PUBL: Two new articles in ‚Oud Holland‘ (2020, no. 2): Angela Jager – Selling paintings to Sweden / Carrie Anderson – Between optic and haptic: Tactility and trade in the Dutch West India Company’s gold box (1749)

Angela Jager – Selling paintings to Sweden: Toussaint Gelton’s correspondence with Pontus Fredrik de la Gardie – pp. 108-126

This article discusses the contents of four unpublished letters by the painter Toussaint Gelton (ca. 1630-1680), to the Swedish count Pontus Fredrik de la Gardie (1630-1692).

De la Gardie was a member of one of the most powerful and rich aristocratic families of Sweden; his brother Magnus Gabriel was married to the sister of Charles X Gustav. Members of the Swedish aristocracy had a keen interest in Dutch culture, and used the mediation of agents to access it. First contact between Gelton and De la Gardie was presumably established when Gelton visited the Swedish court to paint portraits of Charles X Gustav and his sister, in 1658.Gelton sent De la Gardie a letter in 1665, from his workshop in Stockholm. Its contents demonstrate that the painter was also active as an art dealer. On his way to Amsterdam in 1667, Gelton passed through Hamburg, where he encountered a painting that was stolen from the count’s collection. In the letter, in which he informs De la Gardie of this, Gelton offfers a painting by Frans van Mieris to a mutual contact, and later recommends that the court invite the portrait painter Cornelis Janson van Ceulen. In a third letter sent from Amsterdam in 1668, Gelton offfers the service to send ‘anything’ the count desired from Amsterdam – suggesting a painting he attributed to Henri de Fromantiou. The fourth letter was sent in 1673, from Copenhagen, where Gelton had been assigned to paint a portrait of the newly installed Danish king, Christian V. Gelton worked as a painter at the Danish court until the end of his life. These four letters, therefore, provide rare insights into the relationship between a painter, and his powerful patron.

Carrie Anderson – Between optic and haptic: Tactility and trade in the Dutch West India Company’s gold box (1749) – pp. 127-143

The object on which this essay focuses is a gold document box made by the Amsterdam goldsmiths Jean Saint and François Thuret and presented as a gift to Stadholder Willem IV by the Dutch West India Company (WIC) in 1749. On the lid of the box sits a large nugget of unrefined gold ore, around which are arranged three figures: an African man holding an elephant tusk; an African woman panning for gold; and Mercury, god of trade, who supports a cartouche containing the insignia of the WIC. To the right of the woman, figures extract gold from the earth, while on the left a European merchant holds a small bag of gold, with which he negotiates the purchase of enslaved people. The sides of the box picture the Dutch forts in Africa and Curaçao through which these commodities circulated, while the bottom of the box contains a map of West Africa, the coastline inlaid with gold. The high market value of gold – along with ivory and enslaved people – made the material composition of the box and the imagery on its surfaces a convincing assertion of the Company’s wealth.This essay considers the WIC’s lavishly crafted gold box within the framework of the Dutch-African gold trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it was described in the travelogues by the Dutch authors and WIC employees, Pieter de Marees (in 1602) and Willem Bosman (in 1703). It argues that the emphasis the authors place on sight and touch as essential metrics for the measure of gold’s quality intersects with the visually stunning and conspicuously tactile qualities of Saint and Thuret’s box. Such an approach posits that registers of meaning were constructed through both iconographical and material interventions, which – in the case of the WIC’s gold box – manifests most emphatically in the difffering compositional positions and tactile properties of Mercury and the two laboring African bodies over whom he presides. In the conclusion, the author suggests how this discourse between haptic and optic sensory responses could have provoked conflicting narratives for Willem IV when he held the box in his hands. The box’s imagery – although in dialogue with pervasive Eurocentric iconographies of the period – is simultaneously fraught with anxieties that reflect the WIC’s precarious position on the African coast in the first half of the eighteenth century.
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