The seventeenth century was an age of exploration and expansion, as European maritime powers set up trading settlements around the world. Also there was wider travel within Europe and foreign shores became favoured subjects for painters and their clients. 'Foreign Shores' focuses on the depiction of Scandinavia and Italy, two popular areas for Dutch artists.
Many in the Netherlands earned their fortune through trade in the Baltic, including in timber, and in Arctic whaling. However the success of northern scenes in Netherlandish painting cannot be entirely explained by economic interest. Carefully studied rocks and fir-trees, as well as rugged coasts and sheets of ice, made these paintings attractive through their sense of the ‘exotic’.
Artists did not necessarily visit the places they depicted and many scenes remain generalized. Drawings of famous monumental buildings and Roman ruins, for example, were brought back from Italy to the Netherlands and, often, inserted into images of entirely imaginary Italian seaports. These paintings were very popular with art lovers and were appreciated for their evocative atmosphere. Some painters, like Pieter Mulier the Younger and Caspar van Wittel, moved permanently to Italy, so images like the view of Naples by van Wittel are more faithful to reality.