The Imitation of Christ, usually attributed to the German Thomas à Kempis, is sometimes credited to the Dutch Gerhard Groote (1340–84); written in Latin, it has gone through more than 6,000 editions in about 100 languages. Outstanding Dutch humanists were Wessel Gansfort (1420?–89), precursor of the Reformation; Rodolphus Agricola (Roelof Huysman, 1443–85); and the greatest of Renaissance humanists, Desiderius Erasmus (Gerhard Gerhards, 1466?–1536). Baruch (Benedict de) Spinoza (1632–77), the influential pantheistic philosopher, was born in Amsterdam.
The composers Jacob Obrecht (1453–1505) and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621) were renowned throughout Europe; later composers of more local importance were Julius Röntgen (1855–1932), Alfons Diepenbrock (1862–1921), and Cornelis Dopper (1870–1939). Bernard van Dieren (1887–1936), a composer of highly complex music of distinct individuality, settled in London. Henk Badings (b. Bandung, Java, 1907–87) is a prolific composer of international repute. Outstanding conductors of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra include Willem Mengelberg (1871–1951), Eduard van Beinum (1901–59), and Bernard Haitink (b.1929), who also was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic from 1967 to 1979.
Hieronymus Bosch van Aken (1450?–1516) was a famous painter. Dutch painting reached its greatest heights in the 17th century, when Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) and Jan Vermeer (1632–75) painted their masterpieces. Other great painters of the period were Frans Hals (1580–1666), Jan Steen (1626–69), Jacob van Ruisdael (1628–82), and Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709). Two more recent painters, Vincent van Gogh (1853–90) and Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), represent two widely divergent artistic styles and attitudes. Maurits C. Escher (1898–1972) was a skilled and imaginative graphic artist.
Hugo Grotius (Huig de Groot, 1583–1645), often regarded as the founder of international law, is famous for his great book On the Law of War and Peace. The outstanding figure in Dutch literature was Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679), poet and playwright. Another noted poet and playwright was Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), father of the scientist Christian. Popular for several centuries were the poems of Jacob Cats (1577–1660). Distinguished historians include Johan Huizinga (1872–1945) and Pieter Geyl (1887–1966). Anne Frank (b.Germany, 1929–45) became the most famous victim of the Holocaust with the publication of the diary and other material that she had written while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587–1630), greatest of Dutch empire builders, founded the city of Batavia in the Malay Archipelago (now Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia). Two Dutch naval heroes, Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1597–1653) and Michel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter (1607–76), led the Dutch nation in triumphs in sea wars with France, England, and Sweden. Peter Minuit (Minnewit, 1580–1638) founded the colonies of New Amsterdam (now New York City) and New Sweden (now Delaware). Peter Stuyvesant (1592–1672) took over New Sweden from the Swedish and lost New Netherland (now New York State) to the British.
Leading scientists include the mathematician Simon Stevinus (1548–1620); Christian Huygens (1629–95), mathematician, physicist, and astronomer; Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), developer of the microscope; Jan Swammerdam (1637–80), authority on insects; and Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738), physician, botanist, and chemist. Among more recent scientists are a group of Nobel Prize winners: Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837–1923), authority on gases and fluids, who received the award in 1910; Jacobus Hendricus van 't Hoff (1852–1911), chemistry, 1901; Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853–1928) and Pieter Zeeman (1865–1943), who shared the 1902 award for physics; Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1853–1926), physics, 1913; Christiaan Eijkman (1858–1930), physiology, 1929; Petrus Josephus Wilhelmus Debye (1884–1966), chemistry, 1936; Frits Zernike (1888–1966), physics, 1953; Jan Tinbergen (b.1903), economic science, 1969; Dutch-born Tjalling Koopmans (1910–85), who shared the 1975 prize for economic science; and Simon van der Meer (b.1925), cowinner of the physics prize in 1984. The 1911 Nobel Prize for peace was awarded to Tobias Michael Carel Asser (1838–1913).
The head of state since 1980 has been Queen Beatrix (b.1938).