About the CODART Canon

With the CODART Canon the members of CODART present a selection from the extensive and diverse range of early modern Dutch and Flemish art that is disseminated throughout the world. In making the CODART Canon we aim to make the works of art more visible and demonstrate the breadth of this category in art history. We also want to stimulate discussion about art and the profession of curators. Being a curator involves making choices every day. What do you show and which narrative do you tell your audience?

Curators, members of CODART, informed by a public vote, made this list of 100 superb works of art that provides an overpowering overview of the work of the Dutch and Flemish Old Masters. Aesthetic highlights, crucial masterpieces, and striking outliers that are of great importance to art history. The result is a survey – but not, of course, a comprehensive survey. That would be impossible: too many beautiful artworks have been made to achieve that.

On this page:

The initial selection

The initial selection was made by a special committee in the course of 2019. The committee is made up of eight CODART members, all of whom are curators of Dutch and Flemish art. You can find the names of the current committee members on this page. They chose the initial list of 100 works of art, along with a number that just failed to make the “grade.” This selection was emphatically intended solely as a provisional, exploratory gambit.

A canon is always linked to a particular moment in time, and choices will be personal. In drawing up its preliminary list, the committee tried to represent the full breadth of art by Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, which consists of so much more than only the most famous names. The criteria applied to each of these works, according to the committee, was that they should not be omitted from a survey, that they are of high aesthetic value, and/or they are of crucial importance to art history in some way. In the choice of the works, the committee also tried to include works in less well-known institutions. That does not alter the fact that a large proportion of the selection consists of works found in the most famous and largest museums in the world.

The principles governing the selection of works in the CODART Canon

CODART seeks to place 100 works of art in the limelight. Works from our field: Dutch and Flemish art from ca. 1350 to 1750 from a range of disciplines: paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and applied arts.

The Canon does not include more than two works in a particular medium by any one artist. The artists were born in the region that now encompasses the Netherlands and Flanders or worked within this territory for a long period of time.

To ensure that the Canon provides a wide-ranging picture of the entire field of Dutch and Flemish art, a particular weight has been attached to each discipline. It set the numbers per category at 60 paintings, 10 drawings, 10 prints, 10 sculptures and 10 works of applied art, so that a representative number of objects is chosen from each category.

Voting by CODART Members

After the publication of the initial selection on the CODART website, a ballot was held among CODART members from 15 October to 5 November. The results were presented at a Public Symposium on Monday 18 November. During the symposium it was decided, in consultation with all those present, to maintain the initial principles and where possible to select a larger number of artists rather than including several works by a single artist. This corresponds well to the stated purpose of the CODART Canon: to demonstrate the sheer breadth of the output of Dutch and Flemish Old Master art. A striking difference was the members’ addition of the Night Watch, a work that the committee had not initially placed on the list. After the symposium, a second period of voting took place, this time by the general public.

The public vote

The public had the opportunity to vote from 18 November to 8 December. After the public symposium, the Canon received widespread coverage in a range of media outlets. In Delft, the Vermeer Centre formed a lobby to promote the inclusion of View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer, prompting many local residents to vote for that painting. Another campaign, in the city of Zutphen, led locals to vote overwhelmingly for a fourteenth-century chandelier in the Church of St. Walburga. A large number of proposals were submitted in support of works of art that were not yet included in the list, all of them furnished with enthusiastic, personal and expert arguments.

The result

After 8 December, the program committee compared the list produced by the CODART members to the one representing the public vote. In its final selection, the program committee adhered to the principles that had been proposed, discussed and adopted during the symposium. At all times the committee kept its eye on the stated aim of demonstrating the diversity of Dutch and Flemish art, while striking a balance between works from the Northern and Southern Netherlands and between different disciplines and genres. During both voting periods substantial attention had been paid to women artists, and the committee accordingly included several works by women artists in the list. The public vote led to a number of additions to the members’ list. The Zutphen chandelier and View of Delft, as mentioned above, are good examples of works that ended up in the list in this way, sometimes at the expense of other genres such as seascapes, which neither members nor the general public voted for in large numbers.

Plans for the future

Inevitably, the Canon leaves out many noteworthy artworks, and we can talk ad infinitum about what does and does not belong in it. That is precisely what makes the creation of a Canon so interesting. In a sense, the Canon is the debate about the Canon. This selection is not a destination but a beginning, a point of departure from which we can engage in further debate about our heritage. Now that the CODART Canon has been adopted, we would like to tell the public more about these works of art in the near future. Then we will invite the curators who manage our cultural heritage to step forward and enable the public to gain a better idea of who they are and what they do. We plan to add more information about the artworks included in the Canon on our website in 2020, with links to all the museums and other places where they can be found. We also intend to publish the Canon in book form, with contributions by 100 curators, and there are plans to get together with curators to produce a number of short videos, to highlight some of the more interesting results of the vote. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? We would like to hear them. You are very welcome to contact us by writing to info@codart.nl.

Acknowledgements

We are particularly grateful to the Friends of CODART Foundation for their contribution to the CODART Canon project. We wish to thank the members of the CODART program committee for their enthusiasm and hard work, and the board of CODART for having faith in our wild plans and supporting them. We thank individual CODART members for sharing their expertise: Yvonne Bleyerveld, Peter van der Coelen, Nico Van Hout and Bieke van der Mark. We also want to thank the RKD (the Netherlands Institute for Art History), the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Mauritshuis in The Hague, Teylers Museum in Haarlem, and of course, all the CODART members who have taken the time to select their own CODART Canon.

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General acknowledgement

CODART is the international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish art. CODART aims to make this wide-ranging cultural heritage more visible and accessible to an international public and to increase public knowledge of Dutch and Flemish art. CODART is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science by way of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), which is also CODART’s main cooperating partner.

CODART refers to the database of the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History containing the names and biographical details of artists. For the details of objects, the relevant museums are consulted. All images of artworks belong to the public domain unless stated otherwise. For more information on the re-use of images and texts, go to the page on Terms and Conditions.

More information about CODART can be found on www.codart.nl/about-codart

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