Confronting the Netherlands’ Role in the Brutal History of Slavery

Historians studying the Netherlands’ history sometimes refer to the 17th century as the “Dutch Golden Age.” The term refers to an era of unprecedented wealth in the Dutch Republic, when artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer painted masterpieces and intellectual life flourished in cities like Amsterdam and Delft.

But this glittery phrase obscures a dark truth: Many of the republic’s wealthiest residents made their fortunes through the enslavement, sale and exploitation of African people. The dissonance between the “Golden Age” descriptor and this horrific reality is such that in 2019, the Amsterdam Museum announced plans to remove the term from its galleries—a major step in nationwide efforts to explain and contextualize Dutch citizens’ role in the transatlantic slave trade.

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