In the 17thcentury, Dutch artists turned landscape painting from a minor and rather ridiculed branch of western art into one of its most important and popular genres. They developed and expanded the subject of landscape taking it in new directions. The great landscape art of the Dutch Golden Age tells the story of how the Dutch reclaimed their land physically from the sea and politically from the Spanish empire. These paintings reflect the growing importance of the new country of the Netherlands and the pride that the Dutch people had in it. The material for these new paintings was the ground under their feet and the sky over their heads. It was the very land on which they lived and by which they were surrounded. Dutch artists went out of their houses and studios with their sketchbooks in their hands and recorded what they saw. They then returned to their studios and turned their sketches into paintings unlike any others seen before. In later centuries, these paintings inspired and influenced whole schools of landscape artists in France, Germany and, especially England.