408 The iconophile Sephardi in me

Do you feel kin to people who lived in your house in the past? Schwartz indulges in the exercise, finding out that he is the successor to members of an intertwined Sephardi clan of jewelers and merchants in diamonds and pearls, members of which were Rembrandt’s next-door neighbors, while another commissioned a staggering Antwerp painting he has studied.


The house in Maarssen where Loekie and I have been living since September 1968, De Boomgaard (The Orchard), belonged from 14 July 1685 until 22 January 1771 to a succession of Portuguese Sephardi Jews: Jacob Athias, Abraham Salvador, Joseph and Aron Capadoce, Abraham Teixeira de Mattos. After performing desultory, unsuccessful searches on them through the years, this month I finally came into outstanding information about the first two, which to my pleased astonishment led into two of my great preoccupations in seventeenth-century life: Rembrandt and kunstkamer painting.

On 14 July 1685 Jacob Athias bought the house from the heirs of Anna Pietersz Ravens, the widow of Paulus Egbertsz Sonck, a captain in the States navy who commanded the Amsterdam at the battle of Scheveningen in 1653. Jacob lived here until his death in 1690, after which the next recorded owner, in 1693, was Abraham Salvador.

We know this from the documents that the seller handed us when we signed the sale agreement. It contains original deeds from 1722 on, preceded by a summary of ownership and prices starting on 19 May 1643. It has all been scanned by the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Vecht en Venen in Breukelen, and was on their website last week, but is now unfindable. Enquiries to follow.

Athias is the family name of a major figure in Dutch Jewish publishing, Joseph Athias. The thought that, as a Dutch(-American) Jewish publisher, I might have a tie with him, as fanciful as it might be, flattered my vanity. Now I know that the tie is real. Jacob was not only Joseph’s cousin but also his brother-in-law. Joseph surely visited De Boomgaard in the 1680s and ‘90s.

In 1660 Jacob married Gracia Duarte, and in 1663 Joseph married her sister Isabel. This I found out from a seminal article of 1978-80 by Edgar Samuel, an article about a third brother-in-law, Manuel Levy, Jacob’s business partner. Manuel married, also in 1660, Constantia, a sister of Gracia and Isabel. In that year, they invested their dowries in the firm Athias & Levy, a mid-level operation, mainly in diamonds and pearls. It was run from a house on the Oude Schans in Amsterdam that was not only their office but also where both men lived, with their families. When the father of the three girls died in 1661, Manuel took the family name Duarte as his own.

From Edgar Samuel, “Manuel Levy Duarte (1631-1714): an Amsterdam merchant jeweller and his trade with London,” Transactions & Miscellanies (Jewish Historical Society of England), 1978-1980, vol. 27 (1978-1980), pp. 11-31. Available on JSTOR.

The firm did extensive business with London, which Manuel visited for the first time in the year of his marriage. “On each trip to  London,” writes Samuel, “Manuel Levy Duarte engaged in a profitable two-way trade with established Portuguese Jewish merchant jewellers, who supplied the London goldsmiths with polished gemstones. He bought rough diamonds imported from India and sold pearls, finished jewels and polished gemstones manufactured in Amsterdam.” They were canny businessmen, and were able to work with reliable profits at a low margin of about nine percent thanks to their standing arrangements with a number of clients and other players. Their foremost private client was “Olympe Mancini, the Countess of Soissons, the niece of Cardinal Mazarin, a former favourite of Louis XIV and the mother of Prince Eugene of Savoye.” Wow! On the business side their main relation was indeed a relation – a cousin of the Duarte sisters, Luis Alvares.

Edgar Samuel’s article also enlightened me about the following owner of De Boomgaard. Abraham Salvador, it turns out, was the son-in-law of Manuel Levy, and even more successful in the same line of business. In 1684 he married Rachel Duarte, the only child of either of the partners, in another of those merger marriages that the Sephardim inflicted on their children. So close was the tie between Manuel and Jacob that Jacob, who lost his wife Gracia in 1682, bequeathed half of his rich estate to Rachel upon his death in 1690. This could explain the puzzlement of the drafter of the early history of De Boomgaard: in the housing tax records dated 19 May 1693, he wrote, Abraham Salvador was given as owner, “although no bill of sale or other ownership document is to be found.” That could be the case if Abraham and Rachel had inherited the house as part of Jacob’s estate. Whatever commercial reasoning may have underpinned this move, such as keeping the capital in the family firm, I find it touching.

I then turned to my main source of information on the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, Mirjam Knotter of the Jewish Museum. Maarssen was a nice place for a country house, but wealthy Sephardim all had their main residence in Amsterdam, and I asked her what she knew about my guys. She told me that she has the strong suspicion that Abraham and his brother Jacob were the sons of Salvador Rodrigues, the next-door neighbor in the Sint Antoniesbreestraat of no one less than Rembrandt van Rijn. The documents on Rembrandt’s house, from 1639 to 1660, specify that it is bordered on the east by the house of Salvador Rodrigues, in 1660 of his heirs. So Abraham, who was born in 1635, may have visited Rembrandt as a child and young man, thirty-five to fifty-five years before he came into possession of De Boomgaard.

Lucas Vorsterman, Gaspar Duarte, 1657, with encomium by Constantijn Huygens
Engraving on paper, 32.8 x 32.7 cm
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (RP-P-1944-1127)

My greatest thrill in this self-indulgent exercise in vicarious transhistorical sentimentality is the discovery that my house was the country home of a Duarte – Rachel Levy Duarte, the wife of Abraham Salvador. Rachel’s mother Gracia was the niece of one of the most culturally prominent Sephardim of all times, Gaspar Duarte (1588-1653). Duarte’s father Diego had moved from Lisbon to Antwerp when Gaspar was still a child. In Antwerp Gaspar, sometimes flemicizing his name to Deweert, lived as a Catholic, without making a secret of his crypto-Jewishness or concealing his family and business ties to his Jewish relatives, including his sister and brother – the father of the three girls – in Amsterdam. With his trade in diamonds, pearls and jewelry, Gaspar was one of the richest men in the city. At his house on the Meir, housing an art collection of two hundred paintings by impressive names (what do you think of the first Vermeer to be found outside the Dutch Republic?), he held outstanding concerts, some on custom-made keyboard instruments by the best builders of the time. The Dutch courtier and art lover Constantijn Huygens, who was a lifelong friend of the entire family, said that the music he heard there was performed better than at a concert by Monteverdi he had attended in Venice. Huygens was also involved in the purchase from Duarte by Stadholder Frederik Hendrik of a diamond jewel as a wedding present to Frederik Hendrik’s daughter-in-law Mary Stuart, daughter of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, upon her wedding to Frederik Hendrik’s son Willem in London in May 1641. I cannot help thinking that this had something to do with the visit by the young couple, with the father of the groom and the mother of the bride, to the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam in May 1642.

Gaspar was an active member of the venerable Antwerp rhetorical society De Violieren (The Violets), attached to the painters’ guild, the Guild of St. Luke. And this brings me to a source of astonishment that since I found out about it last year I am still absorbing. In the 1990s I discussed in lectures and articles a remarkable allegory of the art of painting, one of the earliest kunstkamer paintings, a painting of art works in a salon or gallery. Kunstkamer painting was the subject of my aborted dissertation, and is even more precious to me than Rembrandt.

Frans Francken II, Allegory of sacred painting, or Pictura sacra, late 1610s
Oil on panel, 112 x 148 cm
Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum (53.481)

This painting, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, I discussed as an incunabulum of the genre, exemplifying what I see as its main function: not the glorification of art or collecting, which are the usual interpretations, but the defense of sacred art against charges of idolatry. In a lecture on kunstkamer painting that I gave at the American Academy in Rome in 1991, I showed the painting, commenting: “Take this painting by Frans Francken II in Budapest which probably dates from 1616. It may be an allegory of Pictura, the personification of painting, but so what? Obviously, Pictura has been put in the service of greater ends than the professional aggrandizement of the artist. In Francken’s painting, where the studio is halfway to a musical heaven, and the very pigments are ground by angels, everything is holy. All the subjects are sacred, and the artist has nothing on her pure mind but the glory of God.”

In 2002 the Flemish art historian Danielle Maufort made a discovery about which I only found out last year, from the catalogue of the exhibition De Francken dynastie, in the Musée de Flandre in Cassel. (In her entry on the painting, she complains that her discovery of twenty years earlier had been ignored. It was not ignored in the magnificent exhibition catalogue of Flemish painting  held by the Budapest museum in 2019-20, which I could have noticed earlier but didn’t.) “In the center foreground, on a half-rolled sheet of parchment, stands the name ‘Duarte.’” This astonishing painting, unique in its sort, seems thereby labelled as a commission to Frans Francken by Rachel Levy Duarte’s great-uncle Gaspar. Gaspar preceded Cornelis van der Geest, the patron of the other great kunstkamer painter Guillam van Haecht and his fellow member of De Violieren, in developing the genre.

What are we to make of this? Is Gaspar protesting too much against the suspicion that his dedication to Catholicism is feigned? Is he demonstrating that he has overcome the Jewish as well as the Protestant rejection of sacred art? Perhaps in part, but I cannot believe that the eloquent message of this painting – the bestowal on the art of painting of divine blessing – was not sincere. Even if Gaspar Duarte died thirty-seven years before Rachel inherited De Boomgaard, I take him up in my little imagined community of housemates.

© 2022 Gary Schwartz. Published on the Schwartzlist on 21 August 2022.


Readers of Schwartzlist 407, on the pretense that a copy of Rembrandt’s Syndics was painted by the master himself, are invited to look at the column again, to which I have added the smoking gun – a photo of the stamp on the back of the canvas certifying that it is a copy made in the Rijksmuseum.


Loekie and I are enjoying the summer at home. A wonderful treat was the visit of my youngest sister, her husband, daughter and son-in-law, and the daughter of my other sister, with her husband and two daughters, joined by a newly discovered cousin from Stockholm and his partner. With our own children and grandchildren, we enjoyed ten days of warm family naches.


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12 thoughts on “408 The iconophile Sephardi in me”

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I only knew about Gaspar Duarte from the jewel he sold to Frederik Hendrik for the wedding of William and Mary Stuart, but that was the only thing I knew. This goes into great depth. Much appreciated!

      1. My own historical sensation is that I used to live on Oudeschans for 16 years. Keep the feeling coming…

  2. I wonder if Francken painted himself or any Duartes into this amazing picture. Or is that verboten?

    1. Not verboten, Bill. THere are kunstkamer paintings with the owners and their families painted in. But not this one, in which even the paintings within the painting are inventions by Frans Francken.

  3. Keep these intriguing discoveries coming. A home meant to be with stories to tell, no mere nostalgia but enlightening contributions!

    1. Yeah, Penny, too bad about our house on Alonzo Road, in which future dwellers will not be able to sleep in our old rooms.

  4. Fascinating. Think of all the houses you could have chosen, but that beautiful place in Maarssen was meant for you! Thanks for sharing this glimpse of history.

  5. De verbouwing in 1722 werd blijkbaar gedaan door meester timmerman Francisco Bracco, blijkens een Amsterdamse notariële akte.
    “Compareerden voor mij Johannes van Vilekens Openbaar Notaris, ter presentie van de nagenoemde getuigen, de heer Joseph Capadoce ter eenre en Francisco Bracco, mr timmerman ter andere zijde, beide wonende binne deze stad (Amsterdam) ende verklaarden zij comparanten met de anderw een conditie of accoord van een bestek van drie huizen volgens tekeningen daarvan gemaakt te maken of te timmeren op de eerste comparantes plaats genaamd den Bogaert staande en gelegen tot Maarsen op de manier hiernavolgend, te weten, etc.”
    De hele verbouwing was begroot op 5000 gulden te betalen in drie termijnen.
    De link: https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/deeds/d837ae03-bc13-6b6d-e053-b784100acdee?person=e5bd42d1-f241-19f9-84f3-dd0c29afb8e1

    1. For non-Dutch readers, Ton Thielen located the agreement between the man who rebuilt our house in 1722, Joseph Capadoce, and the contractor who took on the job, the Amsterdam carpenter Francisco Bracco. Until then, De Boomgaard was one house, but with this commission it was split into three. More will be coming, but for now I can’t say how grateful I am to Ton.

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