November 18, 2023–November 3, 2024

Thinking Small: Dutch Art to Scale

The phrase “thinking small” describes an act of deep engagement with art—a specific kind of encounter in which a viewer considers, perceives, and acts differently in response to what they see. With some forms of Dutch art, the minute becomes all encompassing: tiny elements draw the eye and inspire viewers to engage at an intimate level, scrutinizing every inch and marveling at the skill and dedication of an object’s maker. In the 17th century, miniaturized representations of distance were a means for Dutch men and women to comprehend the vastness of their world. Though many works that invite the action of thinking small are small themselves, larger works can also invite viewers to focus on the particulars found within them. Dutch landscape painters often filled their compositions with details—real and imagined—that draw viewers into the world of the image.

A collaboration between the Center for Netherlandish Art at the MFA, the Yale University Art Gallery, and faculty and students at Yale, this exhibition explores an intriguing selection of objects from 17th-century Netherlands that were designed to elicit slow looking and contemplation on the part of their original audiences. With 15 paintings, prints, silver medals, books, and even a cup made from a carved nautilus shell, “Thinking Small: Dutch Art to Scale” compels viewers to reconsider their relationship to the world around them.

This is the third in a series of collaborations between the CNA and its academic partners that draws on the Museum’s deep collection of Dutch and Flemish art in new and unexpected ways, bringing fresh perspectives and diverse voices to the forefront while showcasing cross-disciplinary scholarship. Previous displays included “A Modern Art Market,” on view from November 2021 through October 2022, and “Michaelina Wautier and The Five Senses: Innovation in 17th-Century Flemish Painting,” on view from November 12, 2022, through November 5, 2023.

The Founders of the Center for Netherlandish Art are Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie.

  • William A. Coolidge Gallery (The Center for Netherlandish Art’s Gallery for Innovative Scholarship, Gallery 243A)


Supported by the Bob and Happy Doran Fund for the Center for Netherlandish Art.