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Black in Amsterdam around 1650

  • Amsterdam City Archives


Something special was going on in seventeenth-century Holland.Artists were producing vast numbers of paintings and in these black people appeared with some regularity. So who were the models for all of these figures? Is there a connection between the presence of black people in art and their presence in Holland?Recent research has made it clear that there was ample opportunity for artists to work from live models. In the seventeenth century, steadily more people of African descent came to the Dutch Republic as servants (whether enslaved or free) or as seafarers. From around 1630 onwards, a small free black community formed in Amsterdam near today’s Jodenbreestraat, which reached its apex in the late 1650s. This was precisely the period when Rembrandt lived in this neighbourhood, on the Jodenbreestraat; first in Hendrick Uylenburgh’s workshop and from 1639 in his own house, now The Rembrandt House Museum.
Something special was going on in seventeenth-century Holland.
Artists were producing vast numbers of paintings and in these
black people appeared with some regularity. A few Amsterdam
examples from the middle of the century will suce. When
Rembrandt’s estate inventory was drawn up in 1656, his studio,
the ‘Groote Schilderkamer’ (Large Painting Room), contained a work described
as: ‘Twee mooren in één stuck’ (Two Moors in one painting).
A black boy is
depicted on a chimney piece Govert Flinck made that same year for the new
city hall on Dam Square (g. 37). Looking closely at the crowd in Jacob van
Ulft’s 1653 View of Dam Square, a black gure can be detected on the right at
the sh market (g. 38). And when Jacob van Loo painted the Allegory on the
Distribution of Food to the Poor for the Huiszittenhuis (a municipal charity) in
1657, he included a black woman among the poor waiting for bread (g. 39).
The Huiszittenhuis was a kind of seventeenth-century food bank, where poor
Amsterdammers could go for bread and peat.
So who were the models for all of these gures?
In other words, is there a connection between the
presence of black people in art and their presence
in Holland? Recent research has made it clear that
there was ample opportunity for artists to work from
live models.3 In the seventeenth century, steadily
more people of African descent came to the Dutch
Republic as servants (whether enslaved or free) or as
seafarers. From around 1630 onwards, a small free
black community formed in Amsterdam near today’s
Jodenbreestraat, which reached its apex in the late
1650s. This was precisely the period when Rembrandt
lived in this neighbourhood, on the Jodenbreestraat;
rst in Hendrick Uylenburgh’s workshop and from
1639 in his own house, now The Rembrandt House
The beginning of the seventeenth century was a
turbulent period for Amsterdam. The population
skyrocketed from about 30,000 around 1585 to over
200,000 in 1670, less than a century later.4 This
unprecedented growth was the result of a large
migration ow. Protestant refugees and other migrants
from the Spanish occupied Southern Netherlands,
Sephardic Jews eeing persecution by the Inquisition
on the Iberian Peninsula, and countless other
emigrants seeking freedom or employment arrived
in Amsterdam at this time. Large groups from the
German countries and Scandinavia were attracted
to the maritime industry as Amsterdam spread its
wings around the world. Amsterdam’s ships travelled
ever farther across far-ung oceans. Moreover, since
the establishment of the United East India Company
(VOC) in 1604 and the West India Company (WIC) in
37. Govert Flinck, Manius Curius Dentatus Refusing the Gifts of the Samnites, 1656. Oil on canvas, 485 x 377 cm. Amsterdam, Royal Palace
38. Jacob van der Ulft, The Market in Dam Square, Amsterdam, 1653. Gouache, 404 x 491 mm. Amsterdam, City Archives
39. Jacob van Loo, Allegory on the Distribution of Food to the Poor, 1657. Oil on canvas, 260 x 154 cm. Amsterdam, Huiszittenhuis (Amsterdam Museum collection)
1621, this expansion was no longer limited to trade, but
also to the setting up of trading posts and colonies in
Asia, Africa and America, often by brute force. From
the moment the Amsterdammers became active in
these continents, people from there came to the Dutch
city, as political envoys, enslaved servants or sailors.5
It is dicult to determine when the rst man or woman
of African descent set foot in Amsterdam. What is
certain, however, is that as early as the late sixteenth
century there were a few black Amsterdammers. In
1593, 29-year-old Bastiaan Pietersz ‘van Maniconge
in Afryken’ (from Maniconge in Africa) married the
Amsterdam widow Trijntje Pieters. Sixteen months
later their infant daughter Madelen was baptised in
the Nieuwe Kerk near Dam Square.6 Bastiaan would
not have been the rst to settle in Amsterdam,
voluntarily or otherwise.
From the late sixteenth century onwards, more and
more Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal found
their way to Amsterdam. They settled mainly in the
east of the city, near Jodenbreestraat; south of that
street on Vlooienburg; and north, on the city island
of Marken. In previous centuries these Portuguese,
as they were usually called, were actually Jews who
had been forced to live as Christians on the Iberian
Peninsula. In Amsterdam, which was relatively
tolerant of Judaism, many returned to the faith of
their ancestors. With the arrival of the Portuguese,
larger numbers of people of African descent came to
the city for the rst time. From the fteenth century
onwards, enslaved African men and women were
traded on the Iberian Peninsula. Usually they had
to work as domestic servants. For instance, various
Jewish families brought black servants with them to
the Netherlands. In addition, there were Sephardic
families with relatives of mixed descent.
Already in the early seventeenth century, Ernst Brinck,
the later burgomaster of Harderwijk, wrote about his
visit to Amsterdam after a grand tour through the Low
‘Most of the Portuguese, being largely Jews, live in
[Joden]breestraat, and also have a house where they
gather [i.e., holding services in a house synagogue?].
Almost all of their servants are slaves and Moors’.
The oldest registers of the Portuguese cemetery in
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel mention ‘negras,’ ‘escravas’
(slaves) and ‘mulattas’ buried there. On 28 September
1629, for example, an ‘escrava’ of Abraham Aboaf
was buried next to an ‘escrava’ of David Netto.8
Occasionally, black servants appeared before a notary
to give a statement. On 3 August 1612, Domingos, a
‘black slave’ of Dr Francisco Lopes Henriques (David
Farar), declared that he had been incited by a certain
Lijsbet, who lived in a cellar in Jodenbreestraat, to
steal Farar’s silverware and other items.9 On 14 March
1622, 27-year-old Marguerita Fonço ‘moça negra’
(black girl) authorised two Portuguese merchants to
claim her salary from the inheritance of Felipa de Sá,
for whom she had worked for six years.10 On 7 May 1616,
the black sailor Bastiaan from Angola and Lijsbeth
Jans from Angola were wed; the couple’s address was
Vlooienburg, the island behind Jodenbreestraat.11 It
is not inconceivable that the black men Rembrandt’s
teacher Pieter Lastman featured in his history paintings
of 1615-1625 (see David de Witt’s essay) came from this
The presence of black servants in the Sephardic
community can also be seen in Romeijn de Hooghe’s
prints of the Portuguese community from the last
quarter of the seventeenth century. In the print of Huis
de Pinto (g. 40) in Sint Antoniesbreestraat are several
black gures: one standing prominently in a beautiful
costume and the other somewhat hidden behind two
ladies sporting late seventeenth-century fontange
coiures. Also interesting is the print of the pulpit in
the new Portuguese synagogue, in which in the right
foreground behind two white men in discussion – one
40. Romeyn de Hooghe, David de Pinto’s House in Sint Antoniesbreestraat, Amsterdam, c. 1695. Etching, 233 x 278 mm. Amsterdam, City Archives
41. Romeyn de Hooghe, The Pulpit and Inner Sanctum (Portuguese-Jewish Synagogue), 1675. Amsterdam, City Archives
holding a book – is a black man who quite remarkably
does not wear a head covering, counter to Jewish laws
(g. 41).
In addition to this group of servants, there were
also people of mixed descent within the Sephardic
community. When the Afro-European Debora
Nassy was about to leave for the Guianas with the
Portuguese Nassy family, she wanted certication
of her freedom. At an Amsterdam notary’s oce,
David Nassy declared that Debora ‘sijnde een bruijn
vrouwspersoon ofte mulata’ (being a brown female
or mulatto) was a free woman, and in his house ‘in
vrijheijt geteelt & gebooren & als soodanigh oock
opgevoet, sonder dat iemant ter werelt op haer
persoon iets heeft te preteenderen’ (conceived &
born in freedom & and also raised as such, without
anyone in the world having any kind of claim on her
person).12 Like many women of colour, Debora also
worked as a servant, including for Hester Belmonte,
the sister-in-law of Rembrandt’s rear neighbour David
Belmonte. In her will, Sara Moreno, who had migrated
to Amsterdam via Brazil and lived on Houtgracht,
the canal south of Jodenbreestraat, left money and
clothing to ‘haar swartin’ (her black woman) Luna and
her daughter Esther.13
Most of these black servants probably had a
background in slavery, a phenomenon that had no
longer existed in the Low Countries for hundreds
of years. It is signicant that in the course of the
seventeenth century the ban on slavery was explicitly
incorporated in the printed codes of law. From 1644,
under the heading ‘Van den Staet ende conditie van
persoonen’ (on the status and condition of persons)
the legal codes included the following stipulation:
‘Within the city of Amsterdam and its jurisdiction, all
men are free, and none are slaves.’ This was a clear
declaration that the city did not condone slavery,
and that every person was free. The second article
determined how this freedom could be claimed: ‘The
same [applies to] all slaves who come or are brought
to this city and its jurisdiction; [they] are free and
beyond the control and authority of their masters and
[the latters’] wives; and in so far as their masters and
mistresses wish to keep their slaves, and make them
serve against their will, the persons concerned can
arraign said masters and mistresses in the court of law
of this city, where they then shall formally and legally
declare them to be free.’14 This was literally adopted
from an older Antwerp law.15
Freedom from slavery thus applied to everyone in the
city. If someone was held as a slave, that person could
take the owner to municipal court and be declared
free there. The initiative for this lay with the person
who was enslaved. It is not known how often people
took such steps. In 1656, 24-year-old Juliana, who had
come to Amsterdam with Eliau de Burgos from Brazil,
decided to run away instead of move to Barbados
with the Burgos family.16 Occasionally, someone was
declared free at a notary’s oce, such as Zabelinha
from Guinea and her children, who had come to
Amsterdam with Simon Correa. They were granted
their freedom on 30 October 1642.17
While there had been no serfdom or slavery within
the Low Lands’ borders since the Middle Ages, in the
seventeenth century the Dutch rst began to engage
in large-scale slavery abroad. The conquest of north-
eastern Brazil played a crucial role in the settlement
of black migrants in Amsterdam. This important sugar
colony remained in the hands of the WIC for only
a short time, from 1630 to 1654. During this period,
moreover, the Dutch conquered several forts along the
west coast of Africa, the best known of which is Elmina.
This was also the period in which the WIC became
actively involved in the slave trade and the Dutch
even evolved into the most important slave traders in
the world for a few decades. Between 1640 and 1660
at least 164 slave journeys were initiated under the
Dutch ag. In addition, dozens of Portuguese and
British slave ships were seized. The Africans captured
on these vessels were traded in Dutch Brazil, Hispanic
America and the various islands in the Caribbean.
Ship captains regularly took the enslaved individuals
with them to Amsterdam. Already in the 1620s the
later admiral Jan van Galen ‘gave’ his wife Hillegonda
Pieters the ‘morin’ (Moorish woman) Maria.18 Jan
Pick from Angola was only released after the death
of Captain Laurens de Rasiere by the latter’s widow
Aletta Houtums.19 Shipmaster Claes Philipsoon, who
lived on Oude Waal in Amsterdam, had a black boy of
about twelve years old baptised in the Oude Kerk in
1668; he was given the name Dominicus.20
With the increasing activity in the Atlantic World, more
and more black sailors came to Amsterdam. They
made up only a small percentage of the total number
of sailors and were employed by the WIC, the VOC,
the Dutch Admiralty and private merchant shipping
outts. They came from the Cape Verde Islands, São
Tomé and Angola, as well as Brazil (Afro-Brazilians).
Some of these black sailors stayed in Amsterdam for
shorter or longer periods of time; dozens even married,
generally with black partners, most probably (former)
servants. Research conducted in the Amsterdam
marriage and baptism registers brought to light the
emergence of a small community of black sailors and
black women already residing in Amsterdam, with
clearly recognizable key gures, mainly women, from
the late 1620s onwards.
At the time when Rembrandt settled on Jodenbree-
straat, dozens of people of African descent lived in
the area. An important neighbour was Francisca, who
lived with several black men, women and children in a
basement near the Leprozenhuis (Leper House) (g.
42, no. 2). Several notarial deeds regarding Francisca
have been preserved.21 They were prompted by a ght
in front of the residence of the Portuguese sugar trader
Manuel de Campos on Easter Sunday, 11 April 1632.
What exactly had happened before the skirmish is
not clear from the documents, but on Easter Sunday
a group of ve black women and two black men went
to the house of De Campos, who would turn up a few
years later in Brazil. Rocks were thrown and sticks were
brandished, resulting in injury to De Campos’ pregnant
daughter. Two days later, Tuesday, 13 April, De Campos
had several witnesses to the incident testify before a
notary public. The various statements give detailed
information about Francesca’s life as seen through
the eyes of her neighbours. For instance, it appears
that Francesca’s daughter had previously been the
servant of a certain Luis Gomes in Hamburg, but in
1632 they were living in a cellar with several other black
Amsterdammers. Francisca clearly played a pivotal role
in the formation of the black community at that time.
According to one of the witnesses, Francisca would
‘al de swarten die hier ter stede comen, aenhouden in
haer huijs, en koppelen aen Swartinnen’ (‘receive in her
house all of the black men who come to this city and
pair them o with black women.’) The statement given
by her upstairs neighbour also attests to Francisca’s
leading role in the group and in the formation of a
small community ‘dat oock dezelve Francisca in haer
huijs verscheijde swarten en swartinnen ophoudt, haer
doende trouwen & ontrouwen naer haer lust’ ‘that the
same Francisca has taken into her home various black
men and women, pairing them o or separating them
as she sees t.’ The names of several of the inhabitants
in her cellar are mentioned, including the women
Hester and Dina and a man, Franscisco.
Naturally, the statements were intended to discredit
Francesca and her company, yet they also aord
an interesting picture of a black woman who had a
dwelling in a basement in Jodenbreestraat in the 1630s,
and who visited and received black newcomers to the
city. In short, she was a formidable gure who actively
and successfully built up a community. However, this
group also turns up in other archival sources, in which
a completely dierent picture is painted. Francisco and
Anna Fernandes were in the Oude Kerk just two weeks
before Easter for the baptism of their daughter Hester.
42. Detail of the map of Amsterdam by Balthasar Florisz Berckenrode, 1625
1. Huiszittenhuis and peat warehouses
2. Leprozenhuis
3. Sint Antoniespoort
4. Pauwegang
5. Vlooienburg
6. Huis Moyses
7. Rembrandt’s House
8. Ververstraat
Francisco from Congo and Hester from Cape Verde
served as witnesses.22 When Francisco from Congo
had his own daughter baptised nine months later, he
in turn had his mate Francisco Fernandes serve as a
Perhaps the most important source for this community
are the registers of the marriage banns. Before a couple
entered into marriage, they rst had to register at the
City Hall. The aspiring groom and bride gave their
names, place of birth, and local place of residence.
Often, but by no means always, these sources note if
someone is ‘black,’ making it possible to chart where
the black people of Amsterdam lived at the time.
Between 1630 and 1640, at least thirteen weddings took
place between black Amsterdammers, approximately
one in 1500 marriages in this period. All of these people
lived in the immediate vicinity of Jodenbreestraat.
Eight families resided near the Huiszittenhuis and the
adjacent Turfpakhuis (g. 42, no. 1, now the Academy
of Architecture on Waterlooplein), three near the
Leprozenhuis (no. 2) on Jodenbreestraat and one
couple at the end near the Sint Antoniespoort (no. 3).24
In the years that followed, the number of black
Amsterdammers in this area only increased.
Between 1650 and 1670 the vast majority of Afro-
Amsterdammers lived in the vicinity of the Sint
Antoniespoort (no. 3). Sixteen wedding candidates
indicated that they lived inside that gate and another
ve just outside of it. Eight lived in the (Jewish)
Houttuinen, probably in Pauwegang (no. 4), including
Serana and Tegracy Fonse, four on Vlooienburg (no.
5) and another four people in the Ververstraat (no. 8).
The remaining prospective married couples all lived
in the immediate vicinity, except for one couple who
gave Egelantierstraat in the Jordaan district as their
place of residence. This deviating address can probably
be explained by the fact that theirs was one of the
few mixed marriages in this period. Most marriages
were concluded between 1656 and 1661. The seventeen
African ceremonies performed during those six years
constitute a ratio of approximately 1 to 912 marriages in
Amsterdam at that time.25
The various sources reveal that the black people in
Rembrandt’s neighbourhood were in close contact
with each other. When Diogo Antioine and Catharina
Antonis from Angola became engaged in Amsterdam
in 1636, they not only registered their marriage at the
City Hall, but also had a will drawn up.26 Together
with Christoel Capitano, Anthony from Angola and
Francisco from Angola, the couple appeared at the
notary’s oce of Nicolaas and Jacob Jacobs in the
presence of Josias Doria, who served as a Spanish
interpreter. They appointed Christoel, Anthony and
Francisco as their heirs. What personal possessions
they had to distribute is not known, but a year earlier
Christoel Capitano, Diogo, Francisco, Caspar and
Anthonij ‘alle negros ote Swarten’ (all negroes or
blacks) had also appeared at the notary’s oce to
authorise Doria to collect outstanding wages owed
them by a shipmaster named Claes Cornelisz.27
Apparently Diogo and Catharina deemed it important to
keep any possessions or assets within their own circle.
These close ties are also evident from the baptism and
marriage registers. In November 1649 the 44-year-old
Brazilian sailor Pieter Claesz Bruin married Lijsbeth
Pieters from Angola.28 In May 1655 Christoel Dio
wed Catrina Christovi from Angola.29 In the following
years, Christoel Dio witnessed at least ve African
marriages, including those of Serana from Angola
with the Brazilian Pieter Bruin, Bastiaan Ferdinando
of São Tomé with Maria Bastiaans from Angola, and
Lowijs and Emanuel Alfonso with the Angolan women
Esperance and Brancke.30 Serana and Bastiaan
Ferdinando were in turn witnesses to the marriage
of Anthony from Angola and Leonora Fonçeka from
The children from these marriages were baptised
in the Huis Moyses (Moses House), the later
Moses en Aäronkerk, the Catholic house church in
Jodenbreestraat. The church’s baptism registers
from the 1650s show that black parents usually chose
black godparents or baptismal witnesses. Lijsbeth
Pieters witnessed the baptism of Lucia, daughter of
Bastiaan Ferdinando and Maria, as well as of Nicolaas
and Lucretia, the children of Emanuel and Brancke
Alfonse. The sailor Pieter Claes Bruin witnessed the
baptism of Catarina, daughter of Lowys and Esperance
Alfonso, who was baptised on the same day as the
aforementioned Nicolaas. Bastiaan Ferdinando and
Lucia Fernando witnessed the baptism of two black
women of 22 and 24 years old.32
Once again it is striking that the women play a
pivotal role: Francisca in the 1630s, Lijsbeth Pieters
and Serana in the 1650s and 1660s. Serana lived
in Pauwengang (g. 42, no. 4), a narrow alley in
Jodenhouttuinen behind Jodenbreestraat, and
regularly witnessed the baptisms of children of Afro-
Brazilian parents until her death in February 1662.33
Most of these men worked in maritime shipping, but
a sailor’s wages were insucient to support a family
in Amsterdam. Like other sailor’s wives, the black
women also had to work hard to keep their heads
above water. Little or nothing is known about the kind
of work they did other than employment as domestic
servants. Those who had access to a cellar or a small
room could let out beds to migrants or sailors. Most
probably Francisca – who according to Doria de
Andrade ‘receives all of the black people in town’ – also
accommodated such ‘overnight guests’ in her cellar.34
In 1675 the black women Eleonoor Koots and Elysabeth
da Silva declared that Bennite Lala of São Tomé had
rented a room from them in ‘Swarte gang’ (Black
Alley).35 The Swarte Gang was on Leprozengracht near
Turfsteeg. Was it a coincidence that it was called the
Black Alley? Eleonoor, Elysabeth and Bennite were not
the only ones who lived there for a shorter or longer
time. A year earlier, Caterijne Jans from ‘Angolen’ was
buried in the Sint Antonieskerkhof (Saint Anthony’s
Cemetery); she too lived in Black Alley.36
Work as a model or in the theatre may have been
a welcome source of additional income for people
who ranked at the bottom of the social ladder. In the
ledgers of the city theatre from around 1650 (in the
Amsterdam City Archives), regular mention is made
of payments to black Amsterdammers. For example,
on 17 September 1648 12 stuivers were paid ‘to three
black boys’ in the play Lingua: ofte Strijd tusschen de
Tong; those three boys are also listed among the extras
in the printed version of the play. On 5 January 1651,
2 guilders and 8 stuivers were paid to ‘enige mooren
gebruickt in Salomon‘ (some Moors used in [the play]
Solomon).37 This might be an indication of what a
painter’s model could earn.
The question naturally arises as to who the two men in
Rembrandt’s painting are. We will likely never be able
to establish their identity with certainty, because there
are no documents, no receipts, for example, linking the
painting to individuals. Anyone wishing to venture a
reasoned guess, runs into the problem of dating. The
estate inventory with a reference to ‘twee mooren in
één stuck van Rembrandt’ (two Moors in one painting
by Rembrandt) was drawn up in 1656 in what is now
the Rembrandthuis; however, the painting that now
hangs in the Mauritshuis bears not only Rembrandt’s
signature but also the year 1661. Was the painting
made in 1656 while he was still living and working in
Jodenbreestraat, and not signed and sold until 1661,
when he had moved to the Jordaan district? The 1656
estate inventory suggests this. On the other hand, it
is of course possible that Rembrandt painted several
pictures featuring two black men.
Nevertheless, supposing that it is one and the same
painting, then we can assume that the two men
were in Rembrandt’s studio in Jodenbreestraat to be
portrayed in or before 1656. As we have seen here,
there were then dozens of candidates. However, it is
striking, and exceptional, that two men are portrayed
instead of one, as was customary in this genre. Against
that background, two candidates stand out. The sitters
in Rembrandt’s painting radiate a certain intimacy,
from which might be deduced that they are brothers,
or at least closely acquainted. The suggestion is
forwarded here that they are Bastiaan and Manuel
Fernando, two brothers hailing from the island of São
Tomé who appeared before notary De Winter on 19
April 1656. These men, who brought along Jan Sanders
of Guinea as a witness, hired themselves out to the
Admiralty (the Amsterdam Navy) as sailors. In 1657, the
25-year-old Bastiaan married Maria from Angola and
their daughter Lucia was baptised in the Moses House.
The couple gave their address as Sint Antoniespoort,
at the end of Jodenbreestraat, a few hundred meters
from Rembrandt’s studio. Naturally this is hardly
conclusive evidence, but for the time being we cannot
get any closer to an identication. Parenthetically,
the 1656 deed states that Bastiaan and Manuel served
under captain ‘Corderie’. Corderie is a name that does
not occur elsewhere, however Joris (de) Caullerij does.
He was captain of the Utrecht, the ship engaged in the
siege of Danzig in that year. As coincidence would have
it Rembrandt portrayed this Joris de Caullerij in 1632.38
This coincidence proves the rule that while we often
know the names of the white people portrayed, to this
day it remains impossible to identify the black people
in the art of Rembrandt’s time.
The archives are surprisingly generous with the
names of black people, and many black people were
represented in paintings. It cannot be otherwise that
the individuals mentioned in the archives, and others
who remain invisible in them, served as models for
painters in the seventeenth century. For Rembrandt,
the presence of black people must even have been a
fairly commonplace phenomenon. Nevertheless, it has
not yet proven possible to link the names of the sitters
to the paintings. The paintings do reect however the
growing presence of black people in the city. Notably,
as emerges from the archives, the women played
a central role in the small black communities, yet
occur much less frequently in art than children and
men. It also is clear that at least one group of black
people led a rather poverty-stricken yet independent
existence. This too is not reected in the paintings and
prints, with the exception of Van Loo’s picture in the
Huiszittenhuis. In this respect, the archival documents
provide an admittedly fragmentary but much more
reliable picture.
In the archives, we often stumble across fragments of human lives:
declarations, authorizations, or contracts that demonstrate the existence
of a person otherwise absent from the historical record. Many thousands
of Amsterdam men took to the sea in the service of the Dutch East India
Company (VOC), Dutch West India Company (WIC), or merchant marine. This
undoubtedly also applies to black Amsterdammers. Some of them probably
never visited a public notary or served as a godparent at a baptism. For a few
of them, some traces of their lives have been preserved. A case in point is the
married couple Lijsbeth Pieters of Angola and Pieter Claesz Bruijn of Brasil.
Shortly before four o’clock on 23 March 1640, Pieter
Claesz Swart of Brasil entered the oce of Henrick
Schae, behind WIC headquarters on Haarlemmerdijk,
accompanied by Willem de Keijser of Middelburg.
Schae was both a notary and a clerk for the WIC, and
the boundary between his two roles was often blurred.
Thousands of sailors on the verge of departing for the
Atlantic region – territories ranging from West Africa
and Brazil to New Amsterdam and North America –
visited him for various purposes, such as signing letters
and the witnesses to his notarial deeds were white. By
the late 1640s and 1650s, this situation had changed.
In November 1649, when Pieter Claesz was 44 years
old, he registered to marry to Lijsbeth Pieters of
Angola, whom the notarial deed listed as living in
Jodenbreestraat. He probably moved in with her. It
is not clear whether he returned to sea after that or
remained in Amsterdam. What we do know is that
he was in Amsterdam in 1659. In August and October
he was a witness to the baptisms of black children
in the Catholic house church in the Huis Moyses in
Jodenbreestraat. The rst of these children, Pieter –
undoubtedly named after Pieter Claesz – was the son
of Alexander van Angola and Lijsbeth Dames. The
second child – Catharina – was the daughter of Louis
and Esperanza Alphonse. That same day, Nicolaus,
the son of Emanuel and Branca Alphonse, was also
baptized. The witness was Lijsbeth Pieters. She had
also acted as a witness a few years earlier, in 1657, at
the baptism of that couple’s rst child Lucretia, as
well as for Lucia, the daughter of Bastiaan and Maria
Ferdinandes. These are all names of people from the
small black community in and around Jodenbreestraat,
of which Pieter and Lijsbeth had become important
43. Marriage deed of Pieter Claesz Bruijn (44 years old) and Lijsbeth Pieters of Angola, November 1649. Amsterdam, City Archives
of debt to the many local innkeepers, thus pledging
away much of their pay. Both Pieter and Willem worked
for the WIC, and they had accumulated debts of 50 and
100 guilders respectively to Jan Pietersz Santdrager
and his wife Anna Jansz in Amsterdam.
Pieter Claesz Swart was a man of colour. He was a
bosschieter – an able seaman – from Brazil, and in
1640 he was about to embark on a new voyage on the
WIC yacht Goerree. One of the two notarial deeds
that Pieter Claesz signed that day describes him as
speaking the Dutch language prociently. Four years
later, Pieter Claesz was back in Amsterdam, where he
again accumulated a debt to the keeper of a hostelry
in the Jordaan district, this time amounting to no less
than 124 guilders, easily a year’s salary for a seaman.
This time, interestingly, he is referred to as Peter
Claesz Bruijn van Brazilië. (Swart means ‘Black’ and
Bruijn means ‘Brown’.) This is the name under which
he was later known. In January 1644, he went to sea
again, this time on the WIC vessel Mauritius.
At that time, Pieter Claesz was not yet in touch with
the small black community around Jodenbreestraat.
He accumulated his debts in inns for white people,
night at his master’s behest. The joke is that the farmer has never
before seen a black person, notices only at dawn that his passenger
is black, and then thinks he has carried the devil. The butt of the
humour is the farmer, rather than the black man. Comparing dark
people to devils was a trope, comparable, in its so called light-
hearted forms, to the present-day Dutch character of Zwarte Piet
(Black Pete); see Het suynigh en vermaeckelyck coy huys, Zaandyck
1678, pp. 27-28.
67. On the pastoral in Dutch art, see Van den Brink and De Meyere
68. Limon 2017.
69. Veldman 2001, pp. 297-299. It also contained a portrait of a
whore with a black servant.
70. See Ingamells 1992, pp. 120-122 (Flinck), Boers 2007, pp. 229-230
(ornamental stone plaque in the façade of Eerste Leliedwarsstraat
15, Amsterdam) and Hondius et al., n.d., p. 44 (image of the front of
Rokin 64, Amsterdam).
71. Schreuder and Koln 2008, pp. 268-269.
72. Hollstein 2009-2011, nos. 147, 812-815.
73. Hollstein 2009-2011 contains comparable independent studies
of white people (nos. 145, 146, 778, 780, 782, 787-788), of Turks (nos.
817-818) and of a Native American (no. 816).
74. Hollstein 2009-2011, nos. 147.
75. Hollstein 2009-2011, nos. 813-815.
76. Koln 2008, p. 84.
77. Ponte 2019, Hondius and Haarnack 2008. See also Schreuder
78. Koln 2010.
79. On the scientic underpinnings developed in the nineteenth
century, see Bindman 2019.
1. Dapper 1663, p. 586, Montanus 1671, p. 500.
2. Heyning 2008, pp. 44-47.
3. Montanus 1671, p. 499.
1. City Archives Amsterdam (SAA), Archief van de Desolate
Boedelkamer (5072), inv. no. 585, Inventory of Rembrandt’s Goods,
25-26 July 1656, fol. 38r.
2. Kuijpers 2005, p. 288.
3. Ponte 2019.
4. Kuijpers 2005, p. 9.
5. Ponte 2018.
6. SAA, Archief van de Burgerlijke Stand: doop-, trouw- en
begraafboeken van Amsterdam (DTB), inv. no. 406, p. 272, inv. no.
38, p. 342.
7. ‘In die breestrate wonen meest alle Portugijsen, sijnde meest
Joden, hebbende oock in een huys haer vergadering. Vast alle hare
dienstboden zijn slaven end moren.’ Pieterse 1970, p. 91.
8. SAA, Archief van de Notarissen ter Standplaats Amsterdam (NA),
5075, inv. no. 62A, 3 augustus 1612, p. 461.
9. SAA, Archief van de Notarissen ter Standplaats Amsterdam (NA),
5075, inv. no. 385A, 14 March 1622, p. 891.
10. SAA, Archief van de Notarissen ter Standplaats Amsterdam
(NA), 5075, inv. no. 385A, 14 March 1622, p. 891.
11. SAA, DTB, inv. no. 420, p. 172.
12. SAA. NA, 5075, inv. no. 2888, p. 693.
13. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 1556A, p. 512a.
14. ‘Binnen der Stadt van Amstelredamme ende hare vrijheydt, zijn
alle menschen vrij, ende gene Slaven’, ‘Item alle slaven, die binnen
deser Stede ende haere vryheyt komen ofte gebracht worden; zijn
vrij ende buyten de macht ende authoriteyt van haer Meesters,
ende Vrouwen; ende by soo verre haere Meesters ende Vrouwen de
selve als slaven wilden houden, ende tegens haeren danck doen
dienen, vermogen de selve persoonen haere voorsz. Meester ende
Vrouwen voor den Gerechte deser Stede te doen dagen, ende hen
aldaer rechtelyck vry te doen verklaren.’ Rooseboom 1644.
15. Biestkens 1597.
16. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 2271, pp. 764-766.
17. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 1555B, p. 1829.
18. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 576, p. 847.
19. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 2304, p. 20.
20. SAA, Archief van de Hervormde Gemeente, Kerkenraad, 376, inv.
no. 11, p. 366.
21. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 941, pp. 10-19.
22. SAA, DTB, inv. no. 6, p. 333.
23. SAA, DTB, inv. no. 6, p. 356.
24. Ponte 2019, p. 48.
25. Ponte 2019, p. 50.
26. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 414, fol. 377.
27. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 414, fol. 316.
28. SAA, DTB, 467, p. 295.
29. SAA, DTB, 474, p. 393.
30. SAA, DTB, inv. no. 475, p. 410, inv. no. 479, p. 294, inv. no. 479, p.
31. SAA, DTB, 479, p. 278.
32. Ponte 2019, pp. 52-53.
33. Ponte 2019, p. 54.
34. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 941, pp. 10-19.
35. SAA, NA, 5075, inv. no. 4417B, 30 August 1675.
36. SAA, DTB, inv. no. 1194, pp. 190 and 191.
37. Albach 1997.
38. San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
1. SAA, not. Livinius Meyer, NA 5427, dd. 25 okt. 1710. fol. 415-417v.
2. SAA. Notaris Livinius Meyer, NA 5412, dd. 7 jan. 1707, p. 37-42, nr.
6, Testament van D’Heer Daniel Verhoutert & zijn zuster Johanna
(Will of sir Daniel Verhoutert and his sister Johanna).
3. SAA, not. Livinius Meyer, NA 5423 deed 552, dd. 5 December 1709,
p. 1165-1168.
4. SAA, DTB 546, p. 279.
5. SAA, not. Livinius Meyer, NA 5427, dd. 25 okt. 1710. fol. 415-
417v., deed 504, marital conditions Christiaan van Africa and
Willemijntje van de Graaf.
6. SAA, DTB 1103, fol. 18, ƒ 15:- of the Kalverstraat.
7. SAA, Collaterale successie 5046, 14, nr. 294. The widow pays the
20th penning on 1 Oktober 1711.
1. ‘d’Inwoonders zijn pek zwart, zeer lang van gestalte, breet van
aenzicht, met lippen zo dik als een vinger; en woest en onbehouwen
daer en boven van aert.’ Dapper 1668, p. 332. The title of this essay is
a quote from Hondius 1679, p. 364.
2. Wills 2009, esp. pp. 399-405; De Groot 2006, pp. 259-270.
... More recently again, there have been efforts to examine transnational approaches to race through the institution of Catholicism and the cultural lens of religious conversion (Fromont, 2014;Martínez, 2008;Rowe, 2019). We now know that tens of thousands of enslaved people from West and Central African kingdoms were traded to the European coast of the Mediterranean, that there were very different institutions, networks and bodies of thought devoted to this process, and that the communities it created were multilingual and cosmopolitan (Barker, 2019;Brahm & Rosenhaft, 2016;Habib, 2008;Kaufmann, 2017;Otele, 2020;Ponte, 2020). ...
Full-text available
This short article explores the role of medical practitioners from across Europe in the practice of slavery and in the making of early modern race. Medical practitioners were present from the earliest moments of European encounters with African slavery. As the slave trade developed, their participation developed and became more formal. From their role on board ship, to their bureaucratic role in the process of inspecting enslaved peoples, to their practices within colonial administration, the nascent arena of the slave trade depended on a transnational network of medical practitioners. The politics of their expertise linked the practice of slavery with the production of scientific ideas about race. Drawing together the current literature along two lines of theory and practice, I suggest that the construction of the slave trade relied on thousands of such medical encounters. Examining this process reveals a history of enslavement and race as intimate practices, defined in a case‐by‐case manner, by people, rather than systems. Ultimately, I suggest that thinking about medicine and slavery through categories of knowledge and practice provides insight into the intimate and embodied way in which racial categories of difference were constructed.
Full-text available
When visitors to the museum encounter carefully curated displays behind glass, the arrangements they see are the outcome of intense discussions, conversations, and dialogues, many of which span years. In an effort to open up the curatorial process to a broader audience, British Art Studies invited a group of curators and academics to participate in a round table discussion focusing on a case in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s British Galleries containing Chelsea porcelain, which each discussant had seen in person. The display, which served as a case study for pondering the challenges of curating and interpreting race and empire in a decorative arts gallery context, is unusual in that it combines useful porcelain wares such as plates alongside sculptural forms made as art works. Such an arrangement is not typical of decorative arts displays, which tend to separate wares for the table from ornamental sculpture. Even prior to the opening of the British Galleries in the spring of 2020, the case proved particularly challenging to configure, given its location in the central axis of the space devoted to the eighteenth century. An earlier iteration featuring Joseph Willems’s (1715–1766) terracotta sculpture of a Black man holding a mixing bowl in the center of the case prompted questions for the curatorial team of how race figured in the broader narratives of the British Galleries. Save for Josiah Wedgwood’s antislavery medallion, the sculpture marks the only Black presence in the entire suite of galleries. Although the decision was ultimately made to pivot the figure so that it faced north instead of being on axis, the impact of such a slight change in the arrangement prompted a larger discussion about what role the placement of works and museum displays play in propagating or challenging narratives from the past. The coordination or disjuncture between object and label, case height, as well as the visual and spatial relationships established between works within a display became crucial factors in recontextualizing and generating new perceptions in a three-dimensional format. Following the round table discussion, each participant contributed a response to the case, which provided a rich “object” for rethinking the British decorative arts.
Hondius and Haarnack
Ponte 2019, Hondius and Haarnack 2008. See also Schreuder 2017.
NA 5423 deed 552, dd
  • Not Saa
  • Meyer
SAA, not. Livinius Meyer, NA 5423 deed 552, dd. 5 December 1709, p. 1165-1168.
NA 5427, dd. 25 okt. 1710. fol. 415-417v., deed 504, marital conditions Christiaan van Africa and Willemijntje van de Graaf
  • Not Saa
  • Meyer
SAA, not. Livinius Meyer, NA 5427, dd. 25 okt. 1710. fol. 415-417v., deed 504, marital conditions Christiaan van Africa and Willemijntje van de Graaf.
The widow pays the 20th penning on 1 Oktober 1711. NOTES ESSAY STEPHANIE ARCHANGEL 1. 'd'Inwoonders zijn pek zwart, zeer lang van gestalte, breet van aenzicht, met lippen zo dik als een vinger
  • Collaterale Saa
  • Successie
SAA, Collaterale successie 5046, 14, nr. 294. The widow pays the 20th penning on 1 Oktober 1711. NOTES ESSAY STEPHANIE ARCHANGEL 1. 'd'Inwoonders zijn pek zwart, zeer lang van gestalte, breet van aenzicht, met lippen zo dik als een vinger; en woest en onbehouwen daer en boven van aert.' Dapper 1668, p. 332. The title of this essay is a quote from Hondius 1679, p. 364. 2. Wills 2009, esp. pp. 399-405;