Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Clusters of Private Buyers

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 are added to the nuclear family, the cluster is weakened but its coherence is still stronger than it is in most other groups–such as business partnerships, signatories to petitions, members of militia units, guilds and other civil associations and so forth, that I will deal with in this chapter. This was surely the case in the 17th century when even distant relatives (vrunden) mattered more than they do today.141

In this chapter we shall examine all sorts of clusters of very different degrees of coherence, some with high proportions of buyers of works of art at auction, some not. I will study, in addition to extended family clusters, the complete list of subscribers who bought shares in the United East Indies Company (V.O.C.) in 1602, the list of signatories of a 1608 petition to rescind a regulation that prohibited private deposit banking, freighters of ships in overseas trade, and several other groups of various sizes, some of which yielded relatively high numbers of buyers and some relatively low. I conclude with a digression on the affinity between two clusters–amateurs of art and purchasers of tulip bulbs–on the basis of documents collected during the “tulip mania” of 1636-1637. I postpone until the next chapter an analysis of the cluster formed by signatories of the Remonstrant petition of 1628, a group of like-minded Amsterdam citizens that I wish to examine in the context of the religion of buyers.

A large number of buyers were relatives (husband, wife, brother, sister, uncle, nephew, or in-law) or guardians of the children (or both) of the deceased owners whose estate was sold at auction. I noted 118 instances of such a relation in the period 1597-1619 and 175 in the period of 1620 to 1638.142 In many such cases, nothing else is known about the buyer, who is often identified only by his or her first name, accompanied or not by a patronymic (e.g., “Trijntje de suster”, “Willem Reyersz. de soon”, “de weduwe”). Widows, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters very frequently bought back the art objects that had belonged to their relatives.143 We will see below that members of the guild to which the late owner of goods sold by the Orphan Chamber belonged were also frequent buyers.

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