The Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic both represented superpowers within both European and world politics, nevertheless significant differences may be ascertained in terms of their basic ideology and world-view. Most apparently, such a difference appears in the more commerce based approach of the Dutch Republic, as evidenced in the worldwide reach of the Dutch East Indian company, whereas the Spanish Empire, as evidenced in figures such as Phillip II, represented an ideology rooted in monarchy, allusions to Spanish superiority and a commitment to Catholicism.
In this regard, the Dutch Republic can be considered a harbinger of the modern state, with its strict separation from religiously tinged ideology. On the other hand, Spain also maintained a worldwide organization that provided economic resources that encouraged the Empire’s strength. However, this mode of government was influenced by religious tendencies.
This ideological difference can be clearly seen in the art that developed in the respective systems. For example, in the work Allegory (1654) by Antonio de Pereda, functions as a “symbolic system” (History Unbound), wherein the portrait of the woman stands for empire, in particular, drawing a “connection between the Spanish and Roman Empires.” Spain clearly looked towards the past and, with the connection to Rome, to a religious authority that justified Spanish empire.
In contrast, the art of the Dutch Republic is radically more secular in character. Jan Steen’s Village School (1670) departs from the depictions of empire in Spanish art, to emphasize everyday life. This emphasis on realism, epitomized in so-called “genre painting (which) favored displays of everyday life” (History Unbound) fits with the more economic and “worldly” viewpoint of the Dutch Republic. The portrayal of all elements of society departs from the hierarchical and almost mystical Catholicism of the Spanish Empire.
The differences in art between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire thus underscores that world superpowers may possess different ideological approaches. The cultural reflections of the mores of the respective powers as presented through art provide a view into the world-views that underlined Dutch and Spanish political hegemony. Accordingly, they demonstrate that the ideological paths to political hegemony are themselves diverse.