chapter  10
6 Pages


The Spanish rule in Flanders and its acceptance by the upper classes produced conditions very similar to those prevailing in the France of the same period. Here too the aristocracy was made absolutely dependent on the power of the state and transformed into a docile court nobility; here too the ennoblement of the bourgeoisie and its inclination to turn its back on business life as soon as possible was a predominant characteristic of social development;255 here too an almost monopolistic position was granted to the Church, though it had, as in France, to pay the price of becoming an instrument of government; here too the culture of the ruling classes took on an entirely courtly character and gradually lost all connection not only with popular traditions but also with the still more or less middle-class inspired outlook of the Burgundian court. In particular,’ art also had on the whole an official stamp, only, in contrast to the French baroque, it had a religious tendency at the same timewhich is to be explained, above all, by the Spanish influence. Another difference was that there was no state-organized production of art and no complete absorption of all works of art by the court, not only because the archducal court was incapable of financing such production, but also because that kind of regimentation would have been incompatible with the conciliatory manner in which the Habsburgs desired to rule in Flanders. Even the Church, far and away the most important institution interested in art, merely prescribed a general, Catholic line, but did not impose any particular obligation on art, either in relation to the basic mood or the thematic details of the representation. Restored Catholicism allowed the artist more freedom here than elsewhere, and it is owing to this liberal attitude that Flemish art was less formalistic and more spontaneous than court art in France, and also more natural and cheerful in its general mood than Church art in Rome. Even if all the circumstances do not explain the artistic genius of a Rubens, they make it clear that it was in the courtly and ecclesiastical milieu of Flanders that he found the form peculiar to his art.