Author Topic: Coins in art  (Read 12474 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #45 on: August 29, 2018, 09:23:44 AM »
According to the text in the museum, the title is just 'A Fortune Teller', but I also found another title, 'Preciosa and Doña Clara' with the year 1631, when the painter was about 24 years old, and living in Leyden. That title points to a story by Cervantes, 'La Gitanilla', published in 1613 and soon very popular. It's about a gypsy girl, talented and beautiful, who after many trials turns out to be a countess, etc., etc. This makes sense, for it explains most of what we see on the painting, and it's a popular story of its time.

And then there's the coin, a gold piece that to me looks Spanish or Portuguese with its strong cross in a circle. But I'm sure you know more about the coin and hope you are going to tell me about it.

Portuguese is unlikely. The bars at the end of the arms of the cross were either much larger and triangular or absent on Portuguese gold of this time. Also, Portuguese gold was not an international currency, so it would not often have been around in 17th century Leiden and it wouldn't fit the story, undoubtedly set in Spain.

Spain has a credible candidate that fits the story. Judging from the dimensions of the hand, the 2½ cm gold 2 escudos. See attachment. It was the international gold coin of choice. It must have been around in the port of Amsterdam and in the houses of rich merchants and a settled painter like Rembrandt. The cross seems a bit too large and the bars somewhat too small, though. It is possible that a 22 year old painter could only see the coin from a distance at best and painted it from memory.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Pellinore

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #46 on: September 03, 2018, 10:03:20 AM »
Great solution, this could well be It. Probably it wasn't necessary for a painter to make an exact copy of a coin, it's only a tiny detail of the painting. But I suspect painters with connections would see common valuable coins in his time. And didn't you have popular exchange booklets and pamphlets showing outlines of coins, like this much later almanac part?

-- Paul

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #47 on: September 03, 2018, 11:35:51 PM »
You may be thinking of tariff books or lists with newly tariffed or banned coins. Both were illustrated with very good drawings of the coins. The tariff books were standard possessions for money dealers, probably quite expensive. The banned coin and newly tariffed coin posters were pasted on walls, so considerably more accessible.

There is another option: a coin weight. That's what that too long cross reminds me of. There was a rough sketch of the coin with the same weight on the weight itself and the painter could have been told that it was "like the real coin".

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Pellinore

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #48 on: September 04, 2018, 01:26:09 AM »
Quite possible, copying from weights! But we don’t know hoe much a large painting was sold for. Could well be several gold pieces.

— Paul

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #49 on: September 04, 2018, 12:23:20 PM »
In principle, I think paintings were not so expensive. Two pieces of evidence.
  • High quality painting owners. There are well known painting collections of the 17th and 18th century. There are even paintings of painting collections, showing high-ceilinged, stately rooms with walls covered top to bottom with paintings. Remarkably, we often know little about the collectors and much more about their paintings, including famous Rembrandts and Van Dykes. Visit stately homes in the UK and you get another indication: loads of family portraits of very decent quality. Also, note that the huge Rembrandt collection of the Hermitage came to Russia in the luggage of Dutch migrant merchants.
  • Famous painters would employ trainees who would do the large surfaces, while the master would fill in details. They would sometimes also make multiple copies of a painting or even do a whole painting that would be sold with the name of the master (hence the "school of Rembrandt" paintings, sadly including my beloved "Man in a golden helmet".) It all points at a "high turnover, low price" strategy. In other words, famous painters worked more like supermarkets than like specialty shops.
Ironically, the worst paintings may have been the most expensive: the line-ups of the directors, the bosses, the members of the guild or the supervisors of the orphanage. They would be painted on order, with the subjects, not the painter, deciding the lay-out and in one single copy only. A painter would have considered those orders a necessary evil, a source of easy money and there were (long forgotten, but very popular in their time) painters who specialised in such group portraits. The best deal would have been for court painters like Velázquez or Van Dyke, who could count on selling hundreds of cheap copies of a portrait of the king.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Pellinore

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #50 on: September 07, 2018, 09:59:03 AM »
Maybe paintings were not so expensive. But you could not buy one for a few coppers. I read somewhere randomly (in Dutch, see footnote 35) that a lottery in the Dutch city of Haarlem, 1634, contained a number of second-hand paintings valued between 8 gulden (guilders) and 107 gulden. A painting by Adriaan van Ostade, a then still living very good painter but not of the highest order, was valued 30 gulden.

If you use the online calculator of the International Institute for Social History (IISG), you find that 8 gulden of 1634 purchase the same as 92 euros of 2016. Not illogically, nowadays this is an amount that can get you still a cheap but reasonable second-hand painting. And 8 gulden of 1634 is more than a golden ducat - you know more about this than I do.

So I think Lievens was paid several gold coins for a commissioned large painting.

-- Paul

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Coins in art
« Reply #51 on: September 07, 2018, 07:23:47 PM »
Sure. Point taken. Some paintings are cheap, some are expensive. BTW, a gold rider was around 14 gulden. I wasn't arguing that Lievens couldn't possible have seen gold coins, but rather, I was trying to explain the odd cross.

It also depends on how Rembrandt and Lievens arranged payments. If they left the bookkeeping to a "rentmeester" they would see the difference between cost and turnover. Cost were high, as famous painters didn't shrink from grinding precious stones for paint. If they did the finances themselves, they'd see payments and pay costs, which is a different story. IIRC, daddy Van Uylenburg did the finances for a while. Maybe that's why Rembrandt was rich for a while. ;)

I love and admire those very long statistics series. You shouldn't take them too seriously, though. They are fun attempt to get insight in people's standard of living and they are fit for that purpose. However, a long run comparison is tricky. I won't bore you to sleep with technical details, but consider this as an example: inflation is measured by the price of a basket of common necessities. The problem is that in 1635, different goods were daily necessities. In 1635, there was no demand for toothpaste, rice, soft drinks or batteries. Today, there is little demand for candles, brooms and peat.
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.