In the seventeenth century, Amsterdam grew into one of the biggest cities in Europe. It also had one of the largest concentrations of goldsmiths and silversmiths. The city had more than three hundred workshops in the mid-seventeenth century. Only Paris had a larger community of gold and silversmiths. The Amsterdam community was more than twice as large as London’s and Augsburg’s, and five to six times as big as the communities in Antwerp, Hamburg and Nuremberg.
This means there was plenty of room for new talent. Born in the Dutch refugee community in Emden, Johannes Lutma (c. 1585-1669) was likely drawn to Amsterdam by the new opportunities available there. After living and working in Rome and Paris, he arrived in the city around 1620, and rapidly became Amsterdam’s leading silversmith. Poets commemorated his fame in verse, while painters memorialized his glory on canvas. The German writer Joachim von Sandrart, moreover, included him in his Pantheon of the very greatest artists. Lutma was held in the highest esteem as a craftsman and artist, but what was the source of his extraordinary talent?
A series of cartouches, designed by Lutma in the early 1650s and engraved, printed and sold by his son Jacob (1630-1654), provide an impression of his art. These are various exercises in the new, imaginative and macabre artistic idiom, which placed high demands on the artist’s skills. Lutma showcased the extent of his skills in the variety of designs, while providing practical solutions for less talented goldsmiths, sculptors and other artists.
The prints do not show the latest developments. Versions in silver indicate that Lutma had devised closely related solutions decades earlier. This theatre token serves as an example. The model was created in 1643. A theatre token was used in the same way as a season ticket today: the owner paid a certain amount to the theatre, entitling him to attend all performance on presentation of the token.
The design of the funeral shield for the Corn Measurers’ Guild is far more complex than the theatre token. The gaping jaws of the monsters and the broad drapes frame three fields depicting the symbols of the Guild. At the top one can see the arms of the City of Amsterdam, which commissioned the Corn Measurers, in the middle a Corn Measurer at work, and below the chief tool of their trade: the bushel. Their scoops can also be seen behind the frames, and just in case it had escaped notice, the Guild’s name is engraved in large letters on the silver banner hanging from the shield.
Kan en schaal (1647) by Lutma, Johannes (1584-1669)Rijksmuseum
Among the Rijksmuseum’s most striking silver objects are a ewer and basin commissioned by Joan van Hellemont in 1647. The classical depiction portrays the victory of the land over the sea. The side of the ewer depicts the goddess of the earth on a calm sea.
The basin depicts the arrival of calm. A battle rages between mermen and sea monsters. Neptune, god of the sea, has just blown his horn. At his command the sea monsters depart, and the sea is calm.
The rim of the basin depicts the harvest of the sea, which can be gathered thanks to the calm commanded by Neptune. Sea monsters, tamed by children, carry the baskets of fish and other seafood. Auricular motifs frame the scenes, and were chosen specifically to reinforce the narrative. Just look at the various sea monsters along the base of the ewer and along the rim of the basin.
Various art forms are brought together in the New Rijksmuseum, giving the visitor a better understanding of their temporal and cultural context. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) moved to Amsterdam in 1631, where he could be closer to new clients. Hendrik Doomer’s art cupboard, decorated with ebony and mother of pearl, and the entrance to the Huydecoper family’s house, designed by the architect Philips Venckboons, give an impression of the international taste and financial wherewithal of middle classes in the 17th century, as does Lutma’s art. Rembrandt’s 1656 etching is a celebration of the artistry of both. As no other, he depicted the fragility of Lutma, who was twenty years his elder and nearly blind, contrasting it with the timeless, powerful virtuosity of his work.