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Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam
    Book Description:

    This book exploits a trove of original documents that have survived on the auctions organized by the Orphan Chamber of Amsterdam in the first half of the 17th century. For the first time, the names of some 2000 buyers of works of art at auction in the 29 extant notebooks of the Chamber have been systematically analyzed. On the basis of archival research, data have been assembled on the occupation of these buyers (most of whom were merchants), their origin (Southern Netherlands, Holland, and other), their religion, their year of birth, their date of marriage, the taxes they paid and other indicators of their wealth. Buyers were found to cluster in groups, not only by extended family but by occupation, religion (Remonstrants, Counter-Remonstrants) and avocation (amateurs of tulips and of porcelain, members of Chambers of Rhetoricians, and so forth). The subjects of the works of art they bought and the artists to which they were attributed (only the most important were attributed) are also analyzed. In the second part of the book on "Selected Buyers", three chapters are devoted to art dealers who bought at auction and four to buyers who had special connections with artists, including principally Rembrandt. To forge a link between the cultural milieu of Amsterdam in this period and the buying public, two chapters are given over to buyers who were either poets themselves or were connected with contemporary poets. As a whole, the book offers a penetrating insight into the culture of the Amsterdam elite in the 17th century. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0516-6
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 7-7)
    John Michael Montias
  4. References to Archival Sources
    (pp. 8-8)
  5. Monetary Equivalents
    (pp. 8-8)
  6. Notice
    (pp. 8-8)
  7. Part I The Auctions

    • Introduction
      (pp. 11-14)

      In the economic development of Western Europe, urbanization, markets, and the commercialization of art followed parallel trends. In the course of time, when markets became fairly developed, auctions of general merchandise and of art works emerged –in ancient Rome, in early 15thcentury Venice,² in 16thcentury Antwerp and Amsterdam³– as a quick and efficient way to dispose of goods.

      Amsterdam in the late 16thand 17thcenturies was primarily a trading city. Almost everyone had things to sell, from the master craftsman to the merchant engaged in international trade. Already from the mid-1580s, after Antwerp had fallen to Spanish...

    • CHAPTER 1 Orphan Chamber Auctions in Amsterdam
      (pp. 15-19)

      Auctions were held by the Orphan Chamber (Weeskamer) of Amsterdam at least as early as 1507. Auction sales of bankrupt estates, conducted by the “concierge” of the Town Hall, are first mentioned in 1544. These “executive sales” were taken over by the Bankruptcy Chamber (Desolate Boedelskamer) after about 1622. Ships and other merchandise were sold separately by the Chamber after 1637. In the 17thcentury, auction sales of goods brought from overseas territories were held under the auspices of the Orphan Chamber, by the United East Indies Company (V.O.C.), and by the West Indies Company (W.I.C.). All these, of course,...

    • CHAPTER 2 How Auction Sales of the Orphan Chamber Were Conducted
      (pp. 20-26)

      Normally, estates were divided among the heirs either in accord with the provisions of the testament of the deceased or, in the absence of a testament, according to the laws and regulations of the States of Holland and West Friesland.28However, the rules of the Orphan Chamber allowed an exception to the division rule at the request of the surviving parent. He or she could request that “an act of sale (uytkoop)” be passed by the Chamber. By holding a sale, the surviving parent could make sure that the children would have enough money to pay for their wedding or...

    • CHAPTER 3 Extant Records of Auction Sales in Chronological Perspective
      (pp. 27-32)

      A few sales records dating to the years 1530-1534, written on loose sheets of paper, have been preserved. Works of art – some of which were fairly expensive, in terms of the much lower prices that prevailed in those times72– were included among household goods in these sales. But the only available corpus of data consists of the records of the 1597-1638 auction sales, which are consigned in the 29 Notebooks preserved in the Amsterdam archives. Of these, all but one was said to contain the results of estate sales (erfhuizen). The exception is a Notebook of “voluntary sales”...

    • CHAPTER 4 Aggregate Statistics of Sales and the Owners of Goods Sold
      (pp. 33-40)

      In this chapter I present aggregate statistics of Orphan Chamber sales by types of art objects sold (paintings, drawings, and others), divide the data between estate sales and voluntary sales, and compare a sample of estate sales with a sample of notarial inventories. Finally, I analyze the occupational distribution of the deceased owners of the estates from which movable goods were sold and of the individuals at whose request voluntary sales were held.

      Altogether, in my sample of 524 Orphan Chamber sales, which probably comprises over 95 percent of the art objects auctioned off in the period 1597 to 1638...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Buyers at Auction Sales
      (pp. 41-51)

      The names of the individuals who made winning bids at Orphan Chamber auctions, which are inscribed in our 29 Notebooks, are at the heart of the broad investigation of the art-buying public in Amsterdam in its golden age, which is central to this book. The dry facts about the age, the occupation, the geographic origin, and the other characteristics of the buyers in the following pages will be fleshed out in subsequent chapters (and especially in the second part of this book) where we will examine small groups of buyers and the individuals within them in much closer detail.


    • CHAPTER 6 The Wealth of Buyers
      (pp. 52-56)

      A certain level of wealth was clearly a pre-condition for buying at auction, at least for individuals who did not make their living from buying and reselling works of art. But, of course, it was not a sufficient condition. Much more than an individual’s wealth must be known to predict whether he or she will be a buyer at auction. Still, individuals in high tax brackets and those scoring high on the level of their investments in the V.O.C. (United East Indies Company) and on the sums left after their death to their heirs were much more likely to have...

    • CHAPTER 7 Clusters of Private Buyers
      (pp. 57-76)

      A cluster, by which I mean a set of interacting individuals, may be strong – when the individuals in the set interact frequently and significantly – or weak – when the interactions are only slight or occasional. My criterion of “significance” is that the interaction is likely to be intense enough to suggest that the individuals in the set had some influence (or power) over one another, of the kind that might have an impact on their decision to purchase works of art at auction.

      Nuclear families make up strong clusters. When in-laws, godparents, and witnesses to the children’s baptisms...

    • CHAPTER 8 Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants
      (pp. 77-86)

      By July 1610, the dispute between the more orthodox Calvinists, known as Gomarists, and the followers of the more liberal theologian Jacob Arminius had been festering for at least 15 years. In that month, 44 Reformed preachers submitted a Remonstrance to the States of Holland, with the support and participation of the Advocate of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. The Remonstrance’s assertion of the authority of the State over the Church and its reaffirmation of Arminius’s theses on predestination incensed the partisans of Gomarus, who soon became known as Counter-Remonstrants. For the next few years, many towns of Holland, including Rotterdam...

    • CHAPTER 9 What Did They Buy and at What Prices?
      (pp. 87-92)

      In this chapter, I resume the analysis of the contents of the Orphan Chamber Notebooks, beginning with the subjects of the paintings sold.

      Table 9.1 below shows the distribution by subjects of paintings in Orphan Chamber sales from 1597 to 1619 and from 1620 to 1638. The percentages are based on paintings with known subjects, which made up only 44.3 percent of all paintings sold in the first period and 67.8 percent in the second period. The percentage of untitled paintings in the first period was somewhat greater than in my random sample of notarial inventories (about 50 percent in...

    • CHAPTER 10 Attributions
      (pp. 93-99)

      Attributions are the meat and potatoes of art historians, at least of those concerned with Western art since the Renaissance. Whether they study the evolution of styles or the meaning of paintings, the identity of the artist who made them are of paramount importance to them. Viewed in this light, it is not surprising that the first – and the only more or less systematic study – of the preserved Notebooks of the Orphan Chamber auctions was devoted almost entirely to the attributions they contained.265But even the Dozy study of the 1880s deviated from the main trend in art...

    • CHAPTER 11 Echoes
      (pp. 100-107)

      What happened to all the works of art that private collectors bought at auction? Did they keep them until they died and pass them down to their heirs? Or did they resell them when they needed to raise money or when they were pursued by their creditors? In this chapter I draw on the inventories of buyers, sometimes drawn up years after their purchases at auction, to see whether they can throw light on these questions. Wherever I am able to identify a work of art in an inventory with an earlier purchase at auction, I refer to the later...

    • CHAPTER 12 Concluding Words on Auctions
      (pp. 108-110)

      While this study encompasses only about 15 percent of the auction sales of the Orphan Chamber whose records have been preserved, it covers over 95 percent of the value of the lots sold and, I believe, all the attributions cited in the 29 Notebooks. The vast majority of the lots omitted were cheap untitled little boards (bortgens) or little prints (printgens) that sold for cash. For the first time since these sales records have been studied, the emphasis has been laid on the buyers: their age, wealth, geographic origin, and connections with each other and with the owners, alive or...

  8. Part II Profiles of Selected Buyers

    • Introduction
      (pp. 113-113)

      In the first part of this book, I focused on aggregates – the value of works of art sold, the number of buyers in certain occupations or of various origins, the relative importance of different subjects represented – rather than on the lives and careers of individuals, even though I cited many names who in one way or another illustrated overall trends and tendencies. In the second part, I have selected a number of buyers for detailed treatment who, for one reason or another, were deserving of attention. The idea of this sharper focus is to give the reader some...

    • CHAPTER 13 Art Dealers I: Artists and Merchants in the Trade
      (pp. 114-129)

      In accord with Adam Smith’s famous dictum about specialization and the size of the market, most artists in the course of Holland’s spectacular development in the course of the 17th century chose to concentrate on increasingly specialized subjects. Still life, to take the most conspicuous example, developed as a separate subject toward the end of the 16th century. At first, specialization was limited to flowers, fruit, vanitas and “banquets”. Later, painters began to explore narrower subjects: fish, game, live and dead poultry, medallions enclosed in wreaths of flowers or fruit, and so forth. There also emerged within the artists’ community...

    • CHAPTER 14 Art Dealers II: Johannes de Renialme
      (pp. 130-143)

      Johannes de Renialme, who came from a distinguished family with members in Antwerp and Venice,405may properly be called a “gentleman dealer”. As far as we know, he had no training in art. Born in Antwerp about 1600, he was a full generation younger than Lucas Luce. By the early 1620s he was noted in Middelburg, where he was still living at least as late as 1637.406He was first married to Margriet Bartolotti, a member of that extremely wealthy family. Margriet died in or shortly before 1630. He then married Marie de Cocquel, from whom he inherited property in...

    • CHAPTER 15 Art Dealers III: The Story of a Merchant Who Thought He Could Sell Paintings to a King
      (pp. 144-152)

      Hans le Thoor, also known as Jean Letoir, was a jeweler who expanded into the artdealing business, tried to capture a royal clientèle, got in over his head, and lost his money. Born in Antwerp, he acquired citizenship of Amsterdam in 1596. He married Adriaenken Broens, from Bergen in Norway, in February 1597.473Their son, Hans (or Johannes) le Thoor II, with whom he is sometimes confused, was born in 1601.474

      Notarial documents supply fairly abundant information about the elder Le Thoor’s art-dealing activities. In late 1617 or early 1618, he had bought at the sale of the heirs of...

    • CHAPTER 16 Art Collectors and Painters I: Rubens’s Promise to Hans Thijsz.
      (pp. 153-163)

      It has been known since 1912, when Abraham Bredius published a short article on the subject, that the Amsterdam jeweler Hans Thijsz. sold his house “De Wapper” in Antwerp to Rubens for 8,960 gulden, plus a painting by his own hand, and painting lessons for Thijsz.’s (unnamed) son.495In 1976, Isabella van Eeghen devoted an article in theMaandblad Amstelodamumto the transaction, adding useful biographical details to Bredius’s brief account.496In the year 2000, Oscar Gelderblom published his study on South-Netherlandish merchants in the period 1578 to 1630, which contained a great deal of new information on Hans Thijsz....

    • CHAPTER 17 Art Collectors and Painters II: Jacob Swalmius and Rembrandt
      (pp. 164-179)

      Jacob Swalmius and Guilliaem van Neurenburgh bought many lots of prints, drawings and miscellaneous objects at the sale of Jan Basse of March 1637 and of Gommer Spranger of February 1638.558The evidence I will present shows that they were both in close contact with Rembrandt. The conjecture will be developed in this chapter that they were his pupils (the first with some probability, the second, much more tentatively)

      Only 20 Rembrandt pupils are known from contemporary documents with any degree of certainty. In addition, there were seven painters mentioned by Arnold Houbraken as having been Rembrandt pupils who were...

    • CHAPTER 18 Art Collectors and Painters III: Marten van den Broeck and Rembrandt’s Losses at Sea
      (pp. 180-187)

      When Rembrandt, in July 1656, applied to the High Court in The Hague for permission to assign his remaining assets to his creditors to obtain relief from their demands (cessio bonorum), he cited as the reason for his financial difficulties “losses suffered in business, as well as damages and losses at sea”.636These alleged “losses at sea” have generally been ignored in the Rembrandt literature, presumably because they could not be connected with any known facts in the artist’s life.637In this chapter, I develop a conjecture regarding the putative participation of Rembrandt in the ill-fated shipping ventures of the...

    • CHAPTER 19 Art Collectors and Painters IV: Jan van Maerlen and His Extended Family
      (pp. 188-203)

      Of all the private buyers selected in the second part of this book, the jeweler Jan van Maerlen is the only one who was both a buyer at Orphan Chamber sales (in 1612 and 1613) and had his collection sold at Orphan Chamber auction after his death (in 1637). Our interest in the Van Maerlen family is heightened by its extensive ties with collectors and artist-painters through several successive generations. In the appendix to this chapter, I analyze the sale of the works of art he possessed by categories of buyers.

      Jan van Maerlen’s father, named Dirck van Maerlen, was...

    • CHAPTER 20 Art Collectors and Painters V: Jean le Bleu, François Venant and Rembrandt’s “Feast of Belshazzar”
      (pp. 204-208)

      Jean le Bleu, born in the town of Wesel about 1580,724began buying at Orphan Chamber auctions in 1611, four years after his marriage to Hester Verspreet. He bought moderately priced paintings in 1611, 1612 and 1614. After a hiatus of 23 years, he resumed buying – but only prints – in 1637 (see the Appendix below). For unknown reasons, the inventory of his movable goods was taken on 28 April 1635.725It contained only 16 works of art, with no indication of their value or even of the rooms in which they had been found. One of the paintings...

    • CHAPTER 21 A Collector with Connections to Major Cultural Figures: Robbert van der Hoeve and the “Muiden Circle”
      (pp. 209-219)

      While I was working on the community of artists and artisans in Delft a number of years ago, I had occasion to study the life and career of Aper Fransz. van der Hoeve (1543-1627), who was one of the principal collectors of art in Delft at the turn of the 17thcentury. Karel van Mander tells us that he had once studied painting in Antwerp with the famous Frans Floris, the “Raphael of the North”, but more as an amateur (liefhebber) than as a professional. In his youth, he also spent some time in Fontainebleau in the company of Flemish...

    • CHAPTER 22 What Santa Claus Brought to the Youth of Amsterdam
      (pp. 220-225)

      One of the few constants in history, regardless of country or culture, is how sensitive ruling elites are to criticism. Even democratic regimes are perpetually in danger of letting their elected representatives suppress unwanted critiques (as occurred with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 in the United States). The authorities that ruled 17th century Amsterdam were elected by co-optation, which was hardly a democratic procedure. Liberal as they may have been in some respects, they did not brook criticism easily. So it is not surprising to hear that, as soon as the anonymous pamphlet, called “The...

    • CHAPTER 23 When Sellers and Buyers Were Related: Elbert and Cornelis Symonsz. Pool, Jeltge Claes, and Pieter Claesz. Codde
      (pp. 226-233)

      Several of the selected buyers I have focused on, including Hans Thijsz. II, Hans van Soldt I and II, and Jan van Maerlen, were successful merchants of recent Antwerp origin. The late owners of the goods sold, Elbert Symonsz. Pool and Pieter Claesz. Kod (or Codde), both had roots in Amsterdam.

      Elbert Symonsz. Pool was a butter merchant, with no known activity as a freighter of ships as Hans Thijsz. I had been. Pieter Claesz. Codde, called Kod in the sale of his possessions, lived from 1577 to 1622. He was a rope-maker (touwslager). Both Pool and Codde were comfortably...

    • CHAPTER 24 A Collector Who Held On to His Purchase for Over Fifty Years
      (pp. 234-242)

      Through his marriage connections, David van Baerle bridged the worlds of art dealing, overseas trade and statesmanship.829One of his brother-in-laws was the merchant and presumed art dealer Paulus Bisschop, whose post-mortem sale will be summarized in this section; another was the secretary of Prince Frederik Hendrik and leading statesman of the age, Constantijn Huygens; a third was Everhard Becquer, a director of the chamber of the West Indies Company in Middelburg.

      David van Baerle was a prosperous merchant who became a director of the West Indies Company in Amsterdam. He was the son of the merchant Jan van Baerle...

    • CHAPTER 25 An Afterword on Mentalités
      (pp. 243-246)

      For the most part, the buyers I have singled out in this second part of the book are shadowy creatures. They lack those “traits de caractère” that define and illuminate an individual. Among the exceptions might be cited the art dealer Hans van Conincxloo III who was accused by the consistory of Emden of denying the existence of God and the Devil; of the rich jeweler Jan van Maerlen in Chapter 19 who was too avaricious to help his poor sister-in-law who was dying of the plague, with two children in the house, and had little more than a barrel...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-248)
  10. Published Sources
    (pp. 249-256)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 257-308)
  12. List of illustration
    (pp. 309-310)
  13. Index
    (pp. 311-339)