Oud Holland

May 2021: Asian export art with a Dutch finishing touch

New issue: Oud Holland 134 (2021) 1

14 May 2021

The latest issue of Oud Holland presents four seventeenth- and eighteenth-century topics. Ebeltje Hartkamp-Jonxis discusses a little-known eighteenth-century example of personalised Asian export art: Indian chintzes with Dutch coats of arms. She also analyses their striking transcultural decoration in the context of other Asian luxury products.

Leen Kelchtermans and Katharina Van Cauteren found new archival documents that expose Jacques Jordaens’ strong bond with The Hague and Voorburg. They also reveal new insights about the oeuvre of the Antwerp born artist, and identify the sitters of Jordaens' striking group portrait from ca. 1654 (Hermitage).

Legal historians Dave De ruysscher and Cornelis M. in ’t Veld re-examine Rembrandt’s insolvency. Unlike previous research, they argue that the legal dealings of the artist did not go beyond the norms for his day. In fact, he was well aware of the rules and laws of the time.

Eric Bielen reveals new biographical information about Hendrick De Somer. The painter was born in Lokeren but moved to Naples for his artistic career. In the context of these archival finds, a rediscovered painting by De Somer is brought to the fore.

See below for all summaries and a link to one of the articles available online.

Erik Bielen – Contribution to the biography of Hendrick De Somer (1602-after 1655): A seventeenth-century Neapolitan painter from Lokeren – pp. 1-8


It could previously have been assumed from Neapolitan sources that the artist Hendrick De Somer (Enrico Fiammingo) was born in ‘Locro’ in the diocese of Ghent around 1607-1608. This article presents hitherto unknown documents from the Lokeren Stadsarchief, which prove that ‘Locro’ does indeed refer to Lokeren and that Hendrick De Somer was baptised in St Lawrence’s Church there on 27 August 1602 – five years earlier than was presumed. His emigration around 1622 may have been linked to the end of the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-1621).
Further research in Lokeren’s archives provided additional information, including a possible explanation for the choice of Naples as his destination. Marije Osnabrugge has suggested that the family member who – according to De’ Domici – took Hendrick in in Naples, may have been Sabella De Sombra, his youngest daughter’s godmother. This hypothesis is strengthened by the discovery of an older half-sister of Hendrick, Elisabeth De Somer. If this is indeed the same person, it shows the importance of family networks for migrating artists.
Two references in the estate inventories drawn up on the deaths of his sister-in-law in 1630 and hisbrother in 1646 suggest that De Somer never returned to Lokeren. In 1630 it emerges that Hendrick’s brother Jan owed him money, and in 1646 the amount had increased considerably. The records also explicitly state that Hendrick was ‘abroad’.
In the context of these discoveries in the archives, a painting by Hendrick De Somer – Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (ca. 1622-1630) – is also presented. The work was recently purchased by the parish of St Lawrence in Lokeren where De Somer was born, and will be installed in St Lawrence’s Church in Lokeren after thorough restoration.


Dave De ruysscher & Cornelis M. in ’t Veld – Rembrandt’s insolvency: The artist as legal actor – pp. 9-24 [OPEN ACCESS]


The life of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) has received considerable attention and, moreover, his filing for ‘bankruptcy’ in July 1656 has been re-examined. Especially Paul Crenshaw distilled – from a detailed analysis of the archival materials – a picture of Rembrandt reluctantly fulfilling obligations and transgressing the edges of what the law or custom allowed. Recently, in 2019, Machiel Bosman published his view on Rembrandt’s bankruptcy, arguing that the master staged his own insolvency to protect his family. The present article argues that the legal dealings of the artist did not usually go beyond the norms of his days, and that the artist was very well aware of the legal rules.
Rembrandt was a meticulous entrepreneur, who used the legal framework to its utmost advantage, but without breaching its rules. His most controversial act certainly was the assignment (‘beweysinge’) of his house to his son Titus in May 1656, weeks before he filed for ‘cessie van goede’ with the High Council. This assignment at the Orphans Chamber is generally considered as a conveyance of the house. However, from legal doctrine, the course of affairs in Rembrandt’s case, and from similar assignments available in the archives, follows that the assignment must be regarded as a promise and collateral swap, rather than a conveyance. Therefore, the assignment cannot be considered as an intended deflection of creditors.
The same ambivalence is apparent from the application for ‘cessie’. When filing for ‘cessie’, Rembrandt knew that he was able to retain control and that there was a chance that the house was not sold publicly. In the Netherlands, in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, morals required debtors to pay their debts – Rembrandt did not care about this. But in legal terms, condemnable acts were rare. All this asks for an appraisal of Rembrandt, not only as entrepreneur in an economic sense, but also as a legal actor manoeuvring through the law.


Leen Kelchtermans & Katharina Van Cauteren – Jacques Jordaens as family man: New information about the painter and his family in The Hague – pp. 25-48


We know from previous research, that the Antwerp artist Jacques Jordaens (1593-1678) had various connections in the Northern Netherlands. This article shows that Jordaens’ affinity with the north was even stronger than previously thought. Newly found archival documents expose the painter’s family relationships in The Hague. There, in 1654, his youngest daughter Anna Catharina married Johannes Wierts II, the youngest son of the artist’s acquaintance in Antwerp, Johannes Wierts I. Thanks to this revealing fact, Jordaens’ allegorical family portrait can now very likely be understood as an engagement portrait of the couple and can be dated around 1654.
Research on the Wierts-Jordaens family in The Hague also reveals new information about the life and oeuvre of Jacques Jordaens himself. The stay of the newlyweds in this city may have led to more frequent travels for the painter, who was indeed godparent to their children. The same holds true for his wife Catharina van Noort and their eldest daughter Elisabeth. These events may even be linked to four sketches that Jordaens drew in The Hague. The many family members that the painter lost in the period of 1650-1660 possibly also gave impetus for his more pronounced Calvinist beliefs from this period onwards. At that time, the artist regularly resided in the Protestant city.
Jordaens’ purchase of a spacious country house in the village of Voorburg near The Hague in 1660 – thanks to the intervention of his son-in-law Johannes – should also be viewed in this strong familial, and perhaps even religious context. The fact that the wealthy painter acquired this ‘hof van plaisantie’ in Voorburg, where Constantijn Huygens also had a large country estate, can most certainly be seen from an economic point of view as well. After completing two large canvases for Amalia van Solms’ Huis ten Bosch in 1650-1652, it is likely that the artist wanted to expand his clientele in the Northern Netherlands with a foreign branch of his Antwerp headquarters.


Ebeltje Hartkamp-Jonxis – Indian chintzes with Dutch coats of arms (1725-1750) – pp. 49-68


The Indian chintz with Dutch coats of arms is a little-known eighteenth-century example of personalised Asian export art. Around twenty armorial chintzes of this type have been preserved. They are decorated with the coats of arms of a number of families in the provinces of Friesland, Groningen, Holland and Zeeland, as well as those of Dutch people who served the Dutch East India Company in Asia. These chintzes date from the second quarter of the eighteenth century and were made on the Coromandel Coast, presumably in Sasdraspatnam, a small trading post of the VOC in India. An ensemble of Indian chintzes in The Hague, with the coat of arms of the Stadtholder as noted in documents from 1757/1759, was probably a gift to Willem Carel Hendrik Friso van Nassau-Dietz on the occasion of his appointment as Stadtholder of Friesland in 1731.
The chintzes in question were not part of the VOC’s standard trade. They were unique commissions from individuals who had a coat of arms painted on them, usually their own or a friend’s. This article focuses on these armorial chintzes and their first owners, examining the reasons they were ordered and how they were used. Moreover, it analyses the striking transcultural decorations on the palampores in the context of other Asian luxury products.
The eye-catching elements in the design of palampores for the Dutch market are far removed from the repertoire of the cotton painters from the Indian Coromandel Coast. Nevertheless, palampores are unmistakably Indian in origin. Only seven chintzes with the coats of arms of families from Holland and Zeeland in the period between 1725-1750 are known. In contrast, thirteen chintzes were commissioned for families who resided in Friesland and Groningen, regions with very few ties to the VOC. It would seem that ordering a palampore was a personal or family matter, rather than related to business connections with the VOC.
From the Coromandel Coast, the area where these chintzes were manufactured, wooden boxes are also preserved with Dutch coats of arms, inlaid in ivory. Chinese armorial porcelain for Dutch clients can be understood in a similar context, albeit produced in very large numbers. However, as this article shows, Indian chintzes with Dutch coats of arms were the most eye-catching personalised Asian luxury products of the eighteenth century.