"Images of Labor and Diligence in Sixteenth-Century Netherlandish Prints: The Work Ethic Rooted in Civic Morality or Protestantism?"
by Veldman, Ilja M (1992)
"The people of the Low Countries are very hard-work- ing, diligent, inventive, and have a ready wit," writes Lodovico Guicciardini in his Descrittione dei tutti i Paesi Bassi (Antwerp I 567). "They are a nation of merchants and are skilled in all forms of commerce, such that the prosperity of the country is founded largely on trade and industry." I Hadrianus Junius is also full of praise for this indus- triousness in his Batavia, a historical treatise written in Haarlem in 1565-69. Junius goes on to define thrift, in combination with temperance in diet, as a way of ensur- ing that one is provided for in later life. "The mores of country people are diverse in kind. The inhabitants of northern parts have a somewhat stricter and more aus- tere way of life, inspired rather by thrift, that great source of income, than by any lack.... Aside from this, they were never idle, and were capable of strenuous exertion. They were ardent seekers of work."2 A little further on, where a description is given of a time when "the desire for delicacies had exceeded the bounds of civic morality" (with some families exhausting their entire capital), Junius remarks: "The wealthy, thank Heaven, have profited from this example and have turned their attention to more worthy matters. A new order has emerged and been given governance of the state. It has introduced thrift, and accords the highest priority to comfort in later life, an age at which poverty is held to be the utmost disgrace."
Moral views are bound up with particular periods of time and geographical areas, and are also subject to change. The desire to work, diligence and thrift are fairly late arrivals in the ethical system, and are seen by most historians as typically middle-class virtues, which did not achieve their ultimate place in the value system until the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. (p.227)
KeywordsProtestantism, Protestant Reformation, Aesthetics, Imagery, Protestant Work Ethic, Work Ethic, Civic Morality, History, Dutch History, Moral Artwork
ThemesWork in Art, Protestantism, Labour History
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