Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
Art Collectors and Painters II:
Jacob Swalmius and Rembrandt

Jacob Swalmius and Guilliaem van Neurenburgh bought many lots of prints, drawings and miscellaneous objects at the sale of Jan Basse of March 1637 and of Gommer Spranger of February 163 8.558 The evidence I will present shows that they were both in close contact with Rembrandt. The conjecture will be developed in this chapter that they were his pupils (the first with some probability, the second, much more tentatively).

Only 20 Rembrandt pupils are known from contemporary documents with any degree of certainty. In addition, there were seven painters mentioned by Arnold Houbraken as having been Rembrandt pupils who were not cited as such in contemporary documents.559 This total of 27 artists about whom it may be said with some confidence that they were Rembrandt pupils were presumably a small fraction of the “almost innumerable children of distinguished families” who, according to Joachim Sandrart, paid 100 gulden per year–apparently without benefit of board or lodging –for the privilege of taking lessons from the great master.560 The other possible pupils are based on affinities of style with Rembrandt or on ambiguous contemporary references. Some of those known only from their works may have studied with Rembrandt only a short time to learn his way of painting.561

We first encounter Jacob Swalmius on November 17, 1635, when he witnessed the testament of Rembrandt van Rijn and his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh in Rembrandt’s house. The clerk called him Jacob van der Swalme but he signed neatly, on the same line as Rembrandt, “Jacob Swalmus”(sic).562 Witnesses to wills, other than notaries’ clerks, who signed last wills in the house of the testators, were often friends or close acquaintances who could be trusted to keep the terms of the will confidential.563 The clerk wrote his name as Jacob Swalmius when he bought 8 lots at the Jan Basse auction of 1637–7 lots of prints, one of drawings and a “little book”. When Swalmius bought one of these lots, he was identified by the clerk of the Orphan Chamber as “Jacob Swalmius in de Molsteegh tot Schelde Dirricxsz. “, which probably means that he was lodging with the ivory carver (auction buyer and collector) Schelde Dirricxsz.564 The Molsteeg was situated in the ninth Wijk, near the Old Side Voorburgwal (not far from the present-day Central Station). It was within easy walking distance from the Vlooienburch (in the eleventh Wijk) where Rembrandt lived. Another buyer at the Basse auction who was living “tot Scheltes” at the very same time was Guilliaem van Neurenburgh. Both Swalmius and Van Neurenburgh also

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