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Then, before a mute crowd in Brussels, they were beheaded, and the people pushed past the Spanish soldiers to dip their handkerchiefs in the blood of the first martyrs of the long war.
Increasingly wealthy and numerous – in Amsterdam alone, the population had grown from 60,000 inhabitants in 1600 to 135,000 in 1640 – and in step with the European nobility, the urban upper class had discovered that paintings were a symbol of power, objects to be collected avidly.
On the other hand, Holland was the Mecca of trade and consequently paintings could also become merchandise.
What made such a prolific artistic production possible and, above all, what led the United Provinces to write a fundamental chapter in the history of European art?
Among the many factors that could be cited, we should mention first of all the vitality of a pictorial tradition that went back to the beginning of the fifteenth century, the golden age of the duchy of Burgundy, and – thanks to the wealth of the cities of the Netherlands and the level of professional expertise demanded by the Burgundian court– that was already included by right among the great artistic schools of Europe.
Today, the large churches in Dutch towns still welcome the faithful with bare whitewashed plastered walls, with plain, stark spaces, where there is no indulgence in decoration.
Inscriptions and coats of arms may sometimes grace the memorial tablets and sporadic images decorate the balustrades of the galleries, but everything else is strictly image less.The people of the Lowlands were accustomed enough to outside rule their land had been subjected to foreign intervention since the Middle Ages.They had no quarrel with Charles V, who in the first place was one of them, having been born in Ghent, and who had allowed them a high degree of autonomy in conducting their own affairs. Morose, dictatorial, fanatically Catholic, the new King hated the north, and cared for nothing but Spain and his religion.Whereas a harsh environment and a landscape indented by wild and impassable mountains made Switzerland practically inaccessible.the level expanses of the Netherlands were crossed by a network of canals that had been dug to regulate the flow of water, but at the same time were extraordinarily effective means of transportation, faster and more practical than any way on land.The rebellion that flared after the Counts of Egmont and Hoorn were executed in 1568 had actually started brewing more than a decade earlier.