Inventories of Amsterdam Art Collections

  • Posted on Mar 15, 2012 by

The Frick Art Reference Library is proud to host the Montias Database of Dutch Art Inventories, compiled by the late Yale University professor of economics John Michael Montias (1928–2005). The database contains information from 1,280 inventories, stored in the Stadsarchief Amsterdam (State Archive), of paintings, prints, sculpture, furniture, and other goods owned by people living in Amsterdam during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This information includes records for the 51,071 individual works of art listed in the inventories and is therefore an invaluable research tool that can help elucidate patterns of buying, selling, inventorying, and collecting art in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age.

Montias database

The Database

Professor Montias began recording details of ownership of artworks from the municipal archive in Amsterdam in the early 1980s. In 1986, he was given a grant by the Getty Art History Information Program (now the Getty Research Institute) to work in conjunction with its Provenance Index. He formally broke with the Getty around 1988, apparently over differences in the selection of material and how it was being presented, but he remained somewhat connected to the institution well into the 1990s. His association with the Frick began late in that same decade.

In consultation with the Getty, Professor Montias defined individual fields into which he transcribed information from each inventory, including where and when it was made and the accession number assigned to it by the Stadsarchief. Particularly significant is the information he included about the owners of works of art: their religion, occupation, address, life dates, and—based on his own additional research—their relationships with other buyers, sellers, makers, and lovers of art.  For each work of art, he transcribed any and all given attributions, variant titles, location of the painting in the house of origin, subject matter, object type, sale price, buyer’s name, and as much about the buyer as possible.

Applications

The Montias Database is a deep and valuable resource that can be used in a multitude of ways that have only just begun to be plumbed. Perhaps the majority of the users are scholars doing research on a particular artist. For those involved in such an endeavor, there are many things to be found. For example, one can see if and when an artist’s paintings were bought and sold, to or by whom, and often, their price.  With combined searching in the database, one can compare and assess the value of works by single artists over time, or compare the value of their works with that of other artists who executed works in the same genre, for example. A researcher can chart the popularity of particular genres of painting over time, as measured by numbers in collections and by the value placed on them. With the fields indicating the room of a house where a work hung, one can determine the importance that seventeenth-century Amsterdammers assigned to particular genres or even particular artists.
 

Montias database screenshot

Record from the Montias Database for the Rembrandt portrait of
Nicolaes Ruts in The Frick Collection.

One researcher at the Frick was studying the market for seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of nudes and their function. With subject matter one of the fields in the database, a scholar can easily search for paintings of nudes that sold, the prices paid for these works, and where they were hung in seventeenth- century Amsterdam homes. Similarly, for an exhibition of paintings by Rembrandt, a scholar from the National Gallery of Art in Washington researched the appearance of Apostles in seventeenth-century Dutch paintings.

For studies on particular subject matter, such as market scenes, one can compare value in relation to other subjects by the same artist, or the same subject by different artists. One can determine which types of subject matter were considered to belong together, such as dawn and sunset, good and bad weather, prudence and folly. Two pictures painted by different artists could even be designated as a pair by their owner and that pairing could be sustained over transfers of ownership.

In addition to references to paintings, statues, prints, and drawings, a little-known aspect of the database is that it contains more than 4,000 references to such works as porcelains, embroideries, carvings, maps, and other once common household objects.  While no one has yet made use of this information, it could be invaluable for scholars working on seventeenth-century domestic interiors.

In the future, other investigations using the database may include determining the subjects of pictures purchased by people in various professions, such as artists or merchants.  In a similar vein, one might undertake a study concerning artists serving as appraisers. The database holds enormous potential for research on collectors for, as stated earlier, Montias added data from research conducted outside the archives. This information helps us to understand social milieus in various cities, just as Montias himself used his Delft material in his well-known book Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History published in 1989. It could also be extremely useful for those doing genealogical research. In fact, the various uses to which the Montias database could be put have yet to be fully mined. We therefore invite you to try it out for yourselves and report back on any interesting finds!

Louisa Wood Ruby, Head of Photoarchive Research, Frick Art Reference Library


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