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Vermeer's Clients and Patrons

John Michael Montias, the American economist and a pioneer in the economics of art who became one of the foremost scholars on Vermeer, penned the most exhaustive portrayal of the artist and his immediate milieu to date. Montias' seminal research has shown that there was at least a small number of people who acquired Vermeer's paintings during his lifetime or shortly thereafter and that at least one of these, a wealthy collector named Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, may be rightly called a patron. Montias believed that Van Ruijven and his wife, Maria de Knuijt, may have protected Vermeer and his family during his lifetime from the vicissitudes of the national economy.

Below, in alphabetical order, is a list of those individuals known to have owned one or more paintings by Vermeer during the seventeenth century or shortly thereafter, with a brief commentary for each.

Overview of Vermeer's Clients and Patrons

After reviewing all surviving records which concern Johannes Vermeer's professional life, two facts are apparent. First, the artist's paintings commanded relatively high prices when compared to those of the great part of his contemporaries. The price of six hundred livres that a Delft baker thought reasonable for one of his paintings with a single figure is substantially in line with the six hundred livres asked by Gerrit Dou (1613–1635) for his Woman in a Window to the traveling French connoisseur de Monconys. Evidently, a painting by Vermeer had roughly the same market value as a work by Dou, whom King Charles II of England had invited to become his court painter in 1660.

click to hear
  • Nicolaes van Assendelft
  • Willem van Berckel
  • Hendrick van Buyten
  • Jacob Dissius
  • Maria de Knuijt
click to hear
  • Cornelis de Helt
  • Johannes Renialme
  • Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven
  • Herman van Swoll

Secondly, Vermeer apparently sold his paintings to a very handful of affluent individuals who were capable of recognizing the extraordinary quality of his art, despite the fact that his fame was not nearly as widespread as those of the most renowned Dutch masters of the time. However, it appears likely that Vermeer's fame did not reach much farther than nearby The Hague or perhaps Amsterdam.

There is considerable evidence that Vermeer worked for the upper echelon of Delft society. Van Ruijven, his principal client, was a very wealthy Delft patrician who could purchase any paintings he wished without making a dent in his finances. When Hendrick van Buyten, a baker who owned four Vermeers, died, he left the astronomical sum of 28,829 guilders, one of the largest sums that Montias had found in Delft archives.

Even those occasional clients who had acquired only a single work by Vermeer belonged to the upper class. Delft patrician Willem van Berckel was a "Commissioner of the Finances of Holland" and Nicolaes van Assendelft, a Delft regent, was known to have assembled a remarkable art collection that included numerous major Dutch masters. Another occasional collector, Johannes de Renialme, who had frequent dealings in Delft but lived in Amsterdam, was the affluent art dealer. Diego Duarte was a wealthy banker from Antwerp who had a formed a huge collection of paintings. His love for the arts brought him into contact with Constantijn Huygens, a veritable Renaissance man of the Netherlands.

Although the exact nature of Vermeer's relationship with Van Ruijven is subject to debate, it seems likely he had acquired at least some works directly from Vermeer. In fact, Van Ruijven's son-in-law Jacob Dissius had in his home twenty-one Vermeer's at the time of his death that he had inherited from the late Van Ruijven. If we accept Montias' estimate of the total number of Vermeer's painting, from 44 to 54, Van Ruijven had acquired about one-half of Vermeer's entire artistic output.

Montias firmly believed that "the relationship between Van Ruijven and Vermeer went clearly beyond the routine contacts of an artist with a client." Van Ruijven lent Vermeer money. He witnessed the will of Vermeer's sister Gertruy in her own house shortly before her death. More significantly, Van Ruijven's wife, Maria Knuijt, left Vermeer a conditional bequest of five hundred guilders in her will.1 Such a third-person bequest was extremely unusual at the time.

However, the Vermeer specialist Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. has expressed doubts about the exact nature of Vermeer's and Van Ruijven's relationship. "The hypothesis that Van Ruijven was Vermeer's patron, although appealing, should be cautiously approached, for no document specifies that Vermeer ever painted for Van Ruijven. Moreover, no source confirms that Van Ruijven himself had any Vermeer paintings in his possession. While Van Ruijven may have acquired painting from Vermeer, it seems unlikely that he assumed such an important a role in the artist's life as Montias suggests. Should Van Ruijven had been Vermeer's patron, one would expect that Balthasar de Monconys would have visited Van Ruijven himself in 1663, rather than the baker, Hendrick van Buyten, upon hearing that Vermeer had no paintings at home. Similarly, the Vermeer enthusiast Pieter Teding van Berckhout would also have made an effort to see the Van Ruijven's collection in 1669 on his two visits to Delft." Wheelock further states: "While it is probable that some of the twenty Vermeer paintings listed in the inventory of 1683 (the inventory taken after the death of van Ruijven's daughter) came from Van Ruijven, others may have been acquired by (his daughter) Magdalena, Jacob Dissius (his son-in-law), or his (Jacob's) father, Abraham Jacobz Dissius, at a sale of twenty-six paintings from Vermeer's estate held at the Saint Luke's Guild Hall on 15 May, 1677." 2

Nicholas van Assendelft (1630–1692)

Nicholas van Assendelft was a Delft alderman and member of the Council of Forty who had assembled a large art collection containing many of the most important Dutch Masters. His collection included a portrait of himself painted by the fashionable Johannes Verkolje (1650–1693) as well as works by Jan Steen (c.1625–1679), Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685) and Philips Wouwerman (1619–1668). In February, 1677, he was one of the judges who decided upon the disposition of Vermeer's estate, specifically the 26 paintings which the artist Jan Colombier bought from Vermeer's widow, Catharina, to help settle an estate debt with the spinster Jannetje Stevens. In the 1711 inventory of the property of Van Assendelft's widow, "A damsel playing on the Clavichord by Vermeer" by Vermeer was appraised at forty guilders. There is no proof that Van Assendelft bought the painting directly from Vermeer, but this was not out of the question. Van Assendelft can be considered an occasional buyer of Vermeer rather than a client or patron.

Van Assendelft finally became a "Chirurgijn" (Surgeon) and he published on Harvey's new theory of blood circulation. (Compare Van Leeuwenhoek's theory on the same subject). He died on Koornmarktin Delft.3

Willem van Berckel (1679–1759)

Willem van Berckel was an art collector and Commissioner of the Finances of Holland who in the early 18th century had in his collection a "Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, by J. ver Meer." The title may have been a misnomer, for this kind of painting almost always placed Virtue or Psyche in the picture rather than a Venus. According to Montias, if this painting was by Vermeer, it surely would have been executed early in his career to complement the mythological theme of Diana and Her Companions.

Van Berckel's art collection was inherited from his father Gerard van Berckel (c. 1620–1686) a one-time burgomaster of the city of Delft. Perhaps, it was the senior Van Berckel (c. 1620–1686) who had acquired the painting before his death.

Hendrick van Buyten (1632–1701)

Hendrick Ariaensz. van Buyten was a master baker, headman of the Bakers' Guild in 1668, prominent Delft citizen who owned a house on the south side of Choorstraat, possibly also one on Oude Delft. On Koornmarkt he owned another two houses, one on the east side In het Witte Paert (In the White Horse) sold in 1683; one on the west side De Gulden Cop (The Golden Cup) at number 31.4

Van Buyten probably owned at least three paintings by Vermeer. He had hanging on his wall a small painting of a single figure by Vermeer, perhaps the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter or the Woman with a Water Pitcher. In 1663, the baker ("boulanger") presumably told a visitor, the French aristocrat Balthasar de Monconys, that he paid 600 guilders for this painting, a price that seemed to shock de Monconys.

In 1676, Van Buyten received two more paintings from Vermeer's wife, Catharina Bolnes, as a security for a substantial debt for bread of more than 600 guilders after the death of her husband.

the house of Vermeer's client, Hendrick van Buyten in Delft The research conducted by Vermeer scholar Kees Kaldenbach has shown that Van Buyten owned a house on the south side of Choorstraat, possibly also one on Oude Delft. On Koornmarkt he owned two houses, one on the east side In het Witte Paert (In the White Horse) sold in 1683; one on the west side De Gulden Cop (The Golden Cup) at number 31. Van Buyten inherited his wealth. The image shows the former location of the residence of Van Buyten in Delft at De Gulden Cop.

Montias reckons that this sum covered about 8,000 pounds of white bread at the prices of the time, roughly three years' worth of supplies for a household of that size. As it was, van Buyten promised to give the paintings back to Catharina if she paid off the debt and another sum she owed him of 109 guilders, either by installments of 50 guilders a year or, following Maria Thins's death (when Catharina would presumably inherit), at 200 guilders a year plus 4 per cent interest. Van Buyten may have coveted these pictures but he put a high value on them, which showed his generosity to the artist's widow. In 1734 the Lady writing a Letter with her Maid was appraised as being worth 100 guilders, about a third of Van Buyten's estimated price for it. After the baker's death in 1701, the former painting was encountered "in the vestibule" as "a large painting by Vermeer." In another room hung, "two little pieces by Vermeer," described as "two personages one of which the one sits and writes a letter" and" a personage playing on a zither."

Diego Duarte (1612–1691)

In the 1682 inventory of Duarte's collection there were listed more than two hundred paintings by masters such as Holbein, Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck. Duarte was an immensely wealthy banker of Antwerp as well as an accomplished organist and composer. As a discerning art connoisseur he also possessed "a young lady playing the clavecin, with accessories, by Vermeer."

It appears that Constantijn Huygens junior, or senior, may have had something to do with the painting. The younger Huygens regularly visited Duarte and admired his art collection. De Monconys, the French diplomat who had visited Vermeer's studio, had also visited Duarte in Antwerp and was to meet Huygens as well.

Cornelis Cornelisz. de Helt

De Helt was a cooper and innkeeper in Delft. In his estate (May, 1661) was listed a Vermeer painting "in a black frame" hanging in the front hall of the Young Prince Inn. In the following June 14, the painting was auctioned for 20 guilders and 10 stuivers. While this sum was adequate (in 1642 a Delft clothe-worker earned close to one guider a day) for a painting in those years, it does not compare with the sum of 600 guilders which the Delft baker Van Buyten claimed his Vermeer was worth to the skeptical French traveler and aristocrat, de Monconys. The subject matter of this painting remains a mystery.

Johan (Jean) Larson

Larson was sculptor who worked in London and The Hague. In his inventory drawn up in August 1664 was listed a painting described as "a tronie by Vermeer." The painting was valued at 10 guilders. It is possible that he purchased this painting directly from Vermeer on a business trip to Delft in 1660.

In regards to the facility of travel in seventeenth-century travel in the Netherlands the art historian Walter Liedtke remarked,

...how easy it was to travel around Holland and how often people took the opportunity to do so. Yet scholars who have devoted themselves to understanding "scenes of everyday life" by artists such as Pieter de Hooch and Vermeer, and who know a trekschuit [a horse-drawn canal barge] when they see one, have often speculated as to whether one or another person ever poked his nose through the city gate. In the catalogue of a recent exhibition, for example, the fact that a tronie (head) painted by Vermeer is listed in the estate of a sculptor of The Hague, Johan Larson, in 1664 is considered "an important indication that by the mid-1660s interest in [the artist's] works had moved beyond Delft?

How so, when boatloads of people and produce made the same trip
several times a day? For that matter, Larson could have picked up the
painting in Delft (where he...often visited his brother) on
any day that he had a few hours to spare. Or he might have purchased
the picture in The Hague from one of the Delft dealers who,
by registering in their own city's guild, earned the right to sell works
of art once a week in the Binnenhof, which was perhaps the best location for their business in the northern Netherlands.5

Johannes de Renialme (c. 1600–1657)

De Renialme was an art dealer. In his estate he was a painting by Vermeer described as "A Grave Visitation by van der Meer." Its value was assessed at 20 guilders, which is not unreasonable price for a work by a relatively young painter (Vermeer was 24 years old in late 1656). De Renialme worked in Amsterdam but also maintained close contacts with Delft where he bought paintings regularly. He also had a house in Delft and had registered as an art dealer in Delft's Guild of Saint Luke in 1644. When De Renialme died in 1657, he left four hundred pictures, many of which can be found in famous collections today such as Rembrandt's Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. In addition to works by Rembrandt, a great number of notable painters of the past and of the time were part of his art collection including those of Ter Borch, Steen, Potter, Hals, Dou, Rubens, Titian, Bassano, Holbein and Claude Lorrain.

Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven (1624–1674)

Van Ruijven's name is closely linked to the 21 paintings of Vermeer which were sold during the Dissius auction held in Amsterdam in 1669. As Montias has shown, Van Ruijven, a wealthy patrician collector who inherited his fortune from his family's brewery investments, most likely had acquired the bulk of this collection from the artist himself. He is not known to have had any trade or profession.

Van Ruijven died in 1674, about 16 months before Vermeer. It is generally held that Van Ruijven's collection was inherited by Jacob Dissius through his marriage to Van Ruijven's daughter Magdalena. Upon Dissius' early death the entire collection was auctioned in Amsterdam in 1696. However, according to some Vermeer experts, the speculation that Van Ruijven was an intimate patron of Vermeer's work should be cautiously approached.

Beyond financial support and encouragement, Van Ruijven must have offered Vermeer entry into the world of discerning connoisseurs and powerful functionaries that constituted the highest end of the art scene in the Dutch Republic, and that gave access to patronage, fame and other great artists. Nicolaes Paets, the Leiden lawyer who drew up the Van Ruijvens' will, was one such figure; Vermeer's Astronomer may have been owned by the Paets family. The paragon of such enlightened interest was Constantijn Huygens, the long-time secretary to the stadhouders and polymathic dilettante in art and science. Huygens wrote knowledgeably about Netherlandish art of his time, and acted as something of a scout for The Hague circles, brokering Rembrandt's early success at the court in The Hague. No direct contact between Huygens and Vermeer is attested, and yet it is inconceivable that he would not have known of the nearby painter and his patron.

Two luminaries who knew Huygens in The Hague traveled specifically to Delft to seek out Vermeer, presumably on the recommendation of such figures as Spiering or Huygens 1663, the French diplomat Balthasar de Monconys spent much of his visit to the Netherlands vetting the local arts. On a brief visit to Delft he admired the tomb of William of Orange, and he returned a week later just to see Vermeer, possibly having been made aware that he had missed Delft's greatest artistic treasure. The visit was not a success;Vermeer was unable to show his guest a single work. De Monconys eventually saw only one painting, at a baker's (Van Buyten?), and he found the single-figure work excessively priced at 600 guilders. Pieter Teding van Berckhout, a patrician of The Hague with family connections to both the Huygens and Paets families, had better luck. Having traveled to Delft in the company, Huygens, he noted in his1669 diary, he visited "an excellent painter named Vermeer." Whether Huygens joined in the studio visit is likely but not recorded, but Van Berckhout was shown several curiositez. These appear to have impressed him sufficiently to warrant a second visit to the ..celebrated painter named Vermeer;' during which Van Berckhout saw several "curious" work she described as "perspective[ s ]"

What emerges from these tiny glimpses of the great and the good courting Vermeer is a high culture in which access to the latest artistic knowledge depended not yet on museums and exhibitions but on personal introductions, from patrons to painters and painters to patrons. Even in the Dutch Republic, where painters sold their works through myriad channels, from auctions and dealers' shops to fairs and lotteries, some of the most innovative and expensive art remained primarily accessible through private elite channels. Teding van Berkhout's use of the term curiositez for Vermeer's paintings is revealing in this respect, for it evokes the world of the cabinet of curiosities, those pre-modern private museums in which objects of natural history and art were shown in close proximity and meaningful interac tion. In Vermeer's time, the cabinet of curiosities, by then an established type of collection, still preserved the flavor of aristocratic origin.

Mariët Westermann,"Vermeer and the Interior Imagination"
in Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, Madrid, 2003, pp. 225.

More about Pieter van Ruijven

In 1669, Van Ruijven paid 16,000 guilders, an astronomical sum, to acquire land near Schiedam that brought with it the title of Lord of Spalant. His acquisition may be considered as a case of "social rising," a phenomenon which was already under way by the end of the sixteenth century but reached its climax during the economically boom of the decades following the Treaty of Munster. Van Ruijven's father had owned a brewery, "The Ox," on the Voorstraat, which closed down in the mid-I650s. It was one of the many Delft breweries to succumb to out-of-town competition.

Van Ruijven was disqualified from high civic office because of his liberal Remonstrant Protestantism. He married well in 1653 to Maria de Knuijt who brought with her a considerable inheritance. Most likely, her desires must have been taken into account and more than one specialist believes that she may have determined to some degree the choice of subjects in Vermeer’s paintings. The couple eventually owned at least three Delft houses: two were in the Voorstraat and one on the Oude Delft. One of the Voorstraat houses was damaged in the Delft Thunderclap and Van Ruijven claimed compensation for this.

Later the Van Ruijvens moved to the Oude Delft house and though they were living In The Hague in July 16741, they apparently moved back to Delft, to the Voorstraat, shortly before Van Ruijven's death, aged forty-nine, in 1674. Vermeer died one year later. In 1657, Van Ruijven loaned Vermeer and Catharina 200 guilders, perhaps, expecting to receive paintings in return. In 1665, Maria de Knuijt bequeathed Vermeer, excluding Vermeer's wife Catharina, a legacy of 500 guilders.

Montias has argued that Maria de Knuijt ensured that only Vermeer and not his Catholic wife would benefit from it, if Catharina survived him. But it may be too much to read any anti-Papist or anti-Jesuit feeling into this, particularly if Vermeer himself was regarded as a more-or-less converted Catholic; Maria may simply have wanted to assist the artist professional, and not provide funds for his relatives after his death. But the friendship her husband Pieter felt for the Vermeer family seems evident in the fact that, in 1670, he witnessed the last testament of Vermeer's sister Gertruy and her husband, the picture-framer Antony van der Wiel, who were described as well known to the notary and the witnesses.

Please note that there exists absolutely no historical evidence that would suggest that Pieter van Ruijven was a predatory lecher as he was portrayed in the fictional movie Girl with a Pearl Earring, based on Tracy Chevalier's novel of the same name.

Herman van Swoll (1632–1698)

Van Swoll was Amsterdam banker who, at least according to his estate that was settled in1699, had acquired Vermeer's Allegory of Faith. The painting was described in an Amsterdam auction, item 25., as va seated woman with several (symbolic and allegorical) meanings, representing the New Testament by Vermeer of Delft, vigorously and glowingly painted 400-0 " Four guilders hundred was a substantial sum, the highest reported in the seventeenth century for a work by Vermeer..


  1. John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  2. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., "Vermeer of Delft: His Life and Artistry." in exh. cat. Johannes Vermeer, eds. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Ben Broos, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995
  3. Kees Kaldenbach, Nicolaes Assendelft, Vermeer Patron. http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl/dart/d-p-assendelft.htm
  4. Kees, Kaldenbach, Hendrick Ariaensz. van Buyten, Vermeer Patron. http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl/dart/d-p-buyten.htm
  5. Walter Liedtke ed., exh. cat. Vermeer and the Delft School, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, 6–7.

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