Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Attributions

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.265 But even the Dozy study of the 1880s deviated from the main trend in art history, to the extent that it analyzed the attributions of objects that were no longer in existence or, at least, could not be identified. The sad reality is, as we shall see presently, that only a small fraction of all the works of art recorded in the Notebooks were attributed and that, of that fraction, an even smaller fraction can be identified or traced in later times, let alone, to the present day.

The first attribution in any recorded auction sale was made in 1601. It was not a painting, a drawing, or a print, but a map by (Pieter) Plancius. This is curious because, with the exception of two atlases by (Abraham) Ortelius, no other maps were attributed in any subsequent sale. The next attributions–this time of paintings– came only with the post-mortem sale of the landscape painter Gillis van Conincxloo in March 1607.

In the 524 auction sales in my sample, I found one or more paintings attributed in 52 sales (original or copy), one or more drawings attributed in 12 sales, and one or more prints attributed in 16 sales. (Recall that all sales containing works of art valued above 5 f were included in the sample, including every sale containing at least one attributed work of art.) Most sales contained only one or two attributions.

Table 10.1 lists all the sales containing at least five attributed objects (paintings, drawings or prints).

The sales containing at least five attributed objects, including works after designated artists, shown in the above table, represented 88 percent of the total number of attributed paintings in all Orphan Chamber sales,266 98 percent of all attributed drawings, and 96 percent of all attributed prints. The Crispiaen Colijn and Claes Rauwart sales alone made up 38 percent of all attributed paintings. The Gillis van Conincxloo and Gommer Spranger sales made up 71 percent of all attributed drawings. The Spranger sale alone accounted for 63 percent of all attributed prints.

Claes Rauwart, as I have already mentioned, was the son of the great collector Jacob Rauwart, who died in 1597. From the absence in the sale of any artist represented in the sale whose period of activity began after the death of Jacob Rauwart (with

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