During the 17th
century the international art market linked in a very narrow net merchants from
Flanders and Netherlands to Italy, as well as the whole Europe
and other far regions in the world too. Within this extended net, I focused my
investigation on some relationships between Flanders and Sicily. These relationships - which I am
studing for the international project “Art Market in Europe 1300-1800” promoted
by the University of Lille 3 and the Duke University - involved the cities of Antwerp, Amsterdam and
Messina in Sicily, and other Italian and European cities as well, above all
Leghorn, Venice, Naples .
As already stated
by art and economics historians, during the 17th century there was a surplus of
art works production in the Flanders and, mainly from Antwerp,
this surplus was sold and shipped to the rest of Europe and also to New Spain. The most important art dealers in Antwerp were
Crisostomo van Immerseel, Matthis Musson and Marcus Forchoudt, who shipped
Flemish paintings, tapestries, prints and other art works all around Europe
and, from Cadiz and Seville, to New Spain.
countries to which these art objects were sent – even if in a low quantity
compared with the rest of Europe – there was Italy. In the mid of the century,
the Anversois firm of Matthijs Musson had their agents, the brothers Sebastian
and Filip De Pret, in Messina and some documents attest the shipments of
paintings and other art works precisely from Antwerp to the Sicilian town. The
research I conducted in the Archivio di Stato di Messina allowed me to found the names of De
Pret’s brothers in a document – called alberano or alborano – in which they,
toghether with others, claimed a credit towards the heritage of another
As I could discover through documents in the
archives of Messina, Florence
and Leghorn, this group of merchants were
connected with the international market of art and other goods which linked Messina with – above all – Leghorn,
and the Netherlands.
Among the merchants mentioned in the Messinese document are listed as attorneys the names of Gio. Battista van den Broech (elsewhere Vallembrot, Vandambro, Van der Brach), Carlo Bathin (elsewhere Battichisi or Bacchini or Batlin) and Enrico Lenaerts the Younger, is that the merchants involved in the shipments of the paintings of Rembrandt and the tapestries of Rubens ordered by the Messinese collector Antonio Ruffo.
The presence of
Flemish and other art dealers in Messina during the 17th century is related to
the importance that the port of the Sicilian city had in modern era, at least
until the dramatic rebellion against Spain (who reigned over Sicily), which
lasted 4 years, from 1674 to 1678 (fig. 1).
The welfare of Messina is witnesses by
the several art collections created during the 17th century. The main of them,
and one of the most important in the whole South Italy,
belonged to prince Antonio Ruffo who formed it between 1646 and 1678, when he
died. The Ruffo collection was famous for its rich sets of tapestries, silvers
and, above all, the almost 400 paintings. The painting gallery was up to date
with the most relevant Roman and Neapolitan collections; for the purchases in
these cities, Ruffo could rely on his agents and relatives: his brother Flavio,
the painters and dealers Abraham Brueghel and Cornelis de Wael in Rome and the
nephews fra’ Tommaso Ruffo and Fabrizio Ruffo in Naples. But the art works
collected by Ruffo came also from the Netherlands,
as the set of the History of Achille
tapestry by Rubens, the Satyr and the
Peasant by Jordaens (fig. 2 - Munich, Alte
Pinakothek) and the three paintings by Rembrandt Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (fig. 3), Alessandro Magno and Homer proceeding from Amsterdam . The
letters published by Vincenzo Ruffo in 1916 reveal when and who dealt with the
purchase of the Rembrandt’s paintings.
On June 13, 1654
Cornelis Gijsbertsz van Goor in Amsterdam wrote
to Giacomo di Battista in Messina about the
shipment of some packages through a certain Ablin in Leghorn:
on occasion of the sailing of the ship Bartolomeo to Naples, he gave to the captain a box
containing the painting of Rembrandt .
Thanks to further letters, we know that this painting by Rembrandt was
the Aristotle with the bust of Homer
(New York, Metropolitan Museum)
July 30, 1661, another letter from Amsterdam
tells that two other paintings of Rembrandt were shipped to Antonio Ruffo on
board of the ship Gran Croenenburgh and that the purchase was ordered by Isaac
Just through «Carlo Bacchini e Gio. Batt. Vandambro» who acted on behalf of
Ruffo. Later, on November 1, 1662, «Giovanbatista Vallembrot», named «consul»,
was charged by Ruffo to deliver a letter in Amsterdam to Isaac Just to signifie his
disappointing about the Alexander the Great
painted by Rembrandt on four pieces of canvas roughly sewed togheter.
already known in the artistic literature , can
be developed in relation to the dealers mentioned : Giacomo Ablin, Giacomo di
Battista, «Carlo Bacchini e Gio. Battista Vandambro» . To these names, we have to add Enrico
Lenaerts the Younger who, in 1664 sold to Antonio Ruffo the Rubens tapestry
with the History of Achille, through
his agent in Amsterdam Cornelis Gijsbertsz van Goor .
My researches in the archives of Messina, Florence
and Leghorn, allowed me to discover that all of
them were properly merchants and that they were directly involved in the
international trade from Netherlands,
which had in Messina
one of the main port cities.
In many legal
reports in the Archive of Leghorn, Giacomo Ablin is called dealer in Leghorn on behalf of «Ruggier Van Wert et Gio. Van Winckel fiamminghi»: for
instance in 1658 he presents a report versus «Giacomo di Battista di Palermo or
his heirs», who are debitors of Van Wert and Van Winckel and were represented
by the firm Saminiati and Ambrogi, one of the most important firm of Luccheses
merchants involved in the trade of silk from Lucca to Antwerp in the first half
of 16th century .
Presumibly this Giacomo di Battista is the same person to whom in 1654 Cornelis Gijsbertsz van Goor in Amsterdam addressed the letter mentioned above, regarding the
shipment of the Aristotle with a
Bust of Homer of Rembrant
purchased by Ruffo. In the same letter written by Van Goor is mentioned Giacomo Ablin, to whom the box with the painting have been sent . Ruggieri
van Weert may be was the brother of Henrico van Weert, consul in Genoa from 1673 to 1685. Not
certain is their relation with Jan van Weert, one of the creditor of the
important Dutch art dealer Gerrit Uylenburgh, the son of Hendrick, art dealer
and agent of Rembrandt. The relationship with Uylemburgh concerns also Van
Goor, because Gerryt Uylemburgh borrowed money from Gijsbert van Goor, son of
Cornelis . The
name of Giacomo
Ablin is also listed in the action for the heritage of a Flemish dealer
active in Leghorn,
Pietro Schuijs, who died in 1656. It
is interesting to notice that among the paintings listed in his inventory there
was a big painting representing the City
of Messina .
Pietro represented the firm of Henrico & Giacomo Schuijs (or Schuijt), whose
head office was in Flanders (the city is not
specified); in the documents are listed the dealers who were in business with
them. One of these was Giacomo Ablin, who had to receive some money due for
some furniture («diversi mobili»). In that time, “mobili” was a very
comprehensive word, which included also paintings. The list reports also other
interesting names, as Cornelis Gijsbertsz van Goor and the firm of Isaac Gio. Nijs & Giacomo Moluiers. Isaac
Jan Nijs was a dealer trading with Italy
and the Levant. In the 1650s spent some time
in Livorno, after which he lived in Amsterdam.
He was one of Uylenburg's customer and worked with him importing art from Italy. He was
born in Venice,
the son of Daniel Nijs, a merchant and banker who himself had owned a large
collection and sold art to various collectors like Lord Arundel.
«Carlo Bacchini e
Gio. Battista Vandambro», who
acted as middlemen for the shipment of the painting Alexander
the Great by Rembrandt to the messinese collector Antonio Ruffo, as the
letters of Cornelis Gijsbertsz van Goor already mentioned reported, are
documented in other acts I discovered in the Archive of Messina and Leghorn,
which clarify that they were properly a firm of silk merchants settled in
Messina and in relationships with other Italian and European cities.
In the Archive of Leghorn I found a bill of lading dated Messina, March 28, 1658, produced by the firm of dealers «Gio Battista Van den Broech -
Carlo Battichisi» (fig. 4). The
cargo of the ship was a bale of operated silk, ordered by «Jo Druinesteijn di
Venetia», and sent from Messina via Leghorn
where was to be recovered by Cornelio Vannech . The
bill of lading is attached to a document, dated Leghorn,
July 3rd, 1658, which gives us further information useful to shed some light on
the network of Flemish dealers active in Italy. It is the legal report
presented by Cornelio Vannech versus Giacomo Ablin who, at the moment the bale
of silk arrived in Leghorn,
sequestrated it because the buyer didn’t want to pay. Altought the bill of
lading claimed that the buyer was Jo Druinesteijn of Venice,
in the report is said that he acted as middleman for «Antonio Addelbauelt» of Lille.
So we know that from Messina the silk had to
arrive in Lille via Leghorn
firm Van den Broech - Carlo Bathin is also mentioned in the Libro di conti mercantili dell’anno
1660-1662 of the luccheses merchants Girolamo and Pompeo Parensi settled in
Amsterdam, in relation with the commerce of silk again: «sete di conto dei
signori Giovan Battista Vanderbroech, Carlo Bathin et Henrico Lenam [sic] il
giovane di Messina … mandate a signori Francesco Viali e fratelli di Genova con
due galee di quella repubblica» .
documents attest that the shipments from or to Messina
passed via Leghorn.
In the archive of this city I could find the names of Jacinto Simonelli (listed in the alberano) and clarify that he was an insurer . As
far as concerned Giovanni Arnolfini (in the alberano as well), he is mentioned
among the buyers of some paintings (20 linens) shipped in 1659 by Musson from Antwerp to Messina via Leghorn, with the ship
Saint Giobattista .
Giovanni Arnolfini was a Lucchese merchant who in the years 1655-1659 formed in
Messina a firm with Orsuccio Orsucci, which
traded in silk; among the participants of this company there was the Lucchese
merchant settled in Palermo,
Carlo Parensi. The firm of Parensi had the main company (the brothers Girolamo
and Pompeo Parensi) in Amsterdam
. At the
end of 17th century, the commerce of the silk managed by the Luccheses
merchants faded and in Messina
remained only two firms, the “Arnolfini-Micheli” in 1679-85 and
“Bambacari-Fiorentini” in 1688-99. The
firm Bambacari was among the signers of the “alberano” previously mentioned.
The attorneys of the alberano, Gio. Battista van den Broech, Carlo Bathin & Enrico Lenaerts the Younger are the main characters of this group of merchants in Messina. As we have seen,
each of them have been involved in the purchases and shipment of the paintings
by Rembrandts and the tapestries by Rubens ordered by Antonio Ruffo. The only one already known in the artistic literature is Gio. Battista van den Broech: he is mentioned as a pupil and a relative of Jacob Jordaens and some documents dated 1641-42 register his name as a painter inscribed in the Anversoise guild of St. Luke . The
same name is in a Messinese contract dated 1653, between «Jo.n. Batt.am van der
Brach» and Abraham
Casembrot. Casembrot was a flemish painter who lived in Messina
probably since the 1630’s, after a possible stay in Leghorn. Antonio Ruffo’s inventory lists ten
landscapes by Abraham Casembrot (fig. 5) . He
was also author of prints: a set of prints with Views of the harbour of Messina formed an album that Casembrot dedicated
to the important merchant, shipowner and collector Lucas van Uffel, who lived
between 1616 and 1630 .
Lucas van Uffel was the son of Hans, an Anversois merchant who, in consequences
of the religious troubles, was forced to move to Amsterdam in 1591. Lucas settled in Venice and here, with Jan
van Mere, formed a very important firm of the international trade which allowed
him to earn a lot of money and so to collect masterpieces of artists as
Raffaello, Duquesnoy, Rubens. After his death, in 1639 his whole collection was
auctioned in Amsterdam
for 60.000 florins .
Casembrot was the
Netherlandish consul in Messina
between 1649 and 1658, year of his death. As consul he had to deal with the
maritime commerce. A letter wrote to the Generale Estates in 1654, reveals that
he was concerned also with the ship S. Bartolomeo which had on board the
Rembrandt’s Aristotle, commissioned
by Ruffo .
At least since
1653, Casembrot was in relationship with Van den Broech, as attests the
Messinese contract between «Jo.n. Batt.am van der Brach» and Abraham Casembrot
mentioned above. Sebastiano Di Bella suggests that the contract could concerns
questions related to the role of Casembrot as consul, role that in 1658 will be
taken over by Van den Broech . In the Ruffo collection there is a View of Messina which may be is that described in the inventory as «received from Gio Battista Van den Broech from the Abraham Casembrot's heritage», so likely sold to the collector by Van den Broech . This
can be another clue of the involvment of Van den Broech in the art market.
reports, Van den Broech married the daughter of his partner Carlo Bathin: this
information is confirmed by a letter of Abraham Brueghel dated 1664 published
by Ruffo, in which it is said that Van den Broech married the daughter of
«Carlo» . In
1664, a year before Van den Broech’s death, Carlo Bathin was named vice-consul .
So, the firm Van
den Broech and Carlo Bathin was a protagonist in Messina
and was in relationships with the international market, which ranged from the
commerce of silk – doubtless the most preminent in the international route from
Sicily – to
the management in the shipments of other products among which art works. In this case, the role of consul
played by all of them was very important in the context of the international
commerce. It is also interesting to notice that some of these consuls were painters: Casembrot, Van den Broech in Messina; in other cities we can mention Jacob Strijcker in Venice (1648), Johan van Dael in Leghorn, Jacomo van Drielenburgh in Malaga .
Messineses’ documents stands out the name of Hector van Achthoven. He is
named by Susinno «the richest dealer in Messina»
» and a very smart collector, who committed two portraits, for himself and his
wife, to Anton van Dyck. His
role as a merchant involved in the international trade is revealed in the
documents of the Flemish firm of Bernard van den Broecke & Joris Jansen,
one of the main international company during the 1620’s and 1630’s, settled in
Leghorn . In
their account book of 1629, which I could peruse in the Archive of Florence,
results that Van Achtoven, in Palermo at that moment,
bought some tapestries from Gaspar de Roomer & Jacomo van Raj in Naples, and this
information is important as a direct clue of his involvement in the art market .
Van Achtoven is documented in Palermo in 1625-29, where he was in contact with painters and the consul: he acted as procurator of the consul Hendrick Dijck, who had to give some money to Anton van Dyck. Moreover, in 1642 he is in relationship with the painter and merchant
from Antwerp Geronimo Gerardi, settled in Palermo,
who, probably thanks to his relationships with Cornelis de Wael, was involved
in the arriving of Mathias Stomer and his work for the Oratorio del Rosario in S. Domenico. His name is mentioned also in the document
dated 1628 regarding the delivery from Genoa of the Van Dyck’s Madonna del Rosario in that Oratorio, in
which were involved also the merchants Antonio Della Torre and Bartolomeo
Rossetti. In 1638 Van Achtoven is «Consul general de las naciones flamenca y
alemana enste Reyno» .
Since 1630 to 1662 at least, he is documented in Messina. As results from an interesting letter dated 1630, which
I found among the documentation of the firm of Bernard van den Broecke & Joris Jansen of Leghorn,
during that year the role of agent in Messina, both for this firm and for the company of Lucas van Uffel & Jan van Mere in
Venice, passed from Rudolf Olofs to Hector van Achthoven, because he got married
with a relative of Van Uffel, Maria. As results from many documents of the
local archive, in Messina
he acted as procurator and money lender.
The role of all these
characters as agents, merchants and sometimes consuls, appear to be
overlapping, in an international market in which art works were dealt alongside
a wide range of activities and products.
This text has been presented in April 2010 in Venice, at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, session Northern Artists and Italy IV: Agents and Dealers, sponsorized by "Historians of Netherlandish Art", and organized by Amy Golahny (Lycoming College) and Stephanie S. Dickey (Queen's University). I am grateful to Francesca Scopigno for having reviewed the english version of my article.
V. Ruffo, La Galleria Ruffo, in “Bollettino
d’arte”, a. X; J. Giltaij, Antonio Ruffo
e Rembrandt, in Percorsi d’arte,
cat. mostra, Salerno 2005, pp. 51-63; C. Ricci, Rembrandt in Italia, Alfieri & Lacroix, Milano 1918; R. De
Gennaro, Per il collezionismo del
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ASL, Serie I: Atti
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kunsthandel te Antwerpen in de XVIIe eeuw van Matthijs Musson (Antwerp,
1949), pp. 216-17. Antwerp
city archives, Insolvente Boedelkamer, Musson, Folder 2024.
R-A. d’Hulst e N. De Poorter, in Jordaens (1593-1678),
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R. De Gennaro, Un fiammingo a Messina: Abraham Casembrot,
in Prospettiva, n., 93-94, 1999, p. 189-99; F. W.H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings Engravings and
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A. Beunen, Abraham Casembrot een
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