Coins in a museum - a 17th century collection

Started by Pellinore, January 28, 2022, 11:37:22 PM

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Pellinore

In the past I showed several coins I photographed in museums in Europe. It's a hobbyhorse of mine: looking at coins in non-numismatic museums. And I so much love museums dedicated to one person, or centering on one family. We were in Antwerp in a late Renaissance house that had belonged to a mayor of the city, Nicolas Rockox Junior (1560-1640). A museum was made of it, combining it with an adjacent painter's house, Frans Snijders. But the Snijders baroque paintings were a bit too strong to my taste: 'vanitas' food paintings filled to the brim with dead fishes and other animals about to be eaten.

However, Nicolas Rockox collected curios of strange countries to put into wonder cabinets, following the ways and manners of his time. He was a friend of the painter Rubens and there were many adorable Rubens paintings in the house. Also, we saw a fantastic Ortelius atlas with classical maps showing the Roman empire, here's a part of the Europe map.

There was a small collection of ancient coins - and that's a collection of the beginning of the 17th century! I believe there is a catalogue, but I just made two photographs, as usual in museums under oblique angles. At home, I cut the photos into pieces and here they are.
If you want, I can show other parts of the Europe map, and some coins at larger sizes.

-- Paul

Pellinore

And the last three pictures.
-- Paul

Tirant

Incredible!! I've always had the thought that collecting coins is such a "modern" hobby. Great to see that it happened 400 years ago, even though it maybe was reserved for rich people. I'd like to know how did mr. Rockox get those coins, and how did they "survive" those 2000 years without being melted.

Pellinore

Quote from: Tirant on January 29, 2022, 09:46:19 AM
Incredible!! I've always had the thought that collecting coins is such a "modern" hobby. Great to see that it happened 400 years ago, even though it maybe was reserved for rich people. I'd like to know how did mr. Rockox get those coins, and how did they "survive" those 2000 years without being melted.

I think there were keepers and sellers of coins and antiquities at all times, especially in the Renaissance when scores of rich people developed a taste for the tangible signs of Classical civilisation. Many a spade must have been stuck into the dark soil of ruin towns also in those days.

Probably, Tirant, you will like the Spanish part of the Ortelius map I photographed, I think it is quite beautiful.

-- Paul

Figleaf

Tellingly, Ortelius got the West coast of Spain right, but flunked the East coast. Northern European trade and warfare was concentrated on control of the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean, with Spain in control of the rock of Gibraltar and the "Barbary pirates" making armed escorts needed but a dangerous game while the Spanish Habsburgs were still claiming their "Burgundy inheritance". It would take the battle of Lepanto in 1571 before even coastal states like Spain and Venice would feel sort of safe in the Mediterranean.

What strikes me in the collection of the painter you photographed is the high grade of the coins. I guess the painter was interested in the details of the portraits and the shadows that created such a lively impression in order to help him paint better portraits.

As for the antiquities trade, I would venture that it was a direct descendent of the medieval thirst for religious relics, developing and widening during the renaissance to meet the interest in classical Greece and Rome of that time.

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

Pellinore

Quote from: Figleaf on January 29, 2022, 11:18:18 AM
What strikes me in the collection of the painter you photographed is the high grade of the coins. I guess the painter was interested in the details of the portraits and the shadows that created such a lively impression in order to help him paint better portraits.

As for the antiquities trade, I would venture that it was a direct descendent of the medieval thirst for religious relics, developing and widening during the renaissance to meet the interest in classical Greece and Rome of that time.

Peter

I like the way you make a lunge to explore the bushes outside, but the coin collection is not that of painter Frans Snijders (whose specialty was food and meals) but that of mayor Nicolas Rockox (1560-1640), who was not a painter, but a friend of Rubens.

And here is a part of the map of Ortelius, showing the Eastern Mediterranean during Roman times.

-- Paul

Tirant

Yes, it's a really beautiful map. I didn't know it.

About the coins and how did they arrive to Rockox hands: that thirst for religious relics is a good theory, but i don't know how "religious" would be considered those pre-christian coins back in the middle ages.

I've always had the thought that, until the XIX and even XX century, regular people didn't care about the historic value of those antiques. They were more like "oh, gold! Let's melt it and get some money" instead "oh, an ancient relic! Let'keep it, so the next generations could admire it". Probably mr. Rockox got them from rich people or nobility that didn't have to worry about what would they dinner the next day. That thing, along as the high grade they are, it's something that still surprises me.

Figleaf

@ Pellinore: Message from the bush: the mental jump I made but did not note was that if the mayor was an antiquities lover and his next door neighbour a successful painter, the painter would have seen the interest of the coins and the mayor would have had the money to buy more.

I have the same revulsion against close-ups of food in the piles of advertising material we receive daily. In my eyes, they obviate the need for toilet paper, but my wife likes to get them. Anyway, a painter in those (and much later) days would have as his first priority to be a commercial success. Today, they'd be more like a marketing photographer than like an artist. Hence pictures of dead fish and still lives with a moral or religious message (see this thread. If some people saw food as wealth (remember Saskia van Uylenburgh's fat rolls?) and you were good at painting food, you'd make money and live in a nice quarter of town. If you were a top artist on a global level but doing your own thing instead of listening to what the clients wanted and didn't know how to handle money you could die poor. We share a dislike of incisive food pictures, but if so many of them are made, there must be many people who like them.

@ Tirant: the medieval hangup with religion was softened considerably by the renaissance. An interest in classical antiquity took its place.

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

Pabitra

Quote from: Figleaf on January 29, 2022, 05:10:19 PM
but did not note was that if the mayor was an antiquities lover and his next door neighbour a successful painter, the painter would have seen the interest of the coins and the mayor would have had the money to buy more.

Nicolaas Rockox's interest in numismatics is not attributable to his friendship with Sir Peter Paul Ruben, who incidentally was not his neighbour. His interest is due to his closeness with Abraham Ortelius, who had a keen interest and formed a fine collection of coins, medals and antiques, and this resulted in the book (also in 1573, published by Philippe Galle of Antwerp) Deorum dearumque capita ... ex Museo Ortelii ("Heads of the gods and goddesses... from the Ortelius Museum"); reprinted in 1582, 1602, 1612, 1680, 1683 and finally in 1699 by Gronovius, Thesaurus Graecarum Antiquitatum ("Treasury of Greek Antiquities", vol. vii).

Figleaf

Please check upthread, Pabitra. We are discussing Frans Snijders, not Rubens.

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

Pellinore

#10
Pabitra is right about the ties between Rockox and Ortelius. The picture shows the dedication on that same map: Ortelius 'devotestly' dedicates this new map of Classical Europe to Rockox.

To clear up a few misunderstandings: Nicolaas Rockox (1560-1640) was a scion of a wealthy and powerful Antwerp family and for half a century – coinciding with the cultural and financial glory days of Antwerp - he served as regent and administrator of Guilds and all sorts of other urban cultural institutions. He was immensely rich and had no descendants. In 1598 this patrician was knighted by the Spanish overlords of Flandria. Rockox was a lover of classical antiquity and had friendly relations with many important cultural figures, such as Justus Lipsius, Abraham Ortelius and Petrus Paulus Rubens.

Frans Snijders (1579-1657), a generation younger, was a citizen, a craftsman, a successful painter who specialized in hunting, dining and animal paintings. He sold to the rich and became so wealthy himself that in c.1620 he was able to buy a large and luxurious house, located next to the courtyarded city palace of the noble city ruler Nicolaas Rockox, with whom he was friends. (The greater and more famous painter Rubens also owned such a city palace with courtyard, but elsewhere in Antwerp.)

Rockox had an important collection of coins, of which he has kept his own written catalogue, that has been preserved in The Hague, House of the Book (Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum). His collection was of high quality, notable for its chronological completeness, "including Greek and Roman coins from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD" says the website of the Rockox museum.

By acquiring part of the numismatical collection of the Duke of Aarschot (1560-1612, who possessed "a fabulous collection of aurei", but later in his life could not pay attention to his coins anymore because he had married a young wife), Rockox had doubled his collection.

About coins, Rockox had a busy correspondence with the French humanist, botanist and numismatist Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), called "The Prince of Antiquarians". But Rubens was also a soulmate of Rockox in that respect. Together with Jacob de Bie, they republished the works of the engraver and numismatist Hubert Goltzius. This Renaissance painter and scientist described visiting all the important Southern-Netherlands coin collections of his day. In (what is now) Belgium, Anno Domini 1560 there were 118 collectors of Classical coins! You can read about this on Academia.

As far as tangible books go, I can find only one article of two pages in the TEFAF catalogue of 1999: 'Nicolaas Rockox as a numismatist' by Remi Vermeiren. Probably not so easy to come by.

But a fascinating article worth reading and perusing is this: 'Glory and misery of Belgian numismatics from the 16th to the 18th century' by François de Callataÿ, that was published in Colloquium Belgian Numismatists in Perspective (2016, ed. Jan Moens), p. 37-129. This article at the end contains many numismatic letters dating from around 1600, some written by or to Rockox. Also on Academia.

I really advise you to read this article, because it lifts countless veils on coin collecting in earlier times, so it will give you much pleasure.

-- Paul

chrisild

Not a single coin here ;) but plenty of coins depicted by Goltzius. We visited the Getty Center (near Los Angeles) this week ...

(No idea what else I am going to see on this trip. I don't feel well, the quick test was positive, and I am now waiting for the PCR result. Sigh.)

Pellinore

Are they existing coins of Goltzius's times, or were they designed by Goltzius himself? For he was a great inventor and an original spirit.

-- Paul

chrisild

He may have made them ... up. ;) Admittedly I have no idea. A depiction of the entire painting is here for example, but it will not show details of the coins.

Of course it does not really matter with regard to Goltzius' message, about Zeus/Jupiter being the "golden rain" and all that  8) , so my guess is that the realistic looking pieces at the bottom were inspired by coins of those times but not necessarily reproductions. There will be others who are more knowledgeable when it comes to such pieces; hope they will comment here ...

Tirant



It's a XVI century thaler from the Holy Roman Empire, it looks like that coin standing alone between the two piles, don't you think? Despite the one on the painting seem to have a virgin and not an emperor.

Ps. I hope you got better  ;)