Welcome / Blog Archive / English / 2021-09-doc1 The purchaseprice in 1639 for Rembrandt’s house

2021-09-doc1 The purchaseprice in 1639 for Rembrandt’s house

One of the themes in 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/) relates to the house he lived in since 1639 (with Saskia and with their son Titus since 1641). The building is in the neighbourhood of the Sint Antoniesluis, ie the Breestraat, presently the location of the Museum Rembrandt House (https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en). It is an interesting large house in several respects, including its use pre-Rembrandt and post-Rembrandt, after he left (in 1658 or 1660), the whereabouts of the sellers of the house in 1639, being representatives of the Belten family and the Thijs family. Several pages are devoted to this prominent building.

Purchase price: a financial millstone around Rembrandt’s neck?

Rembrandt’s by far largest expenditure, as far as is known, is his investment in this house, which also was his studio, his office and art shop, his training facilities for pupils and where he sold his own work and that of his pupils and other masters. The purchase agreement of 1639 is interpreted including the payment arrangement regarding the sales price of 13,000 guilders. Also, a sketch is given of the (architectural) history and the surroundings of the house, the neighbourhood against the background of the influx of immigrants into Amsterdam since the end of the 16th century and the city’s urban development in the first half of the 17th century. The respective part in the book closes with providing an answer to the question: was buying the house by Rembrandt an expensive waste of money?

The latter submission is in general held in art literature, however it is based on unaccounted sources and/or overlooks day-to-day reality that the value of a house is the result of a multi-factor consideration, with among these the appetite for the house, its size, its facilities, the location, the design of room and kitchens, the urgency to occupy the house or the expected trend in prices. Payment terms regarding a price (and the contention that ‘cash’ is needed) should be considered with a longer term view related to Rembrandt’s earning capacity over a longer period (forecast), in the mirror of the experiences of income and profit realised in the shorter past. The submission that Rembrandt needed liquidity urgent cannot be fully supported based on the view of what is now known about his existing income and possible future earnings.

According to current standards, the purchase price of 13,000 guilders represents a value of around € 160,000. See www.iisg.nl. Bikker (Jonathan Bikker, Rembrandt. Biography of a rebel, Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum 2019, 76), however, writes that 13,000 guilders in today’s money is no less than € 2,600,000, whilst suggesting that Rembrandt was driven by sentimentality (the house was built in the year he was born) which may have clouded Rembrandt’s judgment. It seems a tall tale, without any substantiation. Monique Peters, Alles behalve een kleine man uit de Jordaan. Abraham Francen, een zeventiende eeuwse Amsterdamse apotheker, arts en papierkuntverzamelaar, Amstelodamum, juli-september 2019, 114, uses the same website to indicate that in April 1642 a house in the Hertenstraat in Amsterdam was transferred for 11,475 guilders, with a current value of around € 142.849. Mildly: the differences in the outcomes of these approaches cannot be explained.

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)