Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Buyers at Auction Sales

Overall Statistics

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.

In the entire period 1597 to 1638, some 83 percent of the lots sold were bought by buyers who were identified by the clerk recording the sale. This percentage was approximately the same in the period 1597 to 1619 and 1620 to 1638. The rest of the lots were sold for cash.109

Altogether I identified 2,048 buyers who bought about 13,000 lots of art objects at Orphan Chamber auctions between 1597 and 1638.110 I was able to identify with some confidence 72 percent of these buyers. This percentage masks a significant difference between individuals with and without a family name, at least as the clerk recording the sale wrote down their names. The clerk recorded the family names of 60 percent of the buyers. In most, but by no means all, the other cases, he wrote down the first name and patronymic. But in some instances, he only noted the first name of the buyer (Fijtge, Abigael), the relation of the buyer to the owner of the goods sold, or even only the place where the buyer lived (e.g., “In het Soutvat”). Among individuals with a recorded last name, the percentage of identification was 84 percent.111 Among those without a family name, the percentage fell to 54 percent. This percentage would have been lower still, if the clerk had not recorded in many instances the street, the canal or the sign of the house where the buyer lived or his (rarely her) occupation.112 When individuals known only by their relation to the owners of the goods sold (“the widow”, “Abraham the son”, the “guardian”, the “godmother of Trijntje”) are added to the “identified set”, the number of identified buyers rises from 72 to 80 percent.

Both in the period 1597-1619 and in the period 1620-1638, almost exactly 87 percent of the buyers were men and 13 percent women. The overwhelming majority of the woman-buyers were uitdraagsters or close relatives (widow, sister, godmother of the orphaned children) of the deceased owners of the estates sold.

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