Economically, the ascendance of the northern Netherlands to the world’s premier trading hub (following the blockade of the port of Antwerp)
produced vast new commercial opportunities.Portraits were made of newlyweds, families, children, groups, and individuals wishing to create records of family members, ceremonial occasions, and to mark civic and personal status in their communities.
Early in the seventeenth century, the types and styles of portraits made in the northern Netherlands were governed by conventions established by earlier portrait painters to carefully communicate status, regional and family identity, and religious attitudes. The quality of these conventional
portraits was impersonal, unsmiling, and formal. Sitters’ poses (a three-quarter view was typical) and placement of hands (for men, assertive gestures; for women, demure ones) were prescribed to conform to portrait decorum.
Throughout the Golden Age, Dutch portrait painters continued many of these conventions as likenesses still functioned as a means of illustrating
a subject’s identity and status. However, the genius of the age was in the way Dutch portraitists also transformed the genre by infusing portrait subjects with increasing naturalism, humanity, emotion, and sometimes drama. They expanded technique, subject, and pose. Subjects turn to us in direct gaze, gesture with confidence, and express mood, becoming individuals in whom painters attentively captured personality and character— qualities that make these pictures distinctive and even modern to our eyes