PUBL: ‘Rembrandt’s insolvency: The artist as legal actor’ by Dave De ruysscher & Cornelis M. in ’t Veld (in: Oud Holland 134-1, 2021, pp.9-24)

Article Abstract: The life of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) has received considerable attention and, moreover, his filing for ‘bankruptcy’ in July 1656 has been re-examined. Especially Paul Crenshaw distilled – from a detailed analysis of the archival materials – a picture of Rembrandt reluctantly fulfilling obligations and transgressing the edges of what the law or custom allowed. Recently, in 2019, Machiel Bosman published his view on Rembrandt’s bankruptcy, arguing that the master staged his own insolvency to protect his family.

The present article argues that the legal dealings of the artist did not usually go beyond the norms of his days, and that the artist was very well aware of the legal rules.

Rembrandt was a meticulous entrepreneur, who used the legal framework to its utmost advantage, but without breaching its rules. His most controversial act certainly was the assignment (‘beweysinge’) of his house to his son Titus in May 1656, weeks before he filed for ‘cessie van goede’ with the High Council. This assignment at the Orphans Chamber is generally considered as a conveyance of the house. However, from legal doctrine, the course of affairs in Rembrandt’s case, and from similar assignments available in the archives, follows that the assignment must be regarded as a promise and collateral swap, rather than a conveyance. Therefore, the assignment cannot be considered as an intended deflection of creditors.

The same ambivalence is apparent from the application for ‘cessie’. When filing for ‘cessie’, Rembrandt knew that he was able to retain control and that there was a chance that the house was not sold publicly. In the Netherlands, in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, morals required debtors to pay their debts – Rembrandt did not care about this. But in legal terms, condemnable acts were rare. All this asks for an appraisal of Rembrandt, not only as entrepreneur in an economic sense, but also as a legal actor manoeuvring through the law.

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