The 17th century marks an era of enormous significance in Dutch art. The economic prosperity of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces went hand in hand with a tremendous boom in art production, one that also affected the graphic arts. Dutch printmakers drew on the strong tradition of Netherlandish engraving, a genre that achieved masterly levels of quality, especially during the Late Mannerist period. However, the emerging generation of artists was faced with new challenges: they sought a livelier visual expression - such as was facilitated by drawing - with light and tonality being central to their interest. No longer satisfied with the technique of engraving, artists turned their attention to etching, a more spontaneous medium that rapidly gained popularity.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–1669) was the leading master in Dutch graphic art and one of the foremost experimenters. He employed etching to its fullest potential, frequently in combination with drypoint. His melding of virtuosic drawing, his sovereign and ultimately visceral handling of the theme and his unbounded artistic freedom made him the unrivalled master in this field. Through his original and powerful artistic statements, Rembrandt decisively influenced a multitude of his contemporaries, as well as artists of following generations.
Many outstanding engravers and etchers were concurrently active as painters. Graphic art not only naturally reflected the developments in Dutch painting, but at times it even foreshadowed some of the innovations in painting, while establishing its own formal and thematic specificities.
Dutch printmaking of the 17th century provided the fine arts with many artistic stimuli. Its highly creative approach to seeking new visual modes that would enable the printed medium to interpret the images’ hitherto-unprecedented psychological content and expressivity was of crucial importance.