11th Sept 2018: Spinoza’s Spectacles: Philosophy, Science and the Dutch Masters by Josef Darlington

This talk happened at The Castle Hotel (66 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LE) on 11th Sept 2018. You can listen to the talk and see the presentation by following THIS LINK


Title of talk:

Spinoza’s Spectacles: Philosophy, Science and the Dutch Masters


Spinoza in a Time of Zealotry
Spinoza in a Time of Zealotry

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • The subject matter and style associated with the C17th Dutch Masters
  • The technological and political context of the Dutch Golden Age
  • Spinoza’s materialist philosophy and how it broke with renaissance dualism
  • How Spinoza’s materialist ideas are reflected in the works of masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer


A few paragraphs on your subject:

The Dutch Masters are an intriguing group in art history. Compared to other great artistic movements their work is rather quiet and insular. Not for them the wild experiments of the modernists or the celestial majesty of the renaissance. Instead, artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer focused on domestic interiors, reserved portraits and the exquisite play of light and shadow known as chiaroscuro.

Spinoza Monument in Amsterdam
Spinoza Monument in Amsterdam

Yet the Dutch Masters were working at a time of great change. The Dutch Republic carved a unique path between Catholic absolutism and Protestant iconoclasm, stumbling upon the invention of modern liberal capitalism along the way.
Dutch toleration and trade produced huge advancements in technology and learning; the understanding of architecture, accounting, music, mechanics and, importantly, optics were revolutionised. A new philosophy emerged to explain these breakthroughs, most eloquently summarised in the works of the artisan lens grinder Baruch de Spinoza.
A living example of the power of Dutch toleration, Spinoza’s works were banned by the Catholic church, denounced by Protestant preachers and he was cast out from the Jewish community for suggesting that God and Nature were one and the same.
Offered a prestigious position at the University of Amsterdam, Spinoza preferred to keep on making his spectacles and keep his philosophising as a hobby. This was in keeping with his Ethics, in which he argues that every individual is responsible for their own soul which no established church or institution could guarantee for them.
In this lecture I aim to demonstrate how the intimate domestic scenes common to the Dutch Masters reflect a view of the world in line with Spinoza’s materialism. The importance of light and shadow, the denial of myth and magic, and the preponderance of group portraiture all reflect the unique landscape of Dutch thought and being in the seventeenth century Golden Age.

A few paragraphs about you:

Joseph Darlington is Programme Leader for BA(Hons) Digital Animation with Illustration at Futureworks Media School in Manchester. He is author of the academic book Terrorist Literature of the 1970s (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and the short story collection Avon Murray (No-Name Press, 2016). He owes his interest in the Dutch Golden Age to public lectures organised by Ragged and local universities, and he hopes to pass this interest on.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

The Rijksmuseum has digitised much of its catalogue, providing high def images of many of the artworks contained in the lecture: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/
Complete Vermeer digited catalogue:
Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age:
Melvyn Bragg documentary on Spinoza:

YouTube player

What are your weblinks?

Website – www.josefadarlington.co.uk
Twitter – @Joe_Darlo
Public Email – [email protected]
Academic site – https://futureworks.academia.edu/JosephDarlington

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