For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"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."

Key Passage

In the sixteenth century, the concept of acedia was replaced by the term desidia, which was taken to mean idleness in both the biblical and modern senses of "not working" and the neglect of one's everyday respon- sibilities (see Ecclesiasticus 33:27: "Send him to labour, that he be not idle, for idleness teacheth much evil") (p.239)


Protestantism, Protestant Reformation, Aesthetics, Imagery, Protestant Work Ethic, Work Ethic, Civic Morality, History, Dutch History, Moral Artwork


Work in Art, Protestantism, Labour History

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