These fourteen "main lines of the canon" are meant to serve as background texts to the fifty windows. They are the red threads running through the history of the Netherlands that indicate the cross-links between the separate windows, thereby helping to create cohesion in the topics, objects, persons and themes featured on the chart.
1. The Low Countries by the sea
The modern-day Netherlands was largely "created" by human hands:
dyked-in, reclaimed and developed. Adapting to and struggling
against water is a red thread in the history of this region.
The Beemster polder; The great flood
2. On the periphery of Europe
The region that is today known as the Netherlands, is a river
delta on the periphery of the European continent. This geographic
position has determined the history of the region throughout the
centuries. In 4500 BC, an agrarian society began to develop here
and from the beginning of the Christian era the region formed one
of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. In later centuries, the
region became part of other large empires. It was only from about
1590 that the first contours of the modern-day Netherlands began to
be mapped. However, the borders would often be changed
The Roman Limes; Charlemagne; Charles V
3. A converted country
Little is known about the religion of the earliest inhabitants
of the region, but thanks to Tacitus (among others) we do know
something about the gods that the people here honoured. The people
of the low countries converted to Christianity from about 600-700
AD. Monasteries became centres of culture. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, wars were waged in the name of the true
doctrine. Today, Christianity still remains an important feature of
Megalithic tombs; The Roman Limes; Willibrord; Erasmus; The Beeldenstorm; The Statenbijbel
4. A Dutch language
The earliest extant words written in Dutch date from circa 1100.
They were written by a Flemish monk. Printed material in the
"mother tongue" only became available in the sixteenth century.
Many people continued to speak and write in Latin (scientists) and
in French (the elite). Regions had their own dialects. And yet the
Netherlands has a long history of literature in its own language.
The borders of language do not run parallel to political
Hebban olla vogala; The Statenbijbel; Max Havelaar; Annie M.G. Schmidt
5. An urbanised country and a trading hub at the mouth of the Rhine, Schelde and Maas rivers
From circa 1100, urbanisation began to take place in the region
and trading centres were established. The centre of gravity
initially lay in the south (Flanders and Brabant), but by circa
1500 the north (province of Holland) was a strong centre of trade.
From circa 1600, the provinces of Holland and Zeeland were
important hubs for trade in Europe. The modern-day Netherlands
continues to fulfil this function.
The Hanseatic League; The canal ring; The port of Rotterdam
6. The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands: founded on rebellion
Towns, with their citizens, have different interests than the
nobility. The first signs of a clash of these interests could be
seen early. In the late Middle Ages, the Burgundian rulers tried to
bring the Low Countries under one administration, but this policy
met with resistance from both town-dwellers and the nobility. In
the sixteenth century, this resistance blended with the call for
Reformation. War broke out and the nobility became "gueux'. William
of Orange rose to become the leader of the Rebellion and for this
reason is known as the " father of the fatherland". The unique
political structure known as the " Republic" developed after his
violent death in 1584. Features of the Republic: the administrative
power of regents; weak central authority; religious
Floris V; Charles V; The Beeldenstorm; William of Orange; The Republic; Spinoza; The canal ring
7. The blossoming of the Golden Age
The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was a superpower in
Europe in the seventeenth century: economically, politically and
culturally. The period was short but intense. Immigrants (Jews,
Flemings, Huguenots) played an important role in this
In the cultural domain, the scope and quality of seventeenth-century painting was particularly remarkable. Economically, it was shipping, the staple market, the highly-developed land cultivation and industry. Politically, the Republic had a unique form of government on a continent where monarchies were the rule. The disaster year of 1672 signalled the beginning of the end for this period of previously unknown blossoming. Thereafter, the Republic was a humble player on the European stage, dependent on the European powers for room to manoeuvre. In economic and cultural terms, the Republic was also less of a European player from the end of the seventeenth century.
Hugo de Groot; Rembrandt; The Atlas Major of Blaeu; Michiel de Ruyter; Christiaan Huygens; Spinoza; Country mansions
8. Business sense and colonial power
Dutch ships took to the seas from about 1600. Europe was the
world's centre of trade, but business was conducted in Asia, Africa
and America as well. Colonies were established in Asia and America.
The Dutch also traded in slaves on all three continents. In the
nineteenth century, the centralisation of the Dutch administration
of the colonies led to lengthy wars. To this day, the Netherlands
still maintains strong ties with Indonesia, Surinam and the
The VOC; The Atlas Major of Blaeu; Slavery; Max Havelaar; Indonesia; Surinam and the Antilles; Diversity in the Netherlands
9. Nation-state, constitutional monarchy
In the second half of the eighteenth century, due to the
influence of the Enlightenment, among other things, the need arose
among a broad range of people to acquire and disseminate knowledge.
New ideas about the organisation of the state and society were
discussed. The patriot movement's attempts to limit the power of
the Stadholders (governors) and to give the people a greater voice
were initially unsuccessful.
The modern-day Dutch state was formed between 1795 and 1848. The foundations of the nation-state were laid in the French period (1795-1813). After the defeat of Napoleon, William I, the son of the last Stadholder (governor) became king of a united kingdom. This "restoration" of the Netherlands did not last long, because Brussels joined in the rebellions of the year 1830. In 1848, the foundations for a constitutional monarchy (as the Netherlands still is today) were laid with the drafting of the Constitution by Thorbecke. The kingdom became minor power that cherishes its neutrality.
Country mansions; Eise Eisinga; The patriots; Napoleon Bonaparte; King William I; The Constitution
10. The rise of modern society
From circa 1870, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht
began to grow into cities. Industrialisation reached the region
relatively late. The laying of the first railways began somewhat
earlier. Distances became smaller: the integration of the
Netherlands had begun.
The call for equality under the law became stronger. "Common" citizens demanded their say in society and politics. This resulted in universal suffrage being granted to men and women in 1917 and 1919 respectively. "Modern" artists of the time no longer regarded themselves as the keepers of established artistic traditions and reveal themselves as artistic innovators. In literature this goal is reflected in the "Movement of the Eighties", in painting, in Impressionism and Post-impressionism and in the applied art of the Art Nouveau and Modernism movements.
The first railway; Opposition to child labour; Vincent van Gogh; Aletta Jacobs; The First World War; De Stijl
11. The Netherlands in a time of world wars: 1914-1945
As a small country, the Netherlands tried to avoid involvement
in large conflicts in Europe. It succeeded during World War I, but
at its end, the Netherlands was dragged into a world crisis. The
blackest moments of the German occupation were the bombing of
Rotterdam, the deportation and murder of the Jewish population and
the winter of starvation. In Asia, the war began in 1942, but after
the liberation of 1945 a new war began that lasted until 1949.
World War II is referred to as " the past that refuses to become
The First World War; De Stijl; The crisis years; World War II; Anne Frank; Indonesia
12. The welfare state, democratisation and secularisation
Reconstruction began immediately after the end of World War II.
After those years of deprivation and hard work, the 1950s heralded
in a period of great change in the lifestyle of the Dutch
population. The welfare state and an affluent society ensured a
radical rise in the standard of living. In addition, people were
breaking their ties with their church, socio-political group and
family. This change was marked in particular by less hierarchical
relationships between parents and children, the rise of new male
and female role patterns and increasingly open views on sexuality.
In terms of politics, this was combined with a strong movement
towards democratisation: the authority of established, elite groups
was called into question.
Willem Drees; The great flood; Television; The port of Rotterdam; Annie M.G. Schmidt; The natural gas deposit
13. The diversification of the Netherlands
After World War II, the Netherlands became embroiled in a
colonial war with the Indonesian independence movement. During and
after this war, many Dutch, Indo-Europeans, and Moluccans left for
the Netherlands. Other immigration waves followed: in the 1960s,
workers from Mediterranean countries arrived, at the time of the
decolonisation of Surinam (1975) people arrived from the former
colony and later from the Netherlands Antilles, as well as numerous
other regions. Dutch society changed with this increasing
immigration. Inevitably, tensions arose between the established
inhabitants and the new arrivals.
Indonesia; Surinam and the Antilles; Diversity in the Netherlands
14. The Netherlands in Europe
After World War II made way for the Cold War, the Netherlands
became an advocate of Atlantic and European cooperation. Once the
Cold War had ended, European cooperation rapidly gained momentum.
In this phase, the Netherlands was also active in UN peacekeeping
It is important that certain terms like "the Netherlands", "Dutch culture" and "Dutch history" are used with caution. After all, up until the nineteenth century the term "the Netherlands" is an anachronism and the adjective "Dutch" remains problematic in early history. When a text mentions the history of Dutch language and culture, and Dutch territory and the Dutch state, we actually mean "relevant to this region", without the suggestion that this region in that time already presented a cultural, political or linguistic unity. We have treated these matters as historical phenomena.