When Frankfurt merchant and banker Johann Friedrich Städel died in 1816, it was the birth of one of Europe's great art museums. Städel named an art institute as his sole heir, an institute that would bear his name for posterity-the Städel Museum.
Established as a civic foundation in one of Germany's most important trade centers, to this day the Städel Museum is deeply influenced by its involvement with Frankfurt's civil society. This influence shows in the museum's collections, which have been formed through donations and gifts for the past 200 years and through targeted acquisitions of outstanding individual works that offer an overview of the development of European painting from around 1300 to the present.
Since Städel's time the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, a period generally spanning the 17th century, have occupied an especially prominent place in the collection of the Städel Museum. These paintings were often created for the successful, Protestant middle-class merchant elite of Holland and corresponded very closely to the taste of Frankfurt collectors whose collections were eventually gifted to the Städel in whole or in part.
In the decades following the Netherlands 1568 uprising against Spanish Habsburg rule, the northern United Provinces of Netherlands held their ground against the attempts of Philip II of Spain and his successors to reestablish their rule. As a result, the northern Netherlands ascended as a world trading power in the 17th century. A feeling of national identity and pride developed against this background, which was reflected in the works of the Dutch painters of the Golden Age. The largely Protestant, bourgeois merchant elite who were quickly amassing tremendous wealth in these decades wanted to recognize their moral concepts and ideals in the paintings they hung in their residences and reception halls.
This exceptional selection of Dutch and Flemish paintings of the Golden Age from the Städel Museum shows not just the panorama of Dutch art of the period, but also major works by Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Gerrit Dou, Gerard ter Borch, Adriaen Brouwer, Adriaen van Ostade, and Willem Kalf. The exhibition also demonstrates how the specific tastes and ideals of the Dutch elite were reflected in narrative historical painting and portraiture, genre painting, still life, and landscape painting.