About the CODART Canon

With the CODART Canon, the members of CODART – the international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish art – 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 narratives 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.

The Canon is, like any canon, a snapshot. It says something about the time in which we live. Had we compiled the list a year later, it would undoubtedly be different. The Canon hopes to give a picture of what is currently considered important in the art of the Low Countries before 1750. It does not seek to proclaim absolute truth or to impose anything; rather, it seeks to stimulate reflection on what is valuable, what is important, and why.

On this page:

100 Masterpieces: the Canon book

In May 2021, the CODART Canon is published in book form by Lannoo Publishers and CODART. 100 Masterpieces Dutch and Flemish art (1350-1750) includes entries by no less than one hundred different curators from twenty countries! Each describe one work of art and explain why, according to them, the work is so special. The book opens with an essay by Quentin Buvelot and Friso Lammertse about the making of the Canon.

100 Masterpieces is available in an English and Dutch language edition. Both can be ordered through this website and are available in a selection of bookstores worldwide. By buying your book(s) directly from CODART, you support the CODART Canon project.

The publication is supported by the Friends of CODART Foundation and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Brussels.

Canon website

Coinciding with the publication of the Canon book a revamped and expanded Canon website was launched in May 2021. The website offers detailed information on all of the Canon’s 100 masterpieces and serves as starting point to explore the artworks.

Each artwork is accompanied by a text of one of the 100 curators who contributed to the book. In these short essays, the curators explain why the objects are so special and why they qualified for inclusion in the Canon. Moreover, the objects are supplemented by high-resolution images and details, as well as links to museum catalogues, essays, videos, podcasts and other media for a wealth of information.

A selection of artworks has special videos, produced by CODART, in which the curator of the object discusses the masterpiece and its place in the Canon. These videos are highlighted on the front-page and include objects such as the Spinario by Jan Gossart and the Bridal Gloves in the Rijksmuseum. More videos will be added over the course of 2021.

The principles the CODART Canon

The CODART Canon consists of 100 works of art. 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.

The initial selection

The initial selection was made by the Program Committee of CODART in the course of 2019. The committee is made up of eight CODART members, all of whom are curators of Dutch and Flemish art. During the formation of the Canon the committee consisted of Friso Lammertse (chair), Quentin Buvelot, Sabine Craft-Giepmans, Femke Diercks, Joris Van Grieken, Valérie Herremans, Stephan Kemperdick and Matthias Ubl. They chose the initial list of 100 works of art, along with a large 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.

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 2019. The results were presented at a Public Symposium, held at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on Monday 18 November 2019. 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 2019. After the public symposium, the Canon received widespread coverage in a range of media outlets. In Delft, the Vermeer Center 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 final selection

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. The selection made in 2019 was not meant as a destination but as a beginning, a point of departure from which we can engage in further debate about our heritage. Perhaps, one day in the future we can look again and update this Canon.  We do not have any concrete plans for such an endeavor at the moment, but never say never. Who knows how we will look at this list in ten or even fifty years’ time?

Once the CODART Canon was adopted in December 2019, we wanted to inform the public about these works of art. In May 2021 we finally realized this by publishing the CODART Canon book and website. In the future we plan to actively promote both the book and website, and to continuously update the information about these masterpieces on the website. Also, we will continue to make videos featuring the objects and their curators, hopefully one day completing the series.

We are also looking into the possibilities for the CODART Canon to be used in an educational context. The CODART Canon offers a wonderful means to study Dutch and Flemish art in museums around the world and to learn more about the work of a curator.

Do you have any ideas, suggestions or would you like to cooperate? You are very welcome to contact us by writing to info@codart.nl.

Press coverage

The CODART Canon was widely covered in (inter)national media, both online as well as in print. A selection of the press coverage is on this page.

Acknowledgements

We are particularly grateful to the Friends of CODART Foundation for their contribution to the CODART Canon project. We also express our gratitude to the Flemish Government who partially funded the Canon project through a grant in 2021. The contribution of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Brussels and has also been of great significance. 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.

Cooperating partners
Van Ons, Amsterdam – web design and development
Lannoo Publishers, Tielt – book publishing and distribution
Els Kerremans of TIOSM, The Hague – book design
metWilskracht – marketing and communication
PR Atelier – public relations

General acknowledgement

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.

About CODART

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 is also supported by the Flemish Government. The CODART Canon is partly funded by a grant received for the year 2021.

Stichting CODART (The CODART Foundation)
P.O. Box 90418
2509 LK The Hague
The Netherlands
T +31 70 333 9744 / E info@codart.nl

CODART is registered as a non-profit organization at the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, nr. 33304155. Fiscal (RSIN) nr. 8075.67.541

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

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