of documentation. Important publications have also appeared on the trade, shipping, institutional organization, and administration of the VOC. Much has also been learned about the VOC and Dutch colonial societies. In contrast, the role of the VOC in cultural history and especially in the history of visual and material culture has not yet attracted comparable interest.

This chapter will focus therefore on the role and function of art in the settlements and factories of the Dutch East India Company in Asia. It will demonstrate that many varieties existed in the forms of cultural exchange that occurred in various Asian places. The collections of the VOC representatives and merchants in Batavia were shaped by Dutch standards of taste, but also contained such local artistic production as Moorish drawings, Chinese pictures and Japanese lacquer works. By including Chinese and indigenous households in Southeast Asia, I will offer insights into the mediating processes between the different ethnicities and cultures in the Dutch Colonial Empire.