This hefty paperback – intellectually rigorous, yet lovingly devoted to the late economist, archivist and Vermeer scholar, John Michael Montias (1928-2005) – reflects both the respect and the community of this historian’s life. With 32 articles (from Adams to Zell), four “remembrances” by friends and colleagues, a list of art-historical publications by Montias (indeed there were many others on Eastern-European economics) and several photographs of Montias in his youth, this Festschrift provides a full-range of scholarly topics. With so many members of HNA as contributors to the volume and even more as beneficiaries of Michael (as he preferred to be called) Montias’s generosity in conversation, advice and scholarship, there were few in our field untouched by him. In the interest of full disclosure here, I, too, was one of those beneficiaries – as he was a lender to the Haarlem exhibition I curated in 1983 and a resource on several occasions for inventory queries of mine. This brief review then is my contribution to his memory.
Although one may expect that all of these articles would be inventory or document-related, reflecting much of Montias’s own work, that is not the case. Indeed, several contributions rely on inventories, archives or the price of paintings reflecting his work in the Delft and Amsterdam archives (most famously: Artists and Artisans in Delft. A Socio-Economic Study of the Seventeenth Century, 1982; Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History, 1989; and Art at Auction in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam, 2002). Several contributions are concerned with artist travels, attribution, iconography, four are Vermeer-related, three are Rembrandt-related, two Rubens-related – so they do run the gamut. A few selections will indicate the breadth: the market for Rembrandt portrait etchings (Dickey); privileges for Dutch prints (Orenstein); anthropomorphic faces in landscape prints (Kuretsky); collection of a sixteenth-century Antwerp burgomaster (Peeters and Martens); Ochtervelt’s patron (Chong); the price of paintings (Boers-Goosens); fitting shoes and erotic meanings (Franits). Yet each author was indebted in some way to Michael.
The myriad of approaches grounded in documents, archives and inventories that has changed the very nature of the art-historical field is Montias’s true legacy. To complete an artist’s biography he taught us to cast the wider net and investigate his/her milieu – indeed this is how Montias found Van Ruijven, Vermeer’s significant patron. By providing us by example and now with the tools – the Montias Database of Amsterdam Inventories (at the Frick Art Reference Library and in cooperation with the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, the RKD in The Hague), he has allowed other scholars to continue his work. This volume provides some of the gleanings of his industry, insight and innovation through those indebted to him.
Frima Fox Hofrichter