When the author of the first history of Netherlandish art, Karel van Mander, looked back on the origins of his subject, he would note that “in the time of the two Van Eycks, the city of Bruges was enjoying an inundation of wealth from a great international trade which had centered there more exclusively than anywhere else in the Netherlands. Art follows wealth for its rich rewards (my emphasis).” Van Mander was certainly right in the event that he was speaking of the ‘supply side’ of the matter: from the standpoint of the producers of art, the most prominent painters of fifteenth-century Bruges, each of whom was not a native son, was clearly drawn to that centre because of its affluence and perceived opportunities. As the volume under review makes abundantly clear, this would continue to be the case for numerous later generations of painters who would similarly flock to such centres as Antwerp, Haarlem, The Hague, or Amsterdam in pursuit of lucrative commissions and other opportunities for advancement. Upon reflection, however, mightn’t the inverse of Van Mander’s pronouncement _ “wealth follows art for its rich rewards” _ also be, in certain respects, true? Weren’t affluent patrons and dealers following, in the sense of seeking out, the artists in hopes of rich rewards for themselves?
This important collection of articles contributes greatly to furthering an understanding of the complex interdependence of the artistic and economic spheres of activity. Indeed, in their thoughtful, historiographically oriented introduction, Reindert Falkenburg and Mariët Westermann stress that there is a “growing awareness among art historians that the artistic and economic aspects of art production and reception are necessarily reciprocal and entwined (7).” It is precisely this emphasis on the ebb and flow of esthetics and economics that makes this collection so significant from both historical and methodological perspectives. In the short space of this review, it is impossible to discuss each of these richly provocative investigations in the detail in which each deserves; nevertheless, I hope to evoke the principal thematic concerns and various approaches to be found in this enlightening collection.
With regard to the overall composition of the volume, the individual contributions are arranged geographically and chronologically, beginning in sixteenth-century Antwerp and moving northward into various seventeenth-century centres of art production and marketing located in the North Netherlands. The first four articles (Vermeylen, Silver, Peeters, and De Marchi and Van Miegroet) are concerned with various aspects of the art market in Antwerp, while one (Sluijter) focuses in part on Antwerp’s artistic legacy as it moved northward from the late sixteenth century onward and stimulated artistic and economic developments in the northern lands. Subsequent articles are devoted to various facets of this increasing interest in the arts in seventeenth-century Amsterdam (Montias and Swan), Haarlem (Boers), and The Hague (Westermann), as artists, dealers, and patrons alike came to appreciate and capitalize on this phenomenon.
Antwerp emerged rapidly and dramatically on the world’s economic stage as a major commercial centre and market for luxury commodities. Filip Vermeylen’s essay very usefully introduces this volume with an exploration of the various reasons why this should have been so; he identifies three elements, a highly evolved commercial infrastructure, a pre-established demand for South Netherlandish art, and artists’ propensity to produce works for an open market, as the principal factors that contributed to Antwerp’s phenomenal rise and explores the various arts from the perspective of the interconnectedness of their production and marketing.
The entrepreneurial atmosphere of Antwerp is further evoked in Larry Silver’s most interesting discussion of what can only be described as ‘the Bosch phenomenon’: the extraordinary response by artists and patrons alike to the fantastic pictorial innovations of this most unusual master painter. For decades after Bosch’s death, his creations would live on and be reproduced in staggering numbers and forms; rather than seeing these variations as mere imitations, Silver analyses what patrons may have been responding to as they meditated on these frequently horrific images, and explores the numerous variations on them as evidence of artists’ eagerness to satisfy what must have seemed at times to have been an insatiable demand. As Natasja Peeters demonstrates, the Francken dynasty of painters was equally attuned to certain facets of the demand for paintings in Counter-Reformation Antwerp. Through her careful attention to the evolution of the workshops of various members of the family, she charts how the elder Franckens’ imagery evolved into what contemporary market analysts call a recognizable ‘brand’ that later generations of the family were quite keen to exploit. While Peeters’s focus is principally on the ‘supply side’ of this phenomenon, her study never loses sight of the power of demand as a significant motivating force for the Franckens’ various pictorial accomplishments and operational decisions taken in their ateliers. Neil De Marchi and Hans J. Van Miegroet further extend the thematic of demand to the realm of art dealers in Antwerp in their fascinating case study of two husband-and-wife partnerships which sought their fortunes in the complex undertaking of international trade. Through a careful examination of the documentary evidence of business correspondence and other records, the authors demonstrate that these dealers employed various strategies in their assessment of demand and, at times, worked closely with artists to assure that their products were tailored to meet the specifications of the audiences which the dealers (or their agents) had identified Although the subject of women’s roles in the early modern art market is not their principal concern, De Marchi and Van Miegroet have unearthed very valuable evidence of women’s participation in the art market that should be of interest to historians concerned with this issue.
Eric Jan Sluijter’s essay is also concerned with art production by Antwerp artists, in this case as a relatively cheap import commodity that made its way northward into the Dutch provinces. At first feared and thus dubbed in the North Netherlands ‘the trash from Brabant’ (!), Sluijter proposes that these artifacts were in large part responsible for fostering an explosion of enthusiasm for paintings, particularly in the years following the Twelve-Year Truce. Generations of former Antwerp residents, who had grown accustomed to furnishing their homes with numerous paintings and thus frequently pur-chased them in quantity, were watched closely by their Dutch neighbours (ever the connoisseurs of refined domesticity) who, in turn, began to desire paintings in increasing numbers for their own interiors. As Sluijter suggests, these once-feared artifacts not only were imitated by Dutch painters but served as a considerable stimulus for the entire market and thus were seminal in initiating the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch painting.
Michael Montias’s important examination of the Orphan Chamber auctions in Amsterdam gives further proof of this increased interest in paintings. In his comprehensive analysis of the records of 423 auctions from 1597-1638, the author provides a glimpse into the social dimensions of collecting paintings in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, examining who bought paintings at the auctions, what types of works were offered for sale, and what prices were actually paid for these paintings. This latter evidence is particularly important for, as Montias stresses, professional assessments of the value of particular images were merely estimates and thus may not have accurately reflected the actual prices individuals were willing to pay for certain types of paintings. The auction records therefore provide scholars with concrete evidence of specific individuals, their collections, and purchases in the Amsterdam market (all usefully listed in index form), as well as the relative importance of various genres of images as represented in the auction sales. As M. E. W. Boers makes clear, however, auctions and lotteries were not always viewed with enthusiasm by painters. In this intriguing essay on the phenomenon of auctions and lotteries in Haarlem, the author explores a serious conflict that had arisen in 1642 among members of the painters’ guild over the impact of auctions and lotteries on prices and commissions, with the guild leadership being particularly concerned about issues of quality and price control. An important constituency of the guild (including Frans Pietersz. de Grebber, Pieter de Molijn, Salomon van Ruysdael and Frans Hals) did not share the governors’ view; instead, they welcomed these events (some of which they had organized) as a means by which the potential audience for paintings might be expanded and young or less well-established painters might find buyers for their works that they might not have otherwise been able to do. As the case of the Haarlem auctions demonstrates, the open market had its disadvantages or, at the very least, its risks, but, in periods of strong demand, many artists were more than willing to venture out into the public arena and take their chances.
That painters were very sensitively attuned to the demand for art in the communities in which they worked is clearly in evidence in the case of Adriaen van de Venne, the subject of Mariët Westermann’s fine study. As the author suggests, Van de Venne’s arrival in The Hague in the early years of his career would have a considerable impact on the evolution of his style and choice of themes. His encounter with a humanist elite, in particular, seems to have inspired the painter’s increasingly sophisticated experiments with the technique of grisaille, the audience for which would precipitously expand to include the court at The Hague and beyond. Having recognized this increasing demand for his works, Van de Venne capitalized on the evident popularity of his work in various strata of the market and, as Westermann concludes, began to produce his grisailles in large numbers and in varying degrees of compositional complexity and thematic subtlety.
Claudia Swan provides another instance of the intersection of esthetics and economics in her interesting examination of the printmaker, draftsman and bookkeeper, Pieter Serwouters (Antwerp 1586-Amsterdam 1657). In his works (maps, charters, and other commercial documents) as bookkeeper for the Hollandse Compagnie der Dieverder- en Liggeler-Smilderveenen, Serwouters seems to have been unable to suppress his love of line drawing and therefore provided theCompagnie with documents frequently filled with lively pen flourishes and charming sketches of all sorts of motifs and figures. At the same time, when turning to creating a personal family album, which included sensitive portraits of several of Serwouters’s ancestors and living relatives, his penchant for systematic bookkeeping appears to have been equally irrepressible: rather than arranging the family history in a narrative or dendritic form, many pages listing significant births, deaths, marriages, and so forth, are arranged in what can only be described as ‘double-entry bookkeeping’ form. As Swan demonstrates, several of Serwouters’s works therefore present a most interesting glimpse into the Dutch propensity for ‘the art of describing’ and the degree to which perceptual and conceptual experiences were inextricably bound.
As cleverly signaled in the very first illustration in the volume _ a delightful detail from Adriaen van de Venne’s Wat maeck men al om gelt! (‘The Things one makes for money’), many of the essays in Kunst voor de Markt take as their point of departure the production of specific ateliers and the various ways that each can be understood to a greater or lesser degree as examples of artists responding to their perceptions of the demand for art in the communities in which they worked. In certain respects, these essays thus demonstrate that Van Mander was correct when he proclaimed that “art follows wealth for its rich rewards“. However, other essays equally give evidence that ‘wealth follows art‘; as the editors suggest in their introductory remarks, artistic and economic aspects of art production and reception were indeed necessarily reciprocal and entwined. This beautifully balanced and methodologically innovative collection of essays should be required reading for all specialists in Netherlandish art as well as for others who may have begun to reflect on the various points of intersection of art and economic life.
Jean C. Wilson
State University of New York at Binghamton