Sephardic painter and art dealer Jacob (c. 1685-1755) from Verona

Only a few Jewish painters are known from 17th- and 18th-century Amsterdam. In 1637, Samuel d’Orta, ‘Portuguese painter’, bought an etching plate depicting Abraham’s repudiation of Hagar and Ishmael from Rembrandt. D’Orta bought it on condition that Rembrandt himself would not sell any more prints of it. In 1639, Abraham Mendes from Amsterdam was active, but no work by either man is known. Rembrandt’s friend and rival Jan Lievens had two Portuguese-Jewish pupils, Aron de Chavez and Jacob Cardoso Ribero, in 1669. De Chavez left for London in 1674, where he made a painting of Moses and Aaron and the Ten Commandments in 1675. It hung above the ark in the first Portuguese synagogue in that city on Creechurch Lane and is now in the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue. In the late 17th century the Jacob Carpi arrived from Vernona. Jacob Carpi was active as painter in Amsterdam in the first half of the 18th century.

Jacob Carpi, by Jacob de Wit (Rijksmuseum)

The Carpi family settled in Amsterdam in the late 17th century. Pater familias was Salomon Carpi. He had at least six children: Abraham, David, Moses, Belitje (Bella), Jacob and Colomba. Colomba married Moses Giron, a bookkeeper on Weesperstraat, in 1694, and Belitje married tobacco buyer Aaron Marsilie in 1698. Both men were from Padua in Italy, close to Venice. Carpi is a town in the province of Modena; Belitje and Colomba’s marriage announcements state that they were ‘from Verona’. No marriage is known of Solomon’s sons. Moses Carpi engaged in trade in precious fabrics and Jacob (also called Jacob da Carpi) was apprenticed to the Dordrecht portrait painter Arnold Boonen, who settled in Amsterdam around the same time. There he probably met young talents like Cornelis Troost and Jacob de Wit, who would later make a name for themselves in Amsterdam. Both would portray Jacob Carpi. 

In the Rijksmuseum collection is a beautiful chalk drawing by De Wit of Carpi in the prime of his life, possibly drawn around 1720, and a print by Elisabeth van Woensel after a painting by Cornelis Troost from 1743, showing Carpi sitting on a chair with a pipe in his hand. That painting has been lost, or ended up in an unknown collection. Carpi would continue to call himself a ‘konstschilder’ (art painter) throughout his life, but no works by him are known. A posthumous drawing by Cornelis van Noorde mentions that he painted ‘Pourtraiten, Historien, etc.’, and was a great connoisseur and lover ‘of Papierkonst and Painting’. 

Portrait of Jacob Carpi, Elisabeth van Woensel, after Cornelis Troost, 1743 (Rijksmuseum)

As time went on, he concentrated on trading paintings, especially Italian and Flemish masters. Anyone browsing through Amsterdam newspapers of the 18th century regularly comes across a sale by Carpi. On 7 April 1734, the Oudezijds Heerenlogement auctioned ‘a cabinet of paintings, all of the first kind, among which is the renowned ‘Osse-Drift’ by Poulus Potter’, a painting possibly lost in the bombing of Dresden. 

In 1737, Carpi valued the paintings in the estate of Maria Agnes Barbou, widow of Joan Occo. In her home at 584 Herengracht, he saw several works by Italian masters such as Raphael, Veronese, Titan and Michelangelo. The most expensive painting was The Adoring Dry Queen by Casper Crayer, estimated at 400 guilders. Carpi also found a ‘Leander’ by Rembrandt there – value 63 guilders, a painting not otherwise described anywhere. It is known that Rembrandt bought a Hero and Leander by Rubens in 1637 and sold it for a profit ten years later. It is possible that he himself made a painting with the same theme.

Financially, Carpi fared well. In 1746, this first generation migrant in Amsterdam bought a house and garden in the Nieuwe Plantage, behind the hortus, at auction for 1500 guilders. Here he not only took up residence and housed his own collection, but also held auctions and art sales. For instance, Carpi advertised in the Amsterdamsche Courant of 24 October 1750 that he had ‘uyt de hand’ all the prints for sale ‘by Raphaël d’Urbino, by Markantoio and Vensesiani’. 

Physically, however, the painter suffered. This is evident from the signatures on several notarial deeds he signed in the last years of his life. When he drew up his will in 1746, he still had a reasonably steady hand, although it was already a lot less convincing that a decade earlier. In 1750, he drew up a new will ‘being somewhat unwell’. It is poignant to see that he apparently could no longer keep his hands still then. Two years later, the handwriting had deteriorated considerably. Was it arthritis? Or could he have had Parkinson’s disease?

Signatures Jacob Carpi, 1738, 1746, 1750 en 1752
Jacob Carpi by Jacob de Wit, Prentenkabinet van de Universiteit Leiden

Also in the last phase of his life, Carpi was drawn by Jacob de Wit, as an old frail man walking with a cane, supported by a woman. That will have been his housekeeper Bartha Holmer, whose name we know thanks to the 1750 will. Jacob Carpi was ten years apart from his colleague De Wit; they died shortly after each other. Jacob de Wit was buried in the Oude Kerk (Old Church) on 19 November 1754, aged 59; Jacob Carpi died two and a half months later at the age of 70. On 3 February 1755, he was buried at Beth Haim in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. 

Mark Ponte

Translation of: Mark Ponte, ‘Jacob Carpi, joodse kunstschilder in de 18de eeuw‘, Ons Amsterdam, 1 maart 2023.

Another brawl in the Jodenbreestraat

Never a dull moment at the tobacconists in Jodenbreestraat. Last year I wrote about a clash between Portuguese and Armenians in the cellar next to Rembrandt on 2 July 1655. A year later on 3 May 1656, there was another brawl. 

On 4 May 1656, Morchechay and Abraham de Andrade, and Isaque and Abraham Rodrigues were in a tobacco shop on Breestraat talking to a man called Moises, when the latter was suddenly attacked with a knife by a certain Malachi. Moises was hit on his forehead. Malachi was arrested.

This fight probably also happened in the shop of Rembrandt’s neighbour Daniel Pinto. Mordechay D’Andrade worked for Pinto. For instance, he was supervisor of the carpentry work at Rembrandt and Pinto’s houses in 1654. Isaque Rodriges was the son-in-law of Rembrandt’s other neighbour Salvador Rodrigues, who had died in 1654.

An enslaved family on the Nieuwe Herengracht in Amsterdam

Voor Nederlandse versie zie hier

In 1783 Anthony, his wife Magdalena and their son Emanuel were taken from Curaçao to Amsterdam. There they ended up in a house on Nieuwe Herengracht, currently number 105. Anthony was the personal servant of the old merchant Isaac Pardo. Magdalena also worked as a servant. How old Emanuel was and whether he also had to work is not known.

Anthony and his family had lived in slavery on Curaçao, in Amsterdam their status was not so clear. Slavery was not officially permitted in that city. In the lawbooks of Amsterdam, a provision on slavery was included from 1644 onwards. This Amsterdam provision was a literal copy of an Antwerp one dating back to the 16th century. Under the heading ‘Of the state and condition of persons’, it was stipulated that: Within the city of Amstelredamme and its freedom, all people are free and there are no Slaves’. This seems to be a clear stipulation that every person in Amsterdam must be considered a free person. However, the second article states that it was up to those who were held in slavery ‘against their will’ to claim their freedom from the city council. In other words, there was no active investigation.

Nieuwe Herengracht Amsterdam, number 105 marked by arrow.

This legislation was also known to the enslaved people on Curaçao. Some gain their freedom by hiding aboard ships and trying to reach the Republic as stowaways. Mostly in vain. In the course of the eighteenth century, there were hundreds or even a few thousend of enslaved people from Surinam, Berbice and Curaçao, among others, who stayed in Amsterdam for a time but whose legal status remained virtually the same, after their return to the colony. That situation changed when, in 1771, two Surinamese women, after a stay in the Republic, once back in Paramaribo, successfully claimed their liberty. Because of the unrest that arose among the planters of Suriname, the States General decided to restrict freedom. No longer would a slave servant in the Republic be freed immediately, but only after a stay of six months – a period that could also be extended by another six months. If he or she still lived in the Republic after that, he or she became truly free.

How long Anthony, Magdalena and Emanuel served at the Nieuwe Herengracht is not (yet) known. For the time being, we only know this Afro-Curaçao family from one document: the testament of the Portuguese-Jewish merchant Isaac Pardo. This document was drawn up a few months after their arrival in Amsterdam. With three witnesses, civil-law notary Johannes van de Brink travelled from his office on the Rokin to the Nieuwe Herengracht on 8 December 1783. Three instead of the usual two, because ’the testator is blind’, the notary noted at the end of the deed.

Isaac, Anthony, Magdalena and Emanuel had not been in Amsterdam that long, in September 1783 Isaac Pardo paid finta (tax) for the first time. He was taxed in the highest category and was therefore a rich man. After a long career as a merchant in Curaçao, he had decided to settle in the Republic. Perhaps he did so because of the better medical facilities. Pardo was old and by now blind, and probably largely dependent on his servants.

In his will Pardo stipulated that after his death the servant Anthony would be free and discharged from all ‘slave services’. He also instructed his children ’to provide Anthony, together with his wife Magdalena and their son Emanuel, as long as the Antony lives, with board and drink, as well as clothing and lodging in their homes’. For this they had to serve the next of kin ‘as they are at present at the service of the testator [Pardo]’. If either party, including Anthony and his family, no longer appreciated this service, Pardo’s sons had to pay Anthony 400 guilders annually. This yearly payment was not transferable to Magdalena – in case Anthony would die before. However, Magdalena and Emanuel would be allowed to return to Curaçao at the Pardo’s expense, and – very importantly – be made free.

It could be that this was the legal confirmation of an earlier agreement between Anthony, Magdalena and Isaac Pardo. As was the case earlier with the Afro-Curaçaoan Juan Francisco Ado, who arrived in Amsterdam in 1731 with Anna Levina Leendertsz, wife of the former governor of Curaçao and former alderman of Amsterdam Jan Noach du Fay. Even before leaving Curaçao, they had agreed that if the ‘slave could properly serve and guard her […] during the journey’, Ado would be granted his freedom in the Republic.

Isaac Pardo died a year and a half after drawing up his will; on 21 June 1785. He was buried at the Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. A year later his ‘magnifique and distinguished’ household effects were sold. How the lives of Anthony, Magdalena and Emanuel went on, we do not know yet. Did they return to Curaçao? Or did they build their own lives in Amsterdam? Perhaps documents about them will turn up in the future in the archives of the Amsterdam notaries.

The last will of Isaac Pardo, Amsterdam, 8 december 1783. 



Mark Ponte and Erik Schmitz

The two hitherto unknown references to Rembrandt were found by the computer in the settlement of the estate of master carpenter Jacob Wesselsz Wiltingh, who died in 1661. In the account of the management of the estate drawn up by the notary Gillis Borsselaer (active in Amsterdam 1636-1675) the expenses and income from the years 1661-1665 are listed in chronological order. On 1 December 1663 a payment to the city messenger is noted, relating to three different issues: Rembrandt, the renters of a house in the Grote Kattenburgerstraat and the title of a document (probably a transfer of ownership):

Betaelt voor oncosten van Stadtsbode gelt van Rembrant de schilder te roepen met de luijden vande kelder ende kamer op kattenburch met een brieff opt Oostindische huijs overgeteijckent samen f. 1:13:- (Expenses paid to the city messenger to summon Rembrandt the painter, with the persons in the cellar and the room in the Grote Kattenburgerstraat with a document at the Oost-Indisch Huis transferred total f. 1:13:-)”.

The city messenger brought Rembrandt the notice that he was to appear, and the expense post of 7 December 1663 reveals why:

Betaelt aen Rembrant de schilder voor schilderen vande overleden f. 15:14:- (Paid to Rembrandt the painter for painting the deceased f. 15:14:-

Read the full story in Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis:

Mark Ponte and Erik Schmitz (2021). Rembrandt paints master carpenter Jacob Wesselsz Wiltingh. An unknown Rembrandt from the archive of the Amsterdam notaries. Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis 2021, 18-29.

Girl by a High Chair (1640) – Govert Flinck

Mauritshuis, Den Haag

This short piece is part of the new multimediatour in the Mauritshuis Museum and online (English and Dutch).

The Amsterdam elite of the seventeenth century were keen to have their portraits painted by the great masters of the day. This young girl was painted in 1640 by Govert Flinck, Rembrandt’s best pupil. The toddler, who’s adorned with gold, stands next to her high chair. Lying on the tray is some white sugar, still a luxury item in the mid-seventeenth century.

Did the child’s parents want to show that they were so wealthy they could give their child sugar as a treat? Or does it have a deeper significance? Does it possibly symbolise that her parents were involved in the sugar trade, like many Dutch people who were directly and indirectly involved in the trade and production of sugar at that time?

I don’t know. What I do know is that hiding behind that white sugar on the tray is a history of slavery and exploitation. It was the cultivation of sugar that had drawn the Dutch to Brazil. Thanks to the capture of the rich Brazilian province of Pernambuco, the Amsterdam sugar industry flourished in 1640. Every year, dozens of ships left the Dutch Republic to collect sugar from there.

Some of these ships sailed to Brazil via the west coast of Africa, where people were traded. Men, women and children were placed in the hold and transported to Brazil. After the gruelling journey, they were set to work on the plantations and in the sugar mills.

In the meantime, dozens of refineries appeared in Amsterdam where the sugar cane sap was refined into fine, white sugar, for this little girl to enjoy as a sweet.

Samuel, Mahamet and Hamet

Moroccans in seventeenth century Amsterdam

Translation of ‘Samuel, Mahamet en Hamet’ published in Ons Amsterdam, May 2021.

Amsterdam has been a migration city since the sixteenth century. The arrival of Moroccans – now one of the large migrant communities in the city – goes back to the early 17th century.

Drawing by Rembrandt

Many Moroccan migrants who settled in Amsterdam in the 17th century had a Jewish background. The most famous representatives were the Pallache (or Palache) family. They were also literal representatives, for Samuel Pallache (c. 1550-1616), his brother Joseph (c. 1570-1639 or 1649), his sons and his nephew David (1598-1650) acted as emissaries of the kings of Morocco.

Samuel Pallache was born in Fez to a Jewish family from Spain. The Pallaches were true cosmopolitans: they spoke Arabic and Spanish and travelled back and forth between North-Africa and Europe, formally as jewellery traders, but also as diplomats, spies and privateers. In 1605, Samuel Pallache offered his services to the King of Spain as an informer. He and his brother Joseph must have considered converting to Catholicism in order to settle in Spain, but in 1607 they had to leave Spain. They travelled on to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam a year later. Their families also made the journey north.

Rembrandt, circa 1640

Because of their ties with the Spanish court, the two Pallaches were initially not welcome in the Republic, but Samuel and Joseph managed to be appointed representatives of the Moroccan sultan Muley Zaydan (Zidan Abu Maali, ?-1627), then an ally of the Republic in the conflict with Spain. They played an important role as intermediaries in the relations between the Republic and Morocco and in the liberation of enslaved sailors in North Africa. After Samuel’s death in 1616, Joseph took over the ambassadorship; his son David often acted as his representative.

The Pallaches and other North African Jews must have stood out in Amsterdam for their dress, especially their turban, even though the population was diverse in the trading city. All kinds of ‘exotic’ appearances in the street scene inspired Rembrandt and others to make drawings of people in ‘oriental’ attire. A merchant wearing a turban can be seen in paintings of Dam Square.

Rembrandt's Orient: An Exhibition in Basel and Potsdam - CODART
School of Rembrandt, circa 1635,
National Gallery of Art, Washington


Moroccan immigrants also turn up in the archives of Amsterdam notaries. On 24 December 1672, two Moroccans make a declaration before the notary Dirck van der Groe, Mahamet Benbarck and Hamet Bin Hamet from Salé. Interpreter is the ‘Portuguese merchant’ Joseph Galaco; Galaco was also born in Salé and has a command of the ‘Nederlantse & Moorse spraecke’ (Dutch and ‘Moorish’ language).

Benbarck and Bin Hamet make a statement at the request of the skipper Gerrit Jansz. A few days earlier they had boarded the ship the Koning David, which was to take them to North Africa. The ship lay at anchor on the Rede van Texel, waiting for the skipper, who was still ashore. One Monday, around ten o’clock, the two passengers and almost the entire crew were below deck when they noticed that the ship began to sway and drift.

Mahamet and Hamet rushed upstairs, where they found the helmsman and an axe lying on the ground. Both anchors appeared to be unshackled and the jib unbuttoned. Bin Hamet shouted to the helmsman: “What kind of a helmsman are you, cutting the anchors? Let us go ashore”, to which the helmsman had replied: “Go and eat below”.

Apparently the mate and the ‘hoogbootsman’ Isaack had some nefarious plans. Possibly contraband was involved: according to the Moroccan passengers the mate had “a packet of good in his hand without being able to say what it was”. In any case, the journey was cancelled for the time being. The passengers and crew left the Koning David, after which the ship was left with “only the dog and the cat”.

Signatures Hamet Bin Hamet and
Mahamet Benbarck


Relations between North African Jews and other Jews were generally good, as were those between North Africans and other Amsterdammers. But there were sometimes tensions in the streets. A confrontation between Samuel Pallache’s nephew David and one ‘Moses Rosado’, in all likelihood Moses Curiel Rosado (1614-1678), is striking. On Monday 2 May 1639 David Pallache was attacked by Rosado in broad daylight on Vlooienburg. While shouting “Oh, Turk!”, Rosado punches him in the face and hits him with a stick and a sabre.

Rosado was arrested and sentenced to two months in the Rasphouse, but a year later he was again the instigator of skirmishes. In June 1640 he assaulted Pallache’s servant in Jodenbreestraat and there was also a confrontation in Ververstraat, during which the servant and Pallache’s nephew fled into a tailor’s shop. Again Moses Rosado is convicted.

Convicts in the Rasphouse, 1663

Another Moroccan – “a certain Moor named Achma” – was handcuffed by the sheriff on 20 August 1656, because he had “committed great violence & misconduct on the street”, according to a deed. Achma, apparently drunk, had attacked butcher Thomas Lodewijcksz near the Turfpakhuizen (now: the Academy of Architecture, Waterlooplein). He had pulled Lodewijcksz.’s butcher’s knife from his quiver, “in order to take his life with it”.

It did not come to that: a bystander had come to the butcher’s aid and taken the knife from Achma. Achma moved through the streets, so furious “that everyone fled from him and made a great shouting & roaring noise along the streets, yes so that the people fell over each other and kept lying on the street”. Witnesses mentioned several wounded; Jacob Bueno, at whose request the deed was drawn up, was supposedly beaten so badly that he could hardly stand on his legs and was still in bed a day later.

Bueno’s statement may well have been a little exaggerated. The confession book of the sheriff only mentions that the 35-year old Hamet Bar “from Salé in Barbary” had been arrested for the uproar. The notarial document was translated into French for Hamet Bar, but he denied everything and that was the end of it for the authorities. A year later, however, he was arrested again for knife crime. He was clearly not a sweetheart, with his bad temper.

Unknown slavery stories behind famous Rembrandt paintings

Translation of spoken column in 2018. Read the original in Dutch at Over de Muur

We know Rembrandt van Rijn mainly for works such as The Night Watch and The Jewish Bride, but in the course of his career he also painted and drew various black women and men. He was able to do this in his masterly way because he lived in a multicultural seventeenth-century neighbourhood in Amsterdam: the area around today’s Jodenbreestraat, where dozens of people of African descent also lived. People he encountered on the street and could invite to his studio.

The highlight of Rembrandt’s ‘Black’ oeuvre is of course the painting Two African men – appropriately enough – in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Appropriate because, like Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, most of the Africans who lived in Rembrandt’s neighbourhood had a history in Dutch Brazil, albeit on a very different rung of the social ladder. Not only did all kinds of returning colonists take enslaved men and women as servants to Amsterdam, but a group of black sailors and soldiers settled here as well. Men who had often been in the service of the West India Company. Some of these sailors knew the entire Atlantic World, from Angola, Brazil and the Caribbean to New Amsterdam, today’s New York.

Two African men, by Rembrandt (1656/1661), Mauritshuis

But not only paintings with black sitters can tell a story about slavery and related themes. Other Rembrandts also lend themselves perfectly to this. Anyone who has visited a bookshop in the Netherlands the past two years will undoubtedly be familiar with the portrait of Jan Six from 1654, which features prominently on the front cover of Geert Mak’s popular book. Whether Six had anything to do with the VOC or WIC I do not know, it could well be that he had shares in that direction.

We know very little about what specific Amsterdammers actually experienced when they went out on the streets, let alone how often someone like Jan Six encountered a black townsman. Did he have friends with black servants in the house?

Jan Six, by Rembrandt (1654),
Collectie Six

There was at least one important moment when, in the sources, the life of Jan Six crossed that of a young black boy. On Friday 10 February 1668, in the Oude Kerk, in the presence of mayor Nicolaas Tulp, Jan’s son was baptised. Both father Jan Six and grandfather Nicolaas Tulp were painted by Rembrandt, mother Margareta Tulp by Govert Flinck. A chic baptism, therefore, of a member of the highest echelons of the Amsterdam patrician class.

Baptisms Old Church, 10 February 1668, Stadsarchief Amsterdam

On the same day three other children were baptised, who did not belong to the upper class at all. After Jan the girls Maria and Hester were baptised. The last one to be baptised that day was Dominicus: “A swart [black] about 10 or 12 years of age”, who lived with Claes Philipsoon on Oude Waal; I imagine that Dominicus sat at a distance watching the babies Jan, Maria and Hester being baptised, before it was his turn.

Even the portraits of Marten and Oopjen, the other two Rembrandts, which have received a lot of attention in recent years, can tell several stories that touch on the history of slavery. Marten Soolmans was the son of a wealthy sugar trader and refiner who had settled in Amsterdam after the fall of Antwerp. The relationship between sugar and slavery is not worth explaining here. After the death of Soolmans, Oopjen Coppit remarried to WIC captain and Brazil veteran Maarten Daey.

Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, by Rembrand (1634)
Rijksmuseum / Musée du Louvre

While researching documents about Dutch Brazil, I came across Maarten Daey in a journal of the Reformed Church in Paraiba. In it, the moving story of the black woman Francesca was recorded. Francesca, we read, was captured and locked up in Captain Daey’s house. Francesca was raped by Daey. When it appears that she was pregnant, Daey sent Francesca out of his house, because he wanted nothing to do with the child. Would his son Hendrick Daey, who later owned these two paintings, have known about his Brazilian half-sister Elunam, who was almost twenty years older?


This is a translation of a spoken column in 2018. The story of Oopjen is now part of the exhibition Slavery. Ten true stories in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Black History Month

During #BlackHistoryMonth everyday a tweet about Amsterdam’s Black History.

1 – Franciscus Thomas from Sierra Leone


On 1 february 1698 Franciscus Thomas from ‘Sierra Liona in Africa’ and Truijtje Hendricx from Amsterdam posted their banns in Amsterdam. Two weeks later they married in the Old Church. Franciscus Thomas was working as a ‘droogscheerder’ in the textile industry. He lived in the Egelantierstraat in de Jordaan area. #1

2 – Francisco from Angola – ensign in Brazil


Francisco from #Angola was a vaandrig (ensign) in the Dutch army in #Brazil, after the Portuguese takeover in 1654, he settled in #Amsterdam, where he lived in the Jodenbreestraat on the corner of the Markensteeg, ‘under the angel’. He died in January 1659. #2

3 – Alida Clara Carles from Berbice


On 25 December 1784 Alida Clara Karles/ Charles was buried at St Anthonies Cemetery in #Amsterdam. She was born in the Dutch colony of #Berbice, her mother was the free black woman Quassiba. Together with her husband she ran a bar in Pieter Jacobszdwarsstraat. #3

4 – Swarte Klaas


‘Swarte Klaas’ (Black Klaas) was a famous street figure in #Amsterdam in the 18th century. Klaas was a Black man who had lost his legs, maybe as a sailor. He was portrayed by different artists. Klaas died around 1800 in Amsterdam. #4


5 – Pieter Claesz Bruin and Lijsbeth Pieters

In 1649 44-year old sailor Pieter Claesz Bruin from Brazil married Lijsbeth Pieters from Angola. They were an important couple in the small black community around de Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam. They were the godparents of different Black children born in the area. Like Pieter, the son of Alexander van Angola and Lijsbeth Dames and Catharina, the daughter of Louis and Esperanza Alphonse. The children were baptized in the House Moyses.

Read more about Pieter Claesz Bruijn and Lijsbeth Pieters in ‘Black in Rembrandt’s Time‘ and in Dutch in TSEG.


6 – Francisca

In the 1630’s Francesca clearly played a important role in the the formation of a Black community in #Amsterdam. According witnesses, Francisca would ‘receive in her house all the black men who come to this city.’

7 – Theatre

"Dito voor drie morijanen in Salomon f3"

Monday 11 April 1650 three Black men were paid a guilder each to perform in the play ‘Salomon’ in the Municipal Theatre. Unfortunately their names were not registered, but entries like this show that Black people performed in theatre in C17th Amsterdam. The anonymous performers were almost certainly members of the same community as Pieter Claesz Bruin and Lijsbeth Pieters.


They were ‘extras’ in the play, but were paid considerably more than the 10 soldiers in ‘De gestrafte kroonzught’ (La crueldad por el honor) later that month. The 10 soldiers had to share 3 guilders, earning only 6 nickels each.


8 – Louis Zamore van Wicky


This is Louis Zamore van Wicky (1778-1805) hours before his early death in #Amsterdam in 1805. Louis Zamore was a draughtsman born in the plantation colony of #Berbice (now part of #Guyana).


Louis was the son of a Black woman and plantation owner Emanuel de Correvont. The name of his mother is unknown. He had a sister in the Netherlands named Lisette, who is almost certainly watching over het brother’s deathbed in this drawing.


In 1802, Louis Zamore enrolled at Municipal Drawing Academy. He was a student of painter Jurriaan Andriessen and lived with the Andriessen family. In July 1805, Louis suddenly contracted a severe fever and died two days later. He was buried at the Zuiderkerkhof cemetery.


As far as I know, no artworks by Louis Zamore van Wicky are known. Zamore van Wicky was one of the main characters in the @Stadsarchief exhibition ‘Amsterdammers and slavery’ in the summer of 2020.

9 – The Charles Family

Maria Santje Charles (1838-1914) and Hendrik van Guinea Charles (1827-1899). Maria and Hendrik were children of Johannes Charles (1793-1872), survivor of the transatlantic slave trade.

Their father was born in (present day) Ghana, as a child he was captured, enslaved and taken to Suriname, where he was sold to a merchant. In 1817, J. Charles was emancipated to move to the Netherlands as the servant of Majorin Elisabeth Bijval, herself born in slavery in 1776.

Majorin Elisabeth Bijval was a sister of Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos. Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos is buried at the @OudeKerkAMS on September 27, 1817.

Johannes Charles had to leave his two-year old son Gideon and hist wife Charlotte in Suriname, where they lived in slavery until januari 1863. Half a year before the legal abolition of slavery in the Dutch colony.

In the Netherlands, Johannes Charles married Elisabeth van Eijbergen from Rotterdam. They settled in Amsterdam and had ten children. Thanks to several letters that survived, we know that Gideon, who was left behind in Suriname, was in touch with his family in The Netherlands.

A few years ago the Charles Family brought Gideon’s letters, some of them written when he was still enslaved, the photo’s and othere family documents to the @stadsarchief. The letters are digitized and are available for research.

10 – Dominicus


On 10 February 1668 Dominicus, “a Black out about 10 or 12 years of age”, was baptized in de Oude Kerk in #Amsterdam. Dominicus lived with Claes Philipsoon on Oude Waal.


We don’t know much about Dominicus. Was he brought to the city as an enslaved child? Was he a child servant in the house of Claes Philipsoon? Like this boy in Haarlem, painted by Frans Hals?


On the same day in the same church a son of Jan Six was baptized, in presence of mayor Nicolaas Tulp his grandfather. Both Jan Six and Nicolaas Tulp were painted by Rembrandt, mother Margareta Tulp by Govert Flinck. Did they see Dominicus in the church that day? What did Dominicus think?

‘Almost all of their servants are slaves and Moors’

This article is part of the essay that I wrote for the exhibition ‘Here. Black in Rembrandt’s Time’, please order the book to read the full essay and support the Rembrandthuis Museum (available in English and Dutch).

From the late sixteenth century onwards, more and more Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal found their way to Amsterdam. They settled mainly in the east of the city, near Jodenbreestraat; south of that street on Vlooienburg; and north, on the city island of Marken. In previous centuries these Portuguese, as they were usually called, were actually Jews who had been forced to live as Christians on the Iberian Peninsula. In Amsterdam, which was relatively tolerant of Judaism, many returned to the faith of their ancestors. With the arrival of the Portuguese, larger numbers of people of African descent came to the city for the first time. From the fifteenth century onwards, enslaved African men and women were traded on the Iberian Peninsula. Usually they had to work as domestic servants. For instance, various Jewish families brought black servants with them to the Netherlands. In addition, there were Sephardic families with relatives of mixed descent. Already in the early seventeenth century, Ernst Brinck, the later burgomaster of Harderwijk, wrote about his visit to Amsterdam after a grand tour through the Low Countries:

Most of the Portuguese, being largely Jews, live in [Joden]breestraat, and also have a house where they gather [i.e., holding services in a house synagogue]. Almost all of their servants are slaves and Moors’.

Rembrandt lived in the middle of a busy neighborhood full of migrants, like Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal and Brazil, Persians, Africans, sailors from all over Europe. The man on the left could well be a black Amsterdammer.

Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘Three Orientals Conversing’, Amsterdam, c. 1645 (Rijksmuseum)

The oldest registers of the Portuguese cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel mention ‘negras,’ ‘escravas’ (enslaved women) and ‘mulattas’ buried there. On 28 September 1629, for example, an ‘escrava’ of Abraham Aboaf was buried next to an ‘escrava’ of David Netto. Occasionally, black servants appeared before a notary to give a statement. On 3 August 1612, Domingos, a ‘black slave’ of Dr Francisco Lopes Henriques (David Farar), declared that he had been incited by a certain Lijsbet, who lived in a cellar in Jodenbreestraat, to steal Farar’s silverware and other items. On 14 March 1622, 27-year-old Marguerita Fonco ‘moca negra’ (black girl) authorised two Portuguese merchants to claim her salary from the inheritance of Felipa de Sa, for whom she had worked for six years. On 7 May 1616, the black sailor Bastiaan from Angola and Lijsbeth Jans from Angola were wed; the couple’s address was Vlooienburg, the island behind Jodenbreestraat. It is not inconceivable that the black men Rembrandt’s teacher Pieter Lastman featured in his history paintings of 1615-1625 came from this group.

Romeijn de Hooghe’s prints

The presence of black servants in the Sephardic community can also be seen in Romeijn de Hooghe’s prints of the Portuguese community from the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In the print of Huis de Pinto in Sint Antoniesbreestraat are several black figures: one standing prominently in a beautiful costume and the other somewhat hidden behind two ladies sporting late seventeenth-century fontange coiffures. Also interesting is the print of the pulpit in the new Portuguese synagogue, in which in the right foreground behind two white men in discussion – one holding a book – is a black man who quite remarkably does not wear a head covering, counter to Jewish laws.

Detail from:
De teba (bima) in de Portugese Synagoge te Amsterdam, ca. 1695, Romeyn de Hooghe, c. 1695

In addition to this group of servants, there were also people of mixed descent within the Sephardic community. When the Afro-European Debora Nassy was about to leave for the Guianas with the Portuguese Nassy family, she wanted certification of her freedom. At an Amsterdam notary’s office, David Nassy declared that Debora ‘sijnde een bruijn vrouwspersoon ofte mulata’ (being a brown female or mulatto) was a free woman, and in his house ‘in vrijheijt geteelt & gebooren & als soodanigh oock opgevoet, sonder dat iemant ter werelt op haer persoon iets heeft te preteenderen’ (conceived & born in freedom & and also raised as such, without anyone in the world having any kind of claim on her person). Like many women of colour, Debora also worked as a servant, including for Hester Belmonte, the sister-in-law of Rembrandt’s rear neighbour David Belmonte. In her will, Sara Moreno, who had migrated to Amsterdam via Brazil and lived on Houtgracht, the canal south of Jodenbreestraat, left money and clothing to ‘haar swartin’ (her black woman) Luna and her daughter Esther.

Detail from:
Huis van David de Pinto aan de Sint-Antoniesbreestraat te Amsterdam, Romeyn de Hooghe, ca. 1695

Slavery in Amsterdam

Most of these black servants probably had a background in slavery, a phenomenon that had no longer existed in the Low Countries for hundreds of years. It is significant that in the course of the seventeenth century the ban on slavery was explicitly incorporated in the printed codes of law. From 1644, under the heading ‘Van den Staet ende conditie van persoonen’ (on the status and condition of persons) the legal codes included the following stipulation: ‘Within the city of Amsterdam and its jurisdiction, all men are free, and none are slaves.’ This was a clear statement that the city did not condone slavery, and that every person was free. The second article determined how this freedom could be claimed: ‘The same [applies to] all slaves who come or are brought to this city and its jurisdiction; [they] are free and beyond the control and authority of their masters and [the latters’] wives; and in so far as their masters and mistresses wish to keep their slaves, and make them serve against their will, the persons concerned can arraign said masters and mistresses in the court of law of this city, where they then shall formally and legally declare them to be free.’This was literally adopted from an older Antwerp law.

Freedom from slavery thus applied to everyone in the city. If someone was held as a slave, that person could take the owner to municipal court and be declared free there. The initiative for this lay with the person who was enslaved. It is not known how often people took such steps. In 1656, 24-year-old Juliana, who had come to Amsterdam with Eliau de Burgos from Brazil, decided to run away instead of move to Barbados with the Burgos family. Occasionally, someone was declared free at a notary’s office, such as Zabelinha from Guinea and her children, who had come to Amsterdam with Simon Correa. They were granted their freedom on 30 October 1642.

Mark Ponte

Translation: Kist & Kilian

Winter in the 17th Century

Life was tough in seventeenth century Amsterdam. The winters were very cold. This extraordinary painting by Jan de Bray (1662) makes you think about what it was like for migrants from warmer areas like Angola, Sao Tome or Pernambuco to live in the cities of the Dutch Republic?

“Zwarte jongen warmt zijn handen aan kooltjes”, Jan de Braij, 1662

Jan de Bray (1626/1627-1697) lived and worked in Haarlem. The painting is in the collection ‘Groot Constantia Homestead’ in Cape Town.

Maria Gay

Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam, 1663

Probably the most poignant example of how harsh the conditions were in Amsterdam, is that of the 18 year old black woman Maria Gay who was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Zuiderkerk in the 1650’s. After her feet were frozen, her legs had to be amputated in the hospital in Amsterdam. Maria Gay ‘with wooden legs’ lived in Amsterdam until the late 1670’s

Swarte Klaas

Swarte Klaas, circa 1770 (Collection Stadsarchief)

Maria Gay’s story also reminds us of the images of the famous Amsterdam street figure ‘Swarte Klaas’. A black man without legs, who lived in Amsterdam in the second half of the eighteenth century. Maybe a former sailor, like Joseph Johnson in London in the early nineteenth century.

Swarte Klaas in front of the CIty Theater of Amsterdam, 1775 (Collection Stadsarchief)