This beautifully produced book is a product of years of extensive research and study of a fascinating subject: the collecting culture in early modern Antwerp, with focus on the collections of artists and artisans. Its initial iteration was the author’s doctoral dissertation of 2016. The material discussed in the first few chapters has also been addressed in articles or essays for peer-reviewed volumes she has published since. The last chapter, which focuses on the print business in Antwerp, relates to another longer-term project she is engaged in at present, which deals with printmaking in the early modern Low Countries.
The introductory section provides an overview and sets forth the main goal of the author: to explore more fully collections assembled by artists and artisans, beyond those that have received most scholarly attention to date, such as the one assembled by Peter Paul Rubens. As Rijks acknowledges here, the fundamental starting point of her study is Erik Duverger’s multi-volume publication of wills and inventories from seventeenth- century Antwerp. In distinction from that important precedent, which privileged artists and artworks, she states that her goal is to highlight the diversity within these collections as a reflection of a worldview without categorical distinctions between arts, crafts, and sciences. Situating her methodological approach closer to the “material turn” in art history, she also underscores her interest in seeing artistic production and appreciation within the context of broader economic and scientific developments of the period. As she also adds, she aims to take into consideration the entire life cycle of collectibles, from the raw materials for their production, to the meanings they receive in the course of learned conversations within a collector’s cabinet.
The first chapter addresses painters’ collections and the invention of new pictorial genres. This is a topic that has drawn considerable attention, especially in the last few decades, as Rijks recognizes, citing earlier studies of scholars like Jeffrey M. Muller, Maximilliaan Martens and Nastasja Peeters. What she contributes to the ever-growing literature on this subject is primarily more specific detail culled from inventories of artists’ collections. This data-driven analysis is exemplified by the inclusion of tables such as the one that shows the distribution of pictorial genres in the collections of seven Antwerp painters. Though this statistical approach does not yield major new insights, it reinforces several points. One of them is the correlation between types of objects in an artist’s collection and their personal preferences or specialization. Another pertains to the greater number of religious images in Antwerp in comparison to collections in the Northern Netherlands. Closely related to this is the marked concern with the religious debates on images, as well as with the dialectic between the material and the spiritual values of collectibles.
In the third chapter, Rijks shifts her attention to the collecting habits of artisans and merchants, including apothecaries, grocers, druggists, distillers, and surgeons. As one might expect, these collections were not that different from those associated with similar groups in other parts of early modern Europe. As the author points out, many of these collectors put a premium on the forms, materials, and processes of nature. A discussion on the organization of these individuals into guilds provides a helpful reminder about the framework and the regulation of their activities. One of the most interesting points she makes here is the apparent absence of pigments and other painters’ materials from the shops of Antwerp apothecaries and grocers, in contrast to European cities such as Florence. Instead, as she also suggests, the painters in this city seem to have obtained pigments and other materials from specialized merchants or dealers – possibly similarly to the situation in Venice.
Chapter four focuses on collections of valuable objects held by jewelers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. As with the other categories of collectors, these individuals tended to accumulate possessions related to their professions. Despite the difficulty of separating collectables kept for utilitarian purposes from those removed from the practical realm, the author produces a lot of detail about the ways in which these objects were created, traded and presented within the Antwerp “knowledge society”, her favorite term for describing the role of these objects as conversation pieces about the world at large. Here she also addresses the magical and medicinal properties of gems and similar rarities, using examples like coral, or the so-called “toadstones” and “bezoars.” Once again, we are reminded of the extent to which Antwerp collectors and makers of collectibles were very much a part of a wider European community.
The fifth chapter turns to the printing and publishing business. Here the author looks more closely at the collections of Balthasar I Moretus (and his heir Balthasar II), his brother-in-law Jan van Meurs, as well as Martinus Nuttius. As the range and variety of objects in their collections indicate, the individuals from this profession were at the very core of the Antwerp cultural elite. Other interesting observations relate to the presence of maps in these collections, including their use as wall decorations, despite their near absence from gallery pictures. Not surprisingly, we read that many of these collectors owned a diversity of books and prints, especially of devotional or meditative nature.
In her conclusion, Rijks reiterates several salient points about this collecting culture: the wealth and variety of collectibles (both naturalia and artificialia), the different values associated with material properties and symbolic meanings of objects, the interrelationship between making and collecting, the increasing appreciation for the artistic and the artisanal processes, and the ways in which these collections functioned as knowledge sites.
Many of these observations reaffirm what we already know about collecting practices in other parts of early modern Europe. If there is one truly exceptional aspect about the Antwerp art circles, it is the invention of that unique pictorial genre of gallery pictures, such as the paintings by Frans II Francken reproduced on the front and the back cover of this handsome book.
The most useful aspect of Rijks’s study comes from the wealth of information she has pulled together in order to highlight the diversity of collectors in early modern Antwerp, as well as their social networks. This mountain of data is complemented by stories and anecdotes about individual collections, which she relates with evident enthusiasm. What is missing is a fuller discussion of the pictorial representations of those collections. After all, the narratives projected through the endlessly fascinating gallery paintings are no less important for understanding the worldview evoked by Rijks than the actual contents of Antwerp collections. One closes this book, hoping that it will stimulate further research into the relationship between the “real” and the “ideal” in those “sites of knowledge.”
University of Maryland
 These earlier publications include “A Painter, a Collector, and a Horseshoe Crab: Connoisseurs of Art and Nature in Early Modern Antwerp,” Journal of the History of Collections, 2018, 1-29; “Gems and counterfeited Gems in Early Modern Antwerp: from Workshops to Collections,” in Michael Bycroft and Sven Dupré, eds. Gems in Transit: Materials, Values, and Knowledge in the Early Modern World, Basingstoke, 2018; “Unusual Excrescences of Nature: Collected Coral and the Study of Petrified Luxury in Seventeenth-century Antwerp, Dutch Crossing, 43 (2019): 127-156.
 Erik Duverger, Antwerpse kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw, vols. I-XIV, Brussels, 1984-2009.