A mother-of-pearl plaquette from the Seba collection
Venus with nymph and two cupids by a waterfall In a pearl oyster shell, Venus, a nymph and…
Signed, lower right, in hanging shield:
Dirck van Rÿswÿck invenit et f
This hitherto unpublished plaque by Dirck van Rijswijck is a rare example of his artistic skills. In 1997 41 plaques by him were published. Since then three unknown plaques recently surfaced.
The relative rareness of the Van Rijswijck plaques will not have contributed to his anonymity in later centuries. In his own time the artist was a celebrity, about whom famous Dutch poet and contemporary Joost van den Vondel wrote a poem of praise, in which he compliments the artists, since his output was to be compared by none other, not even the most beautiful Chinese piece of lacquer work that one could imagine. Vondel knew Van Rijswijcks work since both lived in the same street. The poet was inspired by a marble table top, inlaid with mother of pearl and touchstone that is now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum (inventory n° BK-NM-1916).
On the touchstone, Feast table of the Gods – Joost van den Vondel, 1660:
One does not need to travel to China
To plough so many seas
To be in Beijing’s many palaces
To speak to many Chinese
One does not have to seek the Sun’s court
Built by Mulciber
As is spreads though Nasoon’s mindful books
Of glow and heavenly taste
the art no Chinese ever understood
No Nasoon invented
Is found at hand in Rijswijks’ house
in her powerful glory.
(Mulciber is Vulcan and Nasoon is Ovid)
From the poem by Vondel it becomes clear that in the 17th century Van Rijswijck’s output was compared to precious Asiatic lacquer work. It becomes clear that he got his inspiration form imported lacquer work and inlaid pietra dura panels. That Van Rijswijck merely used flowers as a motif fits to the time in which he lived, a time in which the floral style was fashionable in silversmithing art as well as in painting, where the so-called pronk-still lifes were much sought after.
Around 1650 Van Rijswijck started with inlaying touchstone and tropical woods with mother-of-pearl and other shells. At the time Amsterdam was at its peak as a depot in northern Europe for all goods traded by the VOC. This is why one could easily admire lacquer work and acquire exotic shells and scallops. Both were collected but also used in artworks. Melchior Fokkens and Philip von Zessen both mention Dirck van Rijswijk’s studio in their 1664 descriptions of the city of Amsterdam, hence making it into a hotspot for foreign visitors to the city. Cosimo de Medici visited in 1667 an unnamed workshop for mother-of-pearl processing. In a written record of this visit there is made a comparison between pietra dura and the work that was seen in the studio. Most probably it concerns the workshop of Dirck van Rijswijck.
In the same period the Danish scientist Ole Borch visited Van Rijswijks workshop. His description in Latin of this visit to ‘Dirik van Rijswik’ mentions the octagonal touchstone tabletop that Joost van den Vondel acclaimed in rhyme as inlaid with flowers and insects. As far we know today, Cosimo did not acquire a work. However is has become clear that Van Rijswijck had gained the status of a celebrity. Even after his death, his work remained as popular as ever. In 1728 August II, the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, bought a 1654 panel that still can be admired at the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden.
Dirck van Rijswijck was born circa 1596 in Clèves, the son of Pauwel van Rijswijck. His training as a goldsmith he probably had with his father. Around 1620 he was in Antwerp, where he married Jacquelyn Rodriges and had two of his children. Around 1630 he moved with his family to Amsterdam, where he established himself as a goldsmith in the Beerestraat. Although he mostly is mentioned as goldsmith we do not know any piece of jewellery by him. From archives it is known that he remounted agates in rings belonging to Isabella Brant (1591-1626), first wife of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), while he still worked in Antwerp in 1626. Around 1650 he started to manufacture history medals, of which four are still known. From that time he also aimed to make slate or wood plaques and table tops inlaid with mother-of-pearl, coloured bone and marbles, mostly depicting arrangements of flowers, in a vase or as a garland. The artist continues to work in this technique until his decease in February 1679.
Festoons are less common in Van Rijswijck’s ouevre than vases with flowers. Kisluk’s listing gives 11 and two surfaced after her article was published in Oud Holland (1997): one in 2007, today in a private collection, the second the piece discussed here.
Probably Van Rijswijck worked on various plaques at the same time. Motives are the same but no plaque is identical. Special about this plaque is the table underneath the festoon, on which a bowl is laid, filled with fruit and flowering branches. The bowl is present on four other plaques, in slightly different variations, standing on a marble plinth. The table represented here, that is raised on bird’s head legs, is a unique feature.
The little monkey and the bird on a pole appear more often, as well as the festoon. The way the latter is held by a central chain-tied ring is only seen on another, undated plaque, in the Steiermärkisches Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria (pl. n° XLI in the catalogue). Kisluk suspects that the aforementioned plaque is made in the early 1660s; because of the similarity between them we assume this applies to our plaque too.
In old sales catalogues the festoons by Van Rijswijk are sometimes described separately. E.g. Petronella de la Court (the owner of the famous doll’s house) owned Fistonnen in toetssteen ingeleyd door Reijswijck (Festoons in touchstone inlaid by Rijswijck). Unfortunately the entry in her 1707 sales catalogue of Rarities is not clear about this.
Hendrik Twent owned a festoon with flowers, insects and other small animals that was auctioned in 1789; here too, the description is not precise enough to determine which of the plaques we know today is indicated: ‘6 A not less artistic Festoon with flowers, Insects and animals, dito treated and mounted by the same. With Mother-of-Pearl on Touchstone inlaid by D. v. Ryswyck. In an ebony frame.’ (6 Een niet minder konstig Festoen met Bloemen, Insecten en Gedierte, dito behandeld en gemonteerd door denzelven. Met Paarl d’Amour op Toetssteen ingelegt door D. v. Ryswyck. In een Ebbenhoute Lyst).
Another plaque is mentioned in a catalogue of 1774: Sale of the Collection of Paintings of a Lover, Yver, Amsterdam, 17 April 1774 (Veiling van de verzameling van Schilderijen van een liefhebber, Yver, Amsterdam 27 april 1774); The entry reads: ‘397 A festoon with various Flowers, Birds and Insects, very skilled and beautifully inlaid with Mother-of-pearl, Marble, in a Slate Plate’. (397 Een Feston met diversche Bloemen, Vogels en Insecten; zeer konstig en fraay met Perl d’amour, en Marmer ingelegt, in een Leyje Plaat).
The Groningen VOC-trader Jan Albert Sichterman owned a festoon by Dirck van Rijswijck, that is described very precisely in the sales catalogue of his estate’s sale after his decease:
In the Catalogue A beautiful cabinet with beautiful and pleasant paintings […] 20 August 1764, Groningen, lot n° 77: A skillful Painting inlaid with Mother-of-pearl, consisting of a festoon with Flowers: on the table various fruits, Birds, Insects, a chained monkey, etc., by Derck van Ryswyk 1626 (sic), presumably a panel datable to 1676, today in the De Mol van Otterloo collection. (In de catalogus van een fraay cabinet konstige en playsante schilderijen … 20 augustus 1764 te Groningen lotno. 77 Een Konstig met Paerlemoer ingelegt Schilderyetje, bestaande uit een Festoen met Bloemen : en op de tafel verscheiden Vrugten, Vogels en Insecten: een aap aan een ketting, enz. door Derck van Ryswyk 1626 (sic).
It is remarkable that in many cases in which a Van Rijswijck plaque was auctioned it had been part of a collection of contemporary Old Master Paintings. in the case of Sichterman is even was called an ‘inlaid Painting’ (ingelegt schilderij). In Petronella de la Court’s case the plaque was sold together with a collection of so-called ‘rarities’ (rariteiten), including exotic shells.
Art trade, Paris 1950's;
Private collection, France
Daniêlle Kisluk-Grosheide, Dirck van Rijswijck (1596 - 1679), a Master of Mother-of-Pearl, Oud Holland, Vol. 111, n° 2, (1997) p. 77-152
Dirck van Rijswijck (1596-1679), Amsterdam, circa 1660-1665
Touchstone (slate), mother-of pearl, bone and marble, mounted in ebony frame
29,8 x 29,8 cm