Masters of Mobility


1.3 Destinations of Netherlandish Artists on the Move

According to the sampling study of Thieme/Becker by Brulez, the most popular destination for migrating artists in general was Italy, in particular for Spanish, French and English artists. Although less pronounced, Italy also scored highest as a choice of destination for Netherlandish (24.7%) and German artists (21.4%).1 Only for the German-speaking countries Austria and Switzerland it is Germany (Brulez applies modern country border) that scored the highest as the most popular destination.

As Brulez presented his data in percentages, it is unclear how he processed the information on artists who travelled to more than one country. In many cases one can hardly speak of a ‘main’ destination, as traveling was for many artists a recurrent part of their job. Even when artists from the Low Countries were heading straight for Italy, for which they had to cross a few other countries first, their actions and contacts during their journey were important as well. Most artists choose routes which took them along places where they intended to stay for a while before moving on. Furthermore, Brulez did not make a distinction between the travel destinations of artists from the Northern and the Southern Netherlands. After Italy, the top four of destinations for artists of the Low Countries consisted of France, Germany and finally Britain.

At first sight, there are similarities between the outcome of Brulez’s survey of Thieme/Becker and the one retrieved from RKDartists& [10]. The top four of destinations is identical, and although Germany scores almost as high as France in the RKD data, the order is the same. However, when we take a closer look at the way the numbers of migrating artists from the Northern and Southern Netherlands are composed, it is clear that we are looking at two quite different patterns. In a separate bar chart of the mobility of Northern Netherlandish painters, we see that the most popular country to visit was not Italy, but Germany, as we had already presumed on the basis of the relatively large size of Gerson’s chapter in his Ausbreitung[11].2 Artists from the Southern Netherlands, however, mostly went to Italy, while Germany as a destination comes third in the ranking, after France [12].

Some differences in migrating preferences between artists from the two Netherlands can be explained clearly by political relationships between countries and regions. As was to be expected, Spain was not a very popular destination for Dutch artists, whereas for the Southern Netherlandish, it was. Also the connection to Austria is demonstrated by the high score of Austria as a destination, in particular by artists from the Southern Netherlands. Favourable political relationships cannot be regarded as a motive for migration per se, but can definitely create circumstances that facilitate the choice of a destination.

Another striking difference in migration directions of the Northern Netherlands compared to the Southern neighbours is the relatively high ranking of in particular the destinations Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Dutch artists were more inclined to travel to these distant places than to Spain, for instance. These numbers are closely connected to the activity of the Unified Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the 17th century, as Marten Jan Bok established in his article of 2014.3 Although impressive amount of religious paintings were exported from the Southern Netherlands to New Spain,4 or maybe because of it, only a small amount of Flemish artists crossed the Atlantic ocean Mexico in the wake of missionaries, as far as we know.


Destinations of migrating artists from the Low Countries 1400-1800
Source: RKDartists&, reference date February 2019


Destinations of Northern Netherlandish artists until 1800
Source: RKDartists&, reference date February 2019


Destinations of Southern Netherlandish artists until 1800
Source: RKDartists&, reference date February 2019


1 Brulez 1986, p. 42.

2 It is possible that not only the absolute numbers, but also the conclusions of the statistic inquiry in RKDartist& will diverge after the Gerson Digital project is completed, as we are still in the process of collecting data.

3 See Bok 2014.

4 See De Marchi/Van Miegroet 2006.

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