The "Gouden Eeuw": Dutch Painting of the 17th Century
The Collection's main emphasis falls on Dutch painting of the 17th century. Important works by the principle masters, including Jacob van Ruisdael, Willem van de Velde, Pieter Claesz, Adriaen van Ostade, Pieter de Hooch, Emanuel de Witte and Ferdinand Bol, poignantly illustrate the golden age, or "Gouden Eeuw".
In the 16th century the Low Countries were part of the empire of Phillip II, the king of Spain. In 1568 protest against absolutist rule and the Catholic inquisition gave rise to a rebellion led by the Dutch nobility under William I of Orange, and in 1588 the seven northern - mainly Calvinist - provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Friesland, Groningen and Overijssel proclaimed the Republic of the United Netherlands. This sealed the historical division of the Low Countries into the "General States" (corresponding to today's Netherlands) and the Spanish Netherlands (modern-day Belgium), although the war for independence ended only in 1648 with the Treaty of Westfalia.

After Spain's re-conquest of the southern city of Antwerp in 1585, thousands of merchants and businessmen fled to the liberated north, soon to be followed by scientists, intellectuals and artists. This led to the rapid growth of Amsterdam; in 1585 the city had a population of just 30,000, by 1640 it had swelled to 140,000, and in 1700 there were 220,000 people. Within a very short time Amsterdam became a prosperous centre of international commerce. With the development of a self-confident bourgeois culture, artistic painting enjoyed an unprecedented flowering. Particularly in Haarlem and Amsterdam, but also in Leiden, Delft and Utrecht, regional schools developed. It was not only the three "greats" - Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer - who created works of the highest standard and contributed to the remarkable diversity of outstanding paintings.

In this bourgeois society heavily influenced by Calvinism, artists received commissions mainly from merchants and catered to the flourishing art market. Even for the people of the time this "picture-painting frenzy" held something of the proverbial. For the first time the everyday world in all its manifestations was worthy of depiction, and the highest principle of expression was "naar 't leven" (true-to-life) reproduction. Today these true-to-life portrayals enchant us with their distinctive "realism" - at the same time the so popular genre scenes, landscapes and still lifes convey a multitude of symbolic messages.

In the Briner Collection, all fields of painting are properly represented, including the biblical story of Jephta - the greatest known work by Rembrandt's teacher, Pieter Lastman - and Ferdinand Bol's fittingly grand portraits of an Amsterdam patrician couple.

The everyday scenes of genre painting are represented in numerous works by - sometimes rarely seen - masters such as Pieter Duyfhuyzen or Willem Duyster, whose important early painting of an artist's studio was only recently rediscovered. The rustic scenes by Adriaen van Ostade and Hendrick Sorgh are typical examples of peasant genre, while Pieter Codde uses the theme of the soldiers' lounge and Pieter de Hooch immortalises upper-class home décor with his depictions of interior rooms. Named after its city of origin, the Delft style, which portrays church interiors, is represented in paintings by Emanuel de Witte.
Landscape painting is presented in impressive breadth. The diverse nature of this genre can be appreciated in the "monochrome" Dutch river scenery of Jan van Goyens, the Italianate idealised paintings of Jan Both, the inspiring Scandinavian mountainscapes of Allaert van Everdingens or in Jacob van Ruisdael's melancholic waterfall. The theme of the marine world - an extremely popular genre in this watery land of shipping - is evoked vividly in the excellent works by Willem van de Velde the Younger and Ludolf Bakhuizen.
The series of still lifes also clearly indicates the span of this genre. Painted early in around 1625 by a still unidentified master, the "Vanitas" reminds us urgently of the transience of all earthly things. This - at the time common – admonition against excessive consumption is implicit in the sumptuously laid table of Pieter Claesz, a principle work of the so-called "monochrom banketje". The bourgeois lifestyle, which over the course of the 17th century became increasingly sophisticated, is reflected in the Baroque splendour and ostentation of the still life by Abraham van Beyeren.