Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Northwestern University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, Northwestern University
For Profit and Power: The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Art of Trade, c. 1600-50

My dissertation will offer the first comprehensive study of paintings, prints, and other cultural artefacts that were commissioned and collected in the early seventeenth century by Holland's most prominent tradesmen: officers of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Across genres as diverse as cartography, seascape, still-life, and elaborate public ceremony, I aim to trace what I call "VOC aesthetic prerogatives" in the Company's corporate self-representation. In four chapters, I will examine officers' collections, the decoration of Amsterdam's Dutch East India House, Company-mediated cultural encounters, and contemporary aesthetic and economic valuations of tactics of visual immediacy in art production, in order to offer insight into the role that projective images of economic prosperity played in the formation of Dutch entrepreneurial spirit, Company legitimacy, and national identity. I propose that the VOC's cultural production communicated the VOC's programmatic interests positively and positioned viewers as virtual participants in its projects of overseas expansion. My cross-genre approach will illuminate an abiding concern of VOC patronage: the crafting of appearances of control and ownership of the spatio-temporal axes of the East, which we might characterize as the "optics of possession." Drawing on scholarship that has posited still-life painting as an early form of capitalist commodity fetishism, I demonstrate how maps adorning the "geopolitical theaters" of VOC boardrooms and seascapes displayed in officers' private residences likewise figured as extensions or fantasies of ownership. The critical theory and terminology of encounter studies in the fields of anthropology and literary theory also inform my interpretation of the ways in which diverse representational strategies glorified Company gains, distanced grim realities of life "on the ground," and fostered notions of the Eastern Other and of nationhood in the collective Dutch imagination.