The Arnolfini Wedding (detail), The National Gallery, London
Contacts between the people of the Italian peninsula and the Low Countries go back thousands of years. The Romans occupied much of the Low Countries. The name of Utrecht, partially derived from a Latin word, Traiectum, is witness to this. In the Middle Ages, there were extensive trading contacts between Italy and the Low Countries. Dante refers to 'Quali Fiamminghi tra Guizzante e Bruggia' ('Those Flemings between Ghent and Bruges') in Inferno Canto XV in his Divina Commedia and a century later Jan van Eyck would immortalize Giovanni Arnolfini, a banker from Lucca, and his bride, in a painting that now hangs in London. It is often thought that it was primarily Italian art that influenced Netherlandish art at this time. While this is true, Paula Nuttall has persuasively argued that the influence also went the other way. Such artistic exchange is a good example of bilateral cultural transfer.
But what of language? Of course, many musical terms such as belcanto and aria have entered Dutch as well as other categories often associated with Italy such food and finance. The Dutch word 'bank' for the financial institution derives from the Italian banco.
As for the Dutch influence on Italian, this is perhaps harder to trace. One example from the sixteenth century is beurs. This was the name of the place in Bruges where merchants and bankers came to trade. The Florentine Lodovico Guicciardini suggested it was named after the Van der Beurze family, whose emblem was three money bags (beurzen). The association between beurs and financial exchanges has continued in other languages, including Italian (la borsa).
Nicoline van der Sijs calculates that there are some 150 Dutch loanwords in Italian, although many are what she describes as 'internationalisms' i.e., Dutch words that have become common in many languages. Some have entered Dutch via Afrikaans such as apartheid. Others, though, have entered Italian via English. In the Italian sentence il boss vede lo skipper dello yacht ('the boss sees the skipper of the yacht') we find three English loanwords that are in turn Dutch loanwords in English (baas, schipper and jacht(schip)). This is a good example of what one might call 'the circulation of loanwords' and specifically of how Dutch has often exerted influence indirectly on the lexis of many other languages.
Nicoline van der Sijs, Nederlandse woorden wereldwijd, The Hague, SDU Uitgevers, 2010
Paula Nuttall, From Flanders to Florence: The Impact of Netherlandish Painting, 1400-1500, 2004.
Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal