Reformers and Humanists

Sixteenth Century


In the history of Dutch literature the sixteenth century is usually regarded as a period of transition in which the medieval conceptions gradually receded into the background and made way for those of the modern era. The term ‘period of transition’ is, of course, a facile one: from any given vantage point in time one can look down on a preceding period and regard it as a period of transition, pointing to the first appearance of certain phenomena of which one already knows the fully mature stage. But certain periods are characterized by particularly rapid and radical changes, and the sixteenth century in Dutch literature is undoubtedly one of those. The changes that took place are usually accounted for by that trinity of terms: Humanism, Renaissance and Reformation. These three factors, whether one regards them as an indivisible unity or as three separate movements, brought about a series of changes in the literature so far- reaching that the term period of transition is fully justified. These changes were on the whole international, and the change of direction which Dutch literature took was due to influence from outside. But apart from this, the direction of Dutch literature was also affected by an internal development: as a result of the war against Spain the centre of gravity of Dutch literature shifted from the southern to the northern provinces, and then stayed there. The province of Holland became the cultural as well as the economic and political centre of the Low Countries, and from the end of the sixteenth century onwards the most important writers lived in Holland. In view of all this one cannot object to a characterization of the sixteenth century as an age of transition, but the proviso must be added that no value- judgment is implied. It is true, the sixteenth century did not produce writers of the calibre of Vondel, Hooft, Bredero and Huygens, but it would be wrong to demote the sixteenth- century writers automatically to the status of fore-runners of the great writers of the seventeenth century. Their achievements are more satisfactorily, and more justly, assessed in terms of what they themselves accomplished than in terms of what the later writers made of their achievements.


Sixteenth Century Court Official Medieval Literature Poetic Form Great Poet 
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Copyright information

© Reinder P. Meijer 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LondonUK

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