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Welcome / Blog Archive / English / 2021-10-doc3 Rembrandt’s Money (nearly there) – Arbitration in his day?

2021-10-doc3 Rembrandt’s Money (nearly there) – Arbitration in his day?

Since July, every fortnight, I published dribs and drabs from my forthcoming book ‘Rembrandt’s Money’. The legal and financial life of an artist-entrepreneur in 17th century Holland. See In that same month I explained what the book covers and what it does not, see Now a short piece on trade law and arbitration.

Trade law

One of the many queries I am dealing with is the use of arbitration, as a way of solving disputes, in 17th century Amsterdam. In these days businesses acted within an area of law generally known as commercial law and for those specifically acting in trade sometimes called trade law. In these days, it is an area of Roman law, old Dutch law, law from the Antwerp costumes, but also the legal views of writers such as Grotius, Voet and Van Leeuwen, often recorded in collective consultations, with a further fragmentation through the application of separate judgments and ordinances of city authorities. Consequently, local divergence of law existed mainly with regard to those subjects that were not determined by the law of the Corpus Iuris. This was especially true for commercial law, with numerous customary elements and trade practices. Many legal writers were unfamiliar with the field of commercial law, at least often did ‘… not well understand the nature of trade and companies’ (‘… de natuyre van traffijck ende Compagnien niet wel verstaende’) (Grotius, Holl. Cons., III (Rotterdam), CCCIII) and in academic circles there is an aversion to the trading company in contrast to trade as a source of wealth. Commercial law was not a science, but the practice of a profession. A shift in view does not follow until the second half of the 18th century.


Arbitration by arbitrators or ‘good men’ (‘goede mannen’) was considered a fully-fledged method of dispute resolution. Arbitration was often used within circles of merchants. Many partnership agreements from the beginning of the 17th century contained a clause in which the partners determined that they would submit the settlement of any disputes to arbitrators, sometimes also excluding the jurisdiction of the ordinary court. The professional business of Hendrick Uylenburgh ( included (i) buying works of art for his studio (from 1635); (ii) valuation of artwork for private individuals (from 1637) and (iii) acting as arbitrator. In 1642, Rembrandt ran into a conflict with Andries de Graeff, a future mayor of Amsterdam, concerning the good likeness of De Graeff in the portrait made by him. The matter was ultimately solved via arbitration in the same year, according to a deposition made in 1659, by arbitrator Hendrik Uylenburgh, around seventy years old at that time, having made an order against Rembrandt to pay 500 guilders. At the end of his live also, Rembrandt was involved in arbitration proceedings, in which the claim of creditor Becker was awarded. In 1668, Rembrandt acknowledged before a notary that in accordance with the decision of the three appointed arbitrators, the sum of 1,082 guilders was owed by him to Becker. He was to pay two-thirds of the amount in cash, and one third in pictures by his own hand, which he would paint within six months. These pictures would be appraised by experts appointed by the arbitrators, and should they be worth more than a third of 1,082 guilders, Becker would pay Rembrandt the surplus (‘het overige in gelt aen hem comparant zoude moeten rembourseren ende weder uijtkeeren’). However, as it was not convenient for Rembrandt to pay the money at once (‘…, ende naerdemael hem comparant de voldoeninge van deselve uijtspraecke soo aenstonts niet gelegen en quam’), Becker agreed that he would wait six months. Rembrandt would then pay him the amount punctually together with interest of four percent; not only on this sum, but also on his share of the fees paid to the arbitrators. In the same notarial document, Titus offered himself voluntarily (‘voorbedachtelijcken’) as security for his father. 17th century Amsterdam seems a treasure-trove for further research into arbitration as well.

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 my blog and 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 mid November 2021)