On my last weekend, I made the trip from Plymouth up to Salem, on Massachusetts’ fabled North Shore. While the American public knows Salem primarily for its role in the notorious witchcraft trials of 1692, Salem has a much broader and equally interesting maritime history that contributed to the formation of its fantastic Peabody-Essex Museum. The museum’s current highlighted exhibit is called “Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection,” running through June 19. With so many of the first English settlers in New Plimoth coming from Amsterdam and Leiden in the Dutch Republic, this exhibit offers a chance to glimpse the intriguing but frighteningly foreign country that led the Leiden congregation to seek the more desirable isolation of the New World.
The collection includes works of art from the leading Dutch painters of the 1600s, such as Rembrandt and Jacob van Ruisdael. Visitors will view examples of still-life and landscape painting and decorative arts, all divided into sections that showcase Dutch lifestyles, culture, and power both military and economic.
If you look closely, you can see echoes of the Pilgrims. The wide-brimmed hats, the trappings of Protestant Christianity. In one interactive exhibit, you can zoom in and view an image of the magnificent Westerkerk (Western Church), the construction of which began in Amsterdam in the same year that the Mayflower left England. In another, a barber-surgeon (perhaps a colleague of Samuel Fuller?) examines the foot of a peasant. An especially lively painting shows a winter street scene in a Dutch town in which warmly dressed townspeople cavort in the streets. It was this type of behavior, along with the growing concern that children born in Holland were beginning to lose their “English-ness,” that led the sober and hardworking English community in Leiden to immigrate to the Americas.
I would highly recommend that anyone interested in learning more about the Old World adventures of the Pilgrims take a trip up to Salem to view this fascinating collection. In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog for the New World adventures of the Colonial Interpreters.