Dutch light

There is a myth around a special kind of light, which is said to have been the greatest source of inspiration for the painters of the Dutch golden age from the 17th century. In the 1970s the German artist Joseph Beuys postulated that this light has lost its radiance for good in the 1950s and with its disappearance it ended a special visual culture which lasted for centuries. Beuys saw the reason for its disappearance in the massive land reclamation project in the Zuyderzee (also Zuiderzee), which was a shallow bay, cut off the North Sea by a man made barrier which turned parts of it into the freshwater lake IJsselmeer. In a massive land reclamation project, the Netherlands gained a new province, called Flevoland. Peter-Rim DeKroon and Maarten DeKroon produced the documentary movie Dutch Light which compiles views on the subject, for example by the arts historian Svetlana Alpers, the painter Jan Andriesse, Jan Dibbets, as well as the astronomer Vincent Icke, who often refers to Marcel Minnaert, also an astronomer and author of The Nature of Light in open Air. There are numerous articles exploring the field, like for example Robert Greenler and David K. Lynch in 30 OPN Optics & Photonics News on A Return to Optics’ Roots. A special Dutch light on paintings might have also been a certain technique and skill, which was more strongly represented by the Dutch painters' style. When browsing through paintings of that period, I also noticed quite a few indoor scenes and portraits which are very deceptive in terms of light and brightness. But it could as well be an atmospheric phenomena, as some claim. To me the land reclamation of the Zuyderzee, which is said to have changed atmospheric conditions, albedo and reflection in a way that the Dutch light might have disappeared, seems, even given its size, too small to cause such changes on a broader level. The physicist Günther Können, who is the head head of the climate analysis department of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, is also skeptical that there is anything like a Dutch light today. It is likely that it was not the light, but the flatness of the landscape, the low clouds and the steady line of the horizon which gave a special perception of light in the Netherlands. The "low sky" (meaning the clouds) is really one of the things I noticed in my month here in the Netherlands. And when the sun breaks though the clouds, the landscape looks sometimes very dramatic. Perhaps that's what makes the light appear more radiant: the contrast.

 IJsselmeer by LANDSAT (Public Domain, NASA, https://zulu.ssc.nasa.gov/mrsid/)

IJsselmeer by LANDSAT (Public Domain, NASA, https://zulu.ssc.nasa.gov/mrsid/)