Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Art Dealers III:
The Story of a Merchant Who Thought
He Could Sell Paintings to a King

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 1597.473 Their 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 Ludovicus Finsonius (alias Louis Finson), which had taken place at the house of the painter Abraham Vinck, where Finsonius had recently died, two paintings by Finsonius: a “Massacre of the Innocents” and the “Four Elements”. Finsonius had been living in Vinck’s house on 19 September 1617 when he drew up his testament, leaving all his paintings and other works of art to his nephew, the painter David Finson, who was then about 22 years old. Finsonius probably died soon after making his testament, in any case before 19 January 1618, when his heirs were cited.475 It was apparently at the same public auction sale, organized by the Orphan Chamber, that the merchant Pieter de Wit had bought a painting of the Crucifixion of St. Andrew which the sellers (i.e., the heirs of Finsonius) claimed to be by Michelangelo Caravaggio. As I have already pointed out, De Wit had sold the painting to Franchoys Seghers in Antwerp, who, because he had doubts about the painting’s authenticity, had asked several painters in Amsterdam, including Jacob van Nieulandt, to make a deposition regarding its provenance.476

The rest of the story of the two Finson paintings comes from the records of a suit that was brought by Hans le Thoor against the painter Pieter Isaacksz. on 25 November 1624.477 Pieter Isaacksz., a pupil of Hans van Aachen, was “painter of the King’s chamber” of Christian IV (1577-1648) of Denmark. He was also his agent abroad.

The plaintiff, Hans le Thoor, alleged that the defendant, Pieter Isaacksz., had come from Denmark to Amsterdam in the year 1618, where he visited Le Thoor who was an old acquaintance. Having looked over Le Thoor’s paintings (presumably his stock in trade), he had chosen two that were suitable, namely, one very large picture,478 very artful, of Herod’s “Massacre of the Children” that belonged to the

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