Last month, mid July 2021, I announced my forthcoming book ‘Rembrandt’s Money’. The legal and financial life of an artist-entrepreneur in 17th century Holland. See https://bobwessels.nl/blog/2021-07-doc6-rembrandts-money-forthcoming/. In that same month I explained what the book covers and what it does not, see https://bobwessels.nl/blog/2021-07-doc10-rembrandts-money-forthcoming-wysiwyg-and-opposite/. Here follows another peek at my work.
One of the challenges studying 17th century sources, legal and otherwise, from 350-400 years ago regarding Rembrandt (1606-1669) is the fact that there exits very little personal correspondence. There is no diary (at least it has never been found or was perhaps destroyed or burned), or other sources in which Rembrandt made notes describing his life as a skilled artist. There are just a few written records, and they only scarcely disclose his intimate emotions, let alone his disappointments and triumphs, his internal motivation or personal observations related to his work, his encounters with others, his family life or – for that matter – his legal dos and don’ts, his financiers or his business dealings. Rembrandt was an artist, running a business as a skilled craftsman. In those days, however, this did not require bookkeeping, documenting transactions, and accounting for financial consequences and results as is legally required today. Although in insolvency matters the experience nowadays is that this bookkeeping duty is sometimes adhered to in a selective or sloppy way (or even not at all), available records of this type from Rembrandt’s business would have revealed written material that was stronger or more complete evidence of his legal and financial affairs. Evidently, Rembrandt did leave his artistic work, known in all corners of the globe. Nevertheless, the data that would have been useful for my purposes is very limited. It is based mainly on documents in archives (often notarial deeds) and some rather limited other pieces of paper (a receipt, a personal note, some letters) – not the most obvious way to learn about someone as a businessman, let alone as a private person, by assessing only his legal deeds and financial transactions. And if there is something worthwhile, one should be aware that in these days ‘private’ and ‘business’ activities and their consequences are almost fully intertwined.
His early years
Starting from Rembrandt’s birth, many unknowns have been strung together. This is for a large part due to the fragmentary nature of the registered facts, documents passed down through the ages, and the lack of notes made by Rembrandt on his life and his artistic output. Doubts have grown among authors, particularly in the first two decades of the present century, about the accuracy of his date of birth (15 July 1606) given by 17th century authors. And then the journey begins. Is there evidence to support these doubts? What do we know about his early childhood? Where does the name ‘Rembrandt’ come from. I think I can add a bit to Onno Blom’s biography, ‘De jonge Rembrandt. Een biografie’, Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij 2019.
With my background as an international scholar at the Leiden Law School for some eight years, I was very keen try to find an answer to the question of whether Rembrandt followed lectures at Leiden University and, if so, for how long, or whether his registration as a student was purely a way of gaining advantages on certain duties (tax, the city’s civil patrol duties). Another interesting theme is Rembrandt’s start of his own studio in Leiden. His work focused mainly on history painting, in which he tried to outdo his (second) teacher Lastman. In addition, he produced many ‘tronies’ and began to produce etchings, a technique that he mastered with no prior training. Here, he lay the foundation for techniques and representations he would continue to develop over the years in a way that experts consider unparalleled. What about the Leiden market for paintings? What about the competition (e.g. by Jan Lievens)? Was his work in demand? Where was his studio located? Did Rembrandt use an agent for getting assigments or for selling work? He built up his own clientele of well-known figures in The Hague, but why then go (start/continue) entrepreneurship in Amsterdam?
Runway to publication
Up to its publication I will regularly blog some background of the book’s themes and details of its content. I hope to be able to connect such information with actual developments in literature or shared via (virtual) meetings. Just let me explain to you that as main audience for readership I see legal and financial professionals, especially with an appetite for the developments in civil, commercial and insolvency law in 17th century Holland. When details of the publication date will be known, I will inform you via this blog. And, by the way, if you are interested to get notified every time a blog appears, please follow Rembrandt’s Money on social media.
Information as to today:
Bob Wessels, ‘Rembrandt’s Money’. The legal and financial life of an artist-entrepreneur in 17th century Holland
Deventer: Wolters Kluwer. ISBN 9789013164893 (forthcoming Autumn 2021)