In 1588, the seven Protestant provinces of the Northern Netherlands separated from those in the South, ruled by the Catholic Spanish monarchy. This new Dutch Republic, of which Holland was the largest province, quickly grew, eventually dominating world trade with its substantial shipping fleet. Economic success fuelled the ‘Golden Age of Dutch art’ and enabled people from across society to purchase artworks.
Both north and south of the divide, artists in this period increasingly specialized in specific ‘genres’ of painting, such as portraiture, landscape, still life or scenes from every-day life. Although artists in the Northern and Southern Netherlands developed distinct subjects and styles, there was much exchange between the two countries, and many painters worked in both areas.