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Visual arts: Light and shadow

The Masters of Light exhibition is a much overdue examination of a short-lived but brilliant group of Utrecht artists from the Golden Age of Dutch art. In addition to well-known figures, such as the brothers Herman and Cornelius Saftleven, Abraham Bloemaert, and Abraham Bosschaert the Elder, the exhibition concentrates on the so-called "Utrecht Caravaggisti", a group of painters who travelled from Utrecht to Rome at the beginning of the 17th century. They were particularly impressed by the work of Caravaggio, the Italian master of light, and on their return to the Netherlands, combined Italian chiaroscuro and Dutch realism to produce works of great beauty and luminosity.

Although Catholicism was officially forbidden throughout the United Provinces, Utrecht tolerated private Catholic worship. This encouraged the introduction of new subject matter in a way which was only possible in the political and religious climate of 17th-century Utrecht. A particularly fine example of the Utrecht Caravaggisti style is Gerard van Honthorst's Saint Sebastian (detail above), painted in about 1623; such a strongly Catholic choice of subject might not have been painted elsewhere in the Netherlands.

The Twelve Year Truce, signed by parties from Catholic Spain and Protestant Netherlands in 1609, heralded the Dutch Golden Age, a period of economic prosperity and intellectual and artistic achievement. The Dutch Republic was a decentralised conglomeration of states, and this allowed each city to develop independent mercantile interests and a flourishing and individual artistic life.

From the formation of a painters' guild in 1611 to the city's loss of independence in 1674, Utrecht saw an extraordinary flowering of the arts. This exhibition looks at this phenomenon, an area of art history which has been sorely neglected.

`Masters of Light: Dutch Painting from Utrecht in the Golden Age', Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery Trafalgar Square, W1 (0171-839 3321) to 2 August