Stephanie Porras

Scholarly Retreats
Type of work

Stephanie Porras is an art historian of the early modern period, ca. 1400-1700. In the Woods, she edited and worked on the Introduction to the 2023 volume of the Netherlandish Yearbook for the History of Art (NKJ), on the theme, Wet Land. This edited book, which she is co-editing with Ann-Sophie Lehmann and Joost Keizer, consists of around 10-12 essays and a critical introduction examining the rich corpus of an art and an architecture of the ‘wetland’ mapping out not only what the Dutch landscape looks like today, but also what it looked like in the past and how it is being shaped for the future.

With a sudden intensity around 1500, early modern Dutch artists began picturing their own environment, launching an entirely new category of representation that tested the boundaries between humans and nature, representation and truth, and past and future. In particular, the resulting art works depicted both habitable land and the water that permeated and surrounded this environment, alternately threatening and supporting local ways of life. These images produced — and still produce — a quintessentially Dutch landscape, real and imagined.

A land of water, dikes, dunes, skies dotted with rain-filled clouds as well as with old and new technologies (windmills, canals, sluizes, and boats) that enabled claiming/exploiting the land and traveling through it. Landscape in relation to water can be seen as a transhistorical hallmark of Netherlandish art, a motif and topic that continually resurfaces in the oeuvre of iconic artists such as Ruisdael, Van Gogh and Mondriaan, as well Land Art projects or new media. In the face of ecological crises, and rising sea levels in particular, the rich history of art and architecture that represented and shaped the wetland, deserves a fresh look.

Photo by Sean Fader