A Dutch Republican Baroque. Theatricality, Dramatization, Moment and Event
In the logic and aesthetics of a republican baroque the existing world is the result of a moment in which for a split second two or more realities are equally real and after which only a singular one becomes actualized.
- Frans-Willem Korsten
- 01 November 2017
- Amsterdam University Press
Whereas the baroque has generally been associated with the religious battle between a protestant reformation and baroque catholic contra-reformation, the Dutch Republic brought to life a partly catholic but in the end worldly baroque. It was worldly in the sense that a number of artists, merchants, politicians, scholars, and thinkers were fascinated by the dramatic wonders of the real. It is this ‘real’ itself that for the first time gets its modern aura of being both hidden and present due to its principally contingent nature. In this context the Republic was distinct, because it did not have sovereign rule, whether it be papal, princely, or royal. Due to the quasi-royal character of the Dutch stadholders, especially Frederick Henry, there was a princely baroque that came to exist next to a republican one.
The central thesis of this study is that in the logic and aesthetics of a republican baroque the existing world is the result of a moment in which for a split second two or more realities are equally real and after which only a singular one becomes actualized. This is what explains the republican baroque’s peculiar, specific vibrancy. The multiplicity of worlds is not a quantitative matter here, as if they are all illusory mirror images of one world. Rather, it is a qualitative one. It is on the level of theatrical events that actors from all walks of life will try to understand what the dramatic historical moment has brought, or they will try frame these events theatrically, hoping to steer history in one direction or another.
The Republic, in becoming active, stumbled into a world that it helped to make at the same time. It fused an awareness that the world could be made artificially with an awareness that the contingency of history was not fortunate or accidental, but, politically speaking, foundational. Its very contingency entailed freedom. As for freedom, the daily reality throughout the Republic, or in its hub Amsterdam, could well be described as a matter of what art theorists called misto at the time: a mixture of styles (not to be confused with tolerance), defined by some as a ‘Tower of Babel’, that resulted in a baroque atmosphere. Still, being a republic politically speaking, the Republic also became an imperial power, and with this came all the fascinations and horrors of the pre-colonial era. Here the Republic committed what according to its own logic can only be described as a major political crime: the development of slavery.