Dutch painting reached its heyday in the 17th century. It is generally divided into the art of the southern and northern provinces. While the south – today's Belgium and Luxembourg – was dominated by the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and his

workshop in Antwerp, the north – now Holland – boastedmany well-known artistic personalities. The two most important painters are Rembrandt van Rijn in Amsterdam and Jan Vermeer in Delft. The period in which they carried out their work is known as the Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw), a time during which the Netherlands experienced a flowering in politics, eco nomics, science and art. This high point in the history of the Dutch Republic was a result of the Netherlands’ rise to become a global seafaring and trading power. Art became a mirror of the social and cultural change that made the United Netherlands a trailblazer and a world power. The middle class was  encroaching on the upper class and even ordinary people like vendors, tradesmen and petty officials were able to invest their money in art to exhibit their new social status. This led to an unprecedented abundance of artworks, of which unfortunately only a small part has been preserved. In accordance with the tastes of the middle-class patrons a kind of heightened realism developed. The traditional religious themes made way for portraits, landscapes, scenes from everyday life and still lifes. The concentration on particular subjects led to the development of new pictorial categories such as sea pieces or the trompe-l'oeil, an illusionistic painting style that simulated three-dimensionality. This specialization led to a remarkable quality in painting that is beautifully exemplified by the works in the collection of the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss.