Thursday, October 27, 2011
Following up on Saturday's point that Russia was a particularly poor pre-industrial society, I had the opportunity yesterday to go round the National Gallery in Washington D.C. quickly, which has many paintings drawn from about 800 years of European art. There are remarkably few that show scenes of every day life with ordinary people: the first few hundred years are almost exclusively religious art, and after that the dominant form is portraits of rich people. However, I picked a few that seemed illustrative from the 1600s in the Netherlands and France. At that time, the Netherlands was the wealthiest European society with France perhaps in third or fourth place behind England and Spain. So between these and the Russian paintings we can get a sense of the full range of the standard of living of ordinary people in pre-industrial agrarian societies.
The picture at top is "A View on a High Road" by Meinart Hobbema from 1665, and is perhaps the most directly comparable to the view of the Russian village from Saturday's post. The low quality of the roads is pretty similar but the houses are rather better (though still very small and in very ill repair by modern standards).
Next is "Workmen Before an Inn" by Isack von Ostade from 1645:
This was commerce 17th century style. And then from France we have "A French Interior" by Louis Le Nain, also from 1645:
Finally, here is the one of the two main energy sources for industrial manufacture:
The other being water-wheels. That last painting is "The Mill", 1648 by Rembrandt.