During the early Baroque period the painter Abraham Bloemaert ranked among the leading artists in Amsterdam and then in Utrecht in particular. His most important graphic work is the vivid, large-format pen-and-ink and brush drawing 'The Golden Age'. Although we cannot be certain whether it counts as an artwork in its own right or whether it was created to be translated into a copperplate engraving, the composition nonetheless achieved considerable fame through its dissemination as a print and a number of painted copies. This may perhaps have played a role when Johann Friedrich Städel acquired the sheet from the French art trade in the late eighteenth century. According to the history of the world by the Greek poet Hesiod, which was taken up by other classical authors, mankind originally lived in a state of peace and happiness, in which they were nourished by the wealth of fruits of generous Nature and otherwise had no further needs. This "Golden Age" was then followed by other ages, each less glorious than the previous one, until we arrive at the present age, which is described as dark and immoral. From the Renaissance onwards, the vision of the paradisiacal "Golden Age" appealed to artists and observers as a projection of longing or as the prophecy of its return, for example at the beginning of the reign of a new ruler.
The wish for peace and happiness in the Netherlands, which was then embroiled in the Eighty Years' War with Spain in its struggle for independence, may explain the success of Bloemaert's composition. It shows lightly clad people of all ages distributed in casual groups across an unspoilt landscape, which is not cultivated and yet does not seem threatening in any way. A boy in the foreground is blowing soap bubbles in the air, a didactic reminder of the transitory nature of the state of happiness. These people, some of whom are busily gathering fruits, are surrounded by different animals, while Saturn - under whose sign the Golden Age is taking place - gazes down from a cloud. The posing figures show Bloemaert's origins in the age of Mannerism, and the emphasis he lays on the naturalistic portrayal of the animals and plants points forward to the realism of the Baroque period.
In March 1815, the Frankfurt businessman and banker Johann Friedrich Städel bequeathed his entire fortune and art collection to a foundation which was to be named after him: the 'Städelsches Kunstinstitut'. However, he also dedicated the foundation to the citizens of Frankfurt immaterially, wishing it to be an "adornment and of practical use" to Frankfurt's citizenry. He was thus the first ordinary citizen in the German-speaking region to found a public art museum: the present-day Städel Museum. When he died, his collection comprised 476 paintings, some 4,600 drawings, almost 10,000 printed graphics and valuable books.