My dissertation focused on the Antwerp art market during the long sixteenth century, and this research ignited a continued interest in various aspects of the economics of art and culture during the early modern period. The emphasis of my scholarly endeavors has been on the history and functioning of art markets and particularly on the art trade, quality in art, the history of art auctions and the role of art dealers as cultural mediators.
In 2009, I was awarded a major research grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) entitled ‘Artistic exchanges and cultural transmission in the Low Countries, 1572-1672: mobility of artists, works of art and artistic knowledge’ In collaboration with Karolien de Clippel (Utrecht University) and Eric Jan Sluijter (University of Amsterdam), this project wishes to gain insight into the circulation of artistic knowledge and examines how culture was and is transferred. We hereby take into the consideration the mobility of producers (artists), goods (works of art) and ideas (artistic innovations).This research program enables us to point to the origins of the sharedcultural heritage of both the Northern and Southern Netherlands, and perhaps more importantly, shed light on the complicated but fascinating process of cultural transmission in European History.
In addition, I have been fascinated by the notion of expertise in the arts and how artistic knowledge is constructed and determined by experts and the public at large. It is a seminal topic where all my previous lines of research naturally converge, merging my interest in the history of art markets, my awareness as an art economist of the tension that exists between the cultural value of a painting and its price, and my fascination with the question of what constitutes a good painting artistically. Interestingly, quality in the visual arts appears to have been neatly defined in the Renaissance (early modern artists were trained to focus on design, expression, coloring and drawing), but there are strong indications that how we define a good painting has become more diffuse and even contested with the passage of time.
Therefore, I have taken up the quest to identify and understand the criteria that determine quality in past and present. In my earlier work, I found that innovations in the information economy moved quality from a regulated to a negotiated concept from the seventeenth century onwards. Quality issues at that time were no longer monopolized by elite connoisseurs, but were now debated by art dealers and consumers in the market arena. This has prompted me to examine whether these insights persist in the global and digital era as well. For instance, in collaboration with Payal Arora (Erasmus University Rotterdam), I have started to question the extent to which the Internet transformed the nature of the quality debate. Has the participatory culture radically altered the discourse on art quality or is the virtual dimension a mere extension of the conventional evaluation and valorization practices?