A Postscript on Vermeer and His Milieu

A Postscript on Vermeer and His Milieu

by John Michael Montias cum sociis*

Since my book Vermeer and His Milieu: a Web of Social History appeared at Princeton University Press in March 1989 (henceforth abbreviated as VM 1989), a number of documents have surfaced that add to our knowledge of Vermeer’s life, family and milieu.[1] Their gamut runs from the piquant-but-trivial (doc. no. 2) to the highly important (doc. no. 10). Documents no. 1, 7, and 12 are not new finds but expanded interpretations. The documents are summarized and discussed, in chronological order, below.

1. 20-24 March 1612. At the Amsterdam auction of Chrispiaen Colyn’s paintings and other art works, a man named Balthasar Gerritsz. Monick bought 32 lots for a total of Dfl. 62:02:09.[2] I had long suspected that this might be Vermeer’s maternal grandfather, who was living in Amsterdam at the time. The problem was the surname “Monick,” which I had never encountered in any other document. Miss I. van Eeghen wrote me (letter of 24 May 1989) that there are various reasons that make it plausible that they – Vermeer’s grandfather and Monick – are indeed identical. One such reason is that a buyer at the auction, named Isaack Haeck, who appears immediately after Balthasar’s name as purchaser of a Crucifix, was probably an acquaintance of Vermeer’s grandfather at the dye-works (“ververijen”) where his daughter Digna Baltens was living, and presumably employed, when she married the “caffawercker” (weaver of fine silk satins) Reynier Jansz. (Vermeer’s father). It would seem that a buyer at an auction could be assigned an arbitrary surname or sobriquet to identify his purchases. The purchases made by this Balthasar (or Balten) Gerritsz. comprised 49 objects, all paintings except for a “vorm” (mold),[3] a “piece carved out of stone” for Dfl. 2:10:00 and the image of Mary mentioned below. Most were “tronien” (faces or heads). His only high-price purchase was “a piece of the Rich Man” (i.e. Lazarus and the Rich Man) for 18 guilders. The other religious works were a figure (“beeltgen”) of the Virgin Mary, a “Sacrifice of Abraham,” and an “Emmaus.” Other subjects of interest were a lot of “2 tronjen van de Prins ende Princes” for Dfl. 2:5:00, presumably Prince Willem and one of his wives, and one of the seven electors (“Keurvorsten”) for Dfl. 8:8:00. The very large number of “tronien” (26 in all) seem far in excess of what Balthasar Gerritsz. might have bought to decorate his house. I suspect that he was buying for stock, intending either to trade or sell his purchases at once or to build up a dealer’s inventory. But then again, some of the lots may have ended up among the “remarkable quantity of artful paintings” that he owned toward the end of his life in Gorinchem (VM 1989, doc. no. 113). There is no evidence that he ever became a dealer, but it is quite possible that he may have given his son-in-law Reynier Jansz. a start in the profession (see VM 1989, pp. 55-56). In either case it should be noted that most of the paintings were very inexpensive (less than 1 guilder apiece), and were probably copies made in Chrispiaen Colyn’s workshop.

We now also know somewhat more about Balthasar Claes Gerritsz.’s activities in the period 1610-1616. I had already suggested, without final confirmation, that he represented a merchant from Dieppe in a suit in 1610 (VM 1989, p. 21). He actually appears as a witness to several documents with this merchant, named Manuel Piersen (or Piersenne), signing in his characteristic semi-literate fashion.[9] Three years later we find him, for the first and last time, established as a merchant on his own account. In this signed document he gives power of attorney to a correspondent in Friesland to collect a debt for the sale of rye from a recalcitrant payer in Sloten. He is called “d’eersame Baltes Claesen.”[10] We will not again find a document in which a member of Vermeer’s own family is called “honorable” until the artist himself was so designated, late in his career, nearly 60 years later (VM 1989, doc. no. 346). I conclude that Balthasar must have been doing fairly well about the time of his daughter’s marriage to Reynier Jansz. (Vermeer’s father) in 1615. His career must have taken a downturn between 1616 and 1619, for reasons that are no longer apparent.

2. 30 November 1617. I referred in my book to the family relationship between Pieter Spierinx Silvercroon, the patron of Gerard Dou, and Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, Vermeer’s patron (pp. 246-247). Pieter Spierinx was the son of Oncommera Monnincx, called Duijst. If we are to believe a scandalous (and probably scurrilous) report of 1617, the relationship was even closer. A certain Ariaentge had apparently asserted that “the estrangement between her [Sara] and her sister Oncommera had arisen from the fact that the son of Oncommera [Pieter Spierinx] had impregnated the daughter of Sara Duijst [Maria Graswinckel] and she, Sara, did not wish to allow the marriage because of the great shame that there would be, all the more as it would be a blood shame [i.e. as being incestuous] .” The marriage of Pieter Claesz.’s parents, Maria Graswinckel and Claes Pietersz. van Ruijven, had taken place two years before the date of this document, on 13 December 1615. The alleged child fathered by Pieter Spierinx could hardly have been one of Pieter Claesz.’s siblings.[4]

3. 8 January 1620. Jan (Geensz.) Thins, the cousin of Maria Thins (the mother-in-law of Vermeer), who had bought the house in Delft where Vermeer spent his mature years and died, empowered his uncle-in-law (“schoonoom”) Abraham Bloemaert to obtain cash for two obligations worth 400 guilders. These obligations had been inherited by Jan Thins from his grandfather on his mother’s side, Egbert van Schonenburch, who was also the father of Abraham Bloemaert’s first wife Jutte (or Judith) van Schonenburch (see the family connections in Chart 3 of VM 1989). The procuration was drawn up in Bloemaert’s house. This is the only document found so far where Thins calls Bloemaert his “schoonoom,” and it confirms the close link, which I traced back to 1604, between the two men.[5]

Another newly discovered document testifying to this close relationship also dates from 1604. On 16 February of that year (Julian calendar), the convent of St Ursula in Utrecht leased 20 morgen of land in Kamerik to Johan Thins living in Gouda, who “has attached his seal to the [charter] .” The seal that was attached was actually that of Abraham Bloemaert.[6] I infer from the document that Johan Thins, who did not have his own seal on hand, was able to borrow Bloemaert’s – surely a mark of intimacy.

4. July and August 1620. In the Confession Books of Amsterdam, the name of the prisoner Pieter Baquelarot, jeweler and goldsmith, born in Antwerp, appears a number of times, during and shortly after the period when Balthasar Gerritsz.’s partners in the ill-fated counterfeiting operation of 1619-1620 had been interrogated. Baquelarot was implicated in another counterfeiting scheme. Miss I. van Eeghen pointed out to me that, in the questioning of 2 July 1620,[7] Baquelarot had confessed that “a certain Balthen who had long [“langen tyt”] been his “knecht” (assistant) had smelted copper and made grossen coins out of it which he had then circulated.” On fol. 30 of the same book, it emerged that this Balthen was none other than “Balthasar Gerritsz.,” Vermeer’s grandfather. That he had been working for a jeweler and goldsmith for some years may explain how he had learned to engrave, stamp, and forge metals for the purpose of counterfeiting coins and, in later years, to make “clockworks and other wonderful inventions” (VM 1989, doc. no. 113). It may possibly be significant, in view of Balthasar Gerritsz.’s known contacts with Delft in later years, that Baquelarot was doing business in the town as early as 1611, when he sold a large ruby there to a man named Octavio, who claimed that the stone contained a defect which had not been there (or had been concealed) when he agreed to buy it.[8] Balthasar Gerritsz. may have accompanied his employer on one or more of the latter’s trips to Delft.

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Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder
Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder are father and son - John and Willem Jan. Willem Jan Hoogsteder (1959) has been the director of the company since 1991. He studied Art History at Utrecht University and at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He obtained his doctorial degree (drs) in 1987. John Hoogsteder (1931) has been dealing in paintings since the late 1950s. He is well known from his television appearance in the Dutch version of the Antiques Roadshow called Tussen Kunst en Kitsch. Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder have a high reputation. They have a name for strictly controlling the quality of their paintings. They have sold paintings to some 40 museums all over the world and to countless private collectors. In addition they organized loans for more than 80 exhibitions staged by international museums.


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