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Welcome / Blog Archive / English / 2017-11-doc5-Rembrandt


After having published two books in my series Insolvency Law (Wessels Insolventierecht) and a large report for the European Law Institute on Business rescue in insolvency law (with my German colleague Stephan Madaus) this year, I head to something (not completely) different, the well-known Dutch painter Rembrandt (or: Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)).

Rembrandt? Evidently, his paintings and etchings are admired by many all over the world; what is less known, however, is that Rembrandt in 1656 went bankrupt, or rather on 14 July 1656 he applied at the High Court (Hoge Raad) for cessio bonorum (in the Dutch language of that time: ‘brieven van cessie’). Crenshaw (Paul Crenshaw, Rembrandt’s bankruptcy. The artist, his patrons and the art market in seventeenth-century Netherlands, Cambridge University Press 2006), p. 69, has found three underlying or background causes for Rembrandt’s financial troubles:

  • (i) the decline of his artistic production and income in the 1640s,
  • (ii) the general economic downturn following the Peace of Münster (1648), more specifically the period during and after the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654) and
  • (iii) the ‘chaos’ in Rembrandt’s personal life, including the death of  Saskia Uylenburgh (1612-1642).

I would add here the problems following from the will of Saskia and the supervision of the inheritance on behalf of their son Titus, only one year old when his mother died, as well as the turbulences with Rembrandt’s subsequent housekeepers/girlfriends.

The legal context of the proceedings Rembrandt initiated is quite different than available in present Dutch insolvency law. The Netherlands as we know it today is some 200+ years in existence. In the 1650s in this area ‘provinces’ existed and in Amsterdam, where Rembrandt lived and worked since the early 1630s (he was born in Leiden, went to school there, was apprenticed by well-known painters at this time and had his first pupil, Gerard Dou) Roman law still applied as well as Dutch common law and e.g. Amsterdam Ordinances and local Statutes related to bankruptcy.

Also, three institutions were involved, the Desolate Boedelskamer (Chamber of Insolvent Estates), the High Court, and the Weeskamer (Orphans Chamber), that guarded certain parts of Saskia’s estate, as they had a form of custody for the benefit of Rembrandt’s son Titus, who was a minor at that time. How was the cession bonorum organised? Which goals did it try to achieve? Which people were involved? How did the Boedelskamer operate? What is the relation between the Boedelskamer and High Court? Who were Rembrandt’s financiers and creditors? What is the story of the millstone around his neck (real estate, now known as Museum Rembrandt House, which he bought on rather bad conditions already in 1639)? Why did the administration of the cession bonorum took so long? What happened post-bankruptcy, when in 1660 a ‘… seeckere compagnie en handel van schilderijen …’ (a company for trade in paintings) between Titus (‘geassisteerd met Rembrandt’; assisted by Rembrandt) and Hendrickje Stoffels, his third wife, was established?

In literature one reads that this ‘compagnie’ was an art dealership (e.g. Crenshaw) and that it was established to protect Rembrandt from further creditors. Just curious what type of company this is and whether indeed creditors had any knowledge of its existence c.q. indeed could not lay their hand on assets of Rembrandt.

One of the fortunes of being an emeritus is that you can devote time to a subject whenever you please. So, for the next six months I intend to read more about Rembrandt, as there are several recent studies, more general on the rise and development of the art market in the Dutch Golden Age, as well as related to Rembrandt’s ‘bankruptcy’, often written by art historians. I also wonder whether the published historic documents from different archives have been interpreted with a general understanding of applicable law at that time. I am not ready with my idea on how to publish any results of my study (if any), who to involve in its development etc, let alone a planning for timing. Again, that’s one of the advantages of using an own agenda.

What I do know is that I may need your help: if you would have any interesting information or ideas on the subject, please let me know at