In the late nineteenth century, art critics regarded seventeenth-century Dutch paintings as direct reflections of reality. The paintings were discussed as an index of the democracy of a society that chose to represent its classes, actions, and occupations exactly as they were; wide-ranging realism was seen as the great accomplishment of Dutch art. However, the achievement of more recent study of Dutch art has been the recovery of the fact that the "realistic" paintings are more than depictions of daily life. They are, of course, that too, but it has now become clear that such paintings are to be taken as symbolizing mortality, the transience of earthly life, and the power of God, and as messages that range from the mildly moralizing to the firmly didactic. How explicit and consistent the symbolizing process was intended to be is a much thornier matter, but anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with Dutch literature or with the kinds of images used in illustrated books (above all emblem books) will recognize how pervasive was the habit of investing ordinary objects and familiar scenes with meanings that go beyond their surface and outward appearance. In the mid-1960s, Eddy de Jongh published an extraordinary array of material – especially from the emblem books and vernacular literature – that confirmed the unreliability of taking Dutch pictures at surface value alone. The major difficulty, however, with the findings of critics such as de Jongh is that it is not easy to assess the multiplicity of levels in which Dutch viewers interpreted these pictures. De Jongh's followers typically regard the pictures as purely symbolic. Not every object within Dutch paintings need be interpreted in terms of the gloss given to its equivalent representation in the emblem books. Not every foot warmer is to be interpreted in terms of the foot warmer in Roemer Visscher's Sinnepoppen of 1614; not every bridle is an emblem of restraint (though many were indeed just that). To maintain as Brown does, that the two children in Netscher's painting A Lady Teaching a Child to Read "stand for industry and idleness" is to fail to understand that the painting has a variety of possible meanings, even though the picture undoubtedly carries unmistakable symbolic meanings, too. Modern art historians may well find the discovery of parallels between a painting and a specific emblem exciting; they may, like seventeenth-century viewers, search for the double meanings that lie behind many paintings. But seventeenth-century response can hardly be reduced to the level of formula. To suggest otherwise is to imply a laboriousness of mental process that may well characterize modern interpretations of seventeenth-century Dutch art, but that was, for the most part, not characteristic in the seventeenth century.