Vermeer
Photo of the Mauritshuis by Jackie Kever used under a Creative Commons license.

Mariët Westermann, A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585-1718 (Yale University Press, 2005).
A survey of Dutch art from the height of the Netherlands’ power and glory. There are passing nods to architecture, prints and sculpture, but the focus here is Dutch painting. This is an excellent introduction to the period, with a helpful discussion of different genres, themes and other aspects of Dutch painting, and the book is beautifully illustrated. Visitors to the Rijksmuseum and Mauritshuis will see many works discussed by Westermann, and will find that her explanations compare well with the museums’ audio guides.

Here is Westermann’s bio at NYU. She also wrote the book on Rembrandt. Google Books lets you take a look. Beautiful Lofty Things calls it lively and interesting. Ben used it as a source. Mae saw the food. Laura recommends it. I believe it was a New York Times Notable Book, but I can’t find that on the New York Times. After you’ve read it, plan your trip to the Rijksmuseum.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Rembrandt
Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Mariet Westermann, Rembrandt (Phaidon, 2000).
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606 in Leiden, where he started his career, but in 1631 he moved to Amsterdam, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.  In 1639, he moved into a fine house on the Jodenbreestraat, now a museum, and after his 1656 bankruptcy he moved to the Jordaan. Westermann has written an excellent survey of Rembrandt’s career for a general reader, with a concise analysis of many individual works, some explanation of what is known about Rembrandt, and a bit of context about 17th-century Amsterdam. The book is wonderfully illustrated.  The chapter on Rembrandt’s engravings and etchings, for which he was better known than for his painting until photographs of the latter became available, feels like too much was compressed into too few pages, but surely it was a challenge to reduce his oeuvre to a work of this size, and for the most part Westermann and Phaidon carry it off.

Here is Westermann’s bio at NYU. She’s off to Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, I can’t any ungated reviews of this book. Is this a problem for general-interest art books?  Here is the website for the Rembrandthuis, and here is the Rijksmuseum’s site.

Buy it at Amazon.com.