Marlise Rijks: Artists' and Artisans' Collections in Early Modern Antwerp. Catalysts of Innovation, Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers 2022, ISBN 978-1-912554-05-8, 140.00 EUR
Buchcover von Artists' and Artisans' Collections in Early Modern Antwerp
rezensiert von Christina Anderson, University College London

This is an admirable first monograph, richly detailed and enthusiastically researched and written, focusing on the inventories of artists' and artisans' possessions in early modern Antwerp. The author acknowledges that her volume builds on the well-known work of Eric Duverger, whose partial transcriptions of archival documents relating to the ownership of art in seventeenth-century Antwerp, in particular of probate inventories, has been published as the multi-volume Antwerpse kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw (1984-2009). [1]

The inventory, alongside the biography, has for a long time been the fundamental source for the historical study of collections, especially in the West. In recent years, nonetheless, there has been much worthwhile work in the field that seeks to expand the sources upon which our understanding of collections is based through interdisciplinary and comparative research. This includes, for example, the use of such non-Western sources as early modern Japanese tea diaries that provide insight into the emotions conjured by collections, even specific objects such as the tea-leaf storage jar known as Chigusa. [2]

In her book, Rijks returns to the inventory as a source of primary importance to the study of collecting. Yet, though "collections" is in the title, she more accurately develops the analysis of the inventory into a complex broader study of the material culture of one of the early modern period's premier entrepôts and centres for the production of luxury goods. Looking specifically at the goods in the residences, workshops and offices of artists and artisans in early modern Antwerp (from painters to apothecaries, grocers, goldsmiths, jewellers and printers) allows her to shine light not only on the types of materials, objects and images found there, but also on their symbolic meanings and uses, and the social networks within which they circulated. She presents artists and artisans as both producers and consumers. This approach underpins her central thesis of the growth in "process appreciation" and a "knowledge culture" in Antwerp during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The subject matter raises three obvious questions. First, how many of the items in any given inventory constitute "stock" and how many belong to a "collection"? Related to this, and in the specific case of artists' possessions, how many of these pieces might have served as "props"? Although the author alludes to these questions, especially in the final chapter, she doesn't address them fully. Reference to some of the literature on the topic of stock versus collection, for example Furlotti's Antiquities in Motion of 2019 [3], would have been helpful in providing a broader European context for what was happening in Antwerp and in explaining the purpose of some of the objects found in the inventories, as well as their locations in the rooms indicated.

A second connected question, particularly in relation to the collections of artists, is how did the collecting practices of artists form part of their creative processes? That artists created (and create) collections was not new or limited to those working in Antwerp. This is something that occurs across many periods in many locations. The 20th-century collection of the late Chicago-based artist Roger Brown, for instance, very clearly demonstrates this. His former home and studio, now known as the Roger Brown Study Collection and belonging to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, displays the artist's collection as he installed it. The section on painters' collections would have benefitted from an awareness of and reference to this widespread practice across time.

A third issue that could have been dealt with more fully is at what point a "possession" becomes part of a "collection"; in other words, how one determines when something was acquired for utilitarian reasons and when it was "collected" for the purposes of study, sociability, etc. Although three or four of the "foundational" texts in the study of collecting are included in the bibliography, the book makes little reference to the vast scholarship on collecting, missing an opportunity to ask more difficult questions of the source material, and giving the impression that the author considers much of what was happening in Antwerp as unique. Again, more fleshed-out comparisons with other parts of Europe would have been helpful, although the author rightly considers the early 17th-century paintings of preziosenwanden and collectors' cabinets as phenomena unique to Antwerp.

The author excels when she writes about particular materials that are underrepresented in scholarship. For example, she presents a fascinating examination of wax - where it came from, where it was sold, how it was manipulated, who purchased it, etc. This occurs in the chapter on apothecaries and also provides an occasion to feature a woman, Maria Kegelers, in an otherwise male-dominated history. Additional women (Suzanna Scholiers, Elizabeth Haecx) are mentioned as "amateur distillers" in this chapter.

Similarly, the author's fascination with counterfeit gems shines through in the chapter on goldsmiths, silversmiths, and gems. This chapter also features one of the few photographs of objects. Most of the illustrations in the book are of contemporary paintings and prints and while these enrich the text greatly, images that provide details of the actual materials the author discusses would also have been welcome. A microscopic view of the difference between a natural and counterfeited emerald, for example, would have been helpful. Similarly, with so many words in the text given in the original Dutch with an English equivalent in parentheses or vice versa, it would have been useful to have had a glossary for easy reference, particularly for students new to the study of this period and/or early modern Dutch.

16th- and 17th-century Antwerp - in both its 'golden' and 'silver' ages - has justifiably been garnering more attention in recent years from scholars working in a number of different fields. What this volume does best is combine the information from the chosen inventories with a range of mostly secondary sources that explain everything from the visual interpretation of images to the processing of various kinds of materials and the extended familial relationships within a particular profession. It is relevant to researchers in an array of subjects and opens fascinating avenues for much further research. The author is greatly commended on producing this very handsome and timely volume.


[1] Erik Duverger (ed.): Antwerpse kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw, Brussel 1984-2009 (Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 14 vols).

[2] Louise Allison Cort / Andrew M. Watsky: Chigusa and the art of tea, Washington, D.C. 2014.

[3] Barbara Furlotti: Antiquities in motion: from excavation sites to Renaissance collections, Los Angeles 2019.

Christina Anderson

zurück zu KUNSTFORM 24 (2023), Nr. 5

Empfohlene Zitierweise:

Christina Anderson: Rezension von: Marlise Rijks: Artists' and Artisans' Collections in Early Modern Antwerp. Catalysts of Innovation, Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers 2022
in: KUNSTFORM 24 (2023), Nr. 5,

Rezension von:

Christina Anderson
University College London

Redaktionelle Betreuung:

Anna K. Grasskamp