The Ximenez Family in Antwerp, Lisbon, Florence, and the Wider World

Erected on the occasion of the Joyous Entry of Archduke Ernest of Austria into Antwerp in June 1594, the triumphal arch of the Portuguese merchants (pictured in a print below) presented Portuguese trading ventures as the source of the riches of the Spanish Empire, which had recently been expanded by the annexation of Portugal in 1580. The arch was crowned by Neptune holding up a golden armillary sphere, the emblem of King Manuel I. Arranged on two separate platforms on different elevations were the personifications of the colonies where the Portuguese had built their most lucrative trading posts: Mauritania on a lion, Brazil on an armadillo, Ethiopia on an elephant, and India on a rhinoceros. In the corresponding festival book published the following year Johannes Bochius, secretary of the Antwerp city council, pointed out that the "power of King Philip [...] was indeed very greatly increased through the acquisition of the maritime empire for which the Portuguese are celebrated beyond all others."

Emmanuel Ximenez's art-collecting and patronage activities, his intellectual pursuits, and the ways in which he displayed his possessions in the convivial spaces of his house on the Antwerp Meir were shaped by and responded to the Portuguese nation's and his own family's involvement in maritime trade. Of the 75 Portuguese merchants documented in 1611 in Antwerp, the Ximenez d'Aragão and the Rodrigues d'Evora families, related to each other by marriage and kinship, were by far the wealthiest. With the growth of the Antwerp market in the early sixteenth century, the city became an attractive place for members of various foreign trading 'nations,' including the Portuguese. As the wealthiest elite in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Antwerp, the Portuguese merchants were granted several privileges, among them their own jurisdiction, a house for their own merchants on the Kipdorp, and a chapel in the church of the Friars Minor. Most of the Portuguese trading and banking families lived in Antwerp's most affluent parish, Saint Jacob's. While they tended to marry and conduct business within their own community, they also participated in the city's social life and cultivated connections with the political and religious elite, other merchant groups, and the Spanish court in Brussels. The circle around Plantin and his successors as well as Antwerp's chambers of rhetoric offered like-minded merchants, traders, artisans, artists, and learned men important fora for mutual exchange. Ximenez's own library in the Meir house may have served as a meeting place for learned men and women who shared his interests in alchemy, astrology, medicine, cosmography, and travel literature.

Like other powerful New Christian merchant families living in Antwerp, the Ximenezes formed part of an extended commercial network of family businesses with branches and middlemen in Lisbon, Seville, Cadiz, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Goa, Bahía, Pernambuco, and many other port cities. They were active in trading a wide variety of commodities, such as sugar and spices, grain, wood, textiles, cochineal, indigo and other dyes, pearls, diamonds and other precious stones, paintings, books, red coral and glassware (the latter two highly valued in Asia and West Africa), as well as in monetary transactions (asientos) with the Spanish Crown. Their network extended to include markets, economies, and cultures of the whole world known at that time. From the 1570s onwards, members of the Ximenez and Rodrigues d'Evora families began to act as chief contractors of the carreira da Índia. Together with other Portuguese merchant houses, the Ximenez family engaged in the sugar trade in Brazil and the trade with western Africa, including the slave trade, thus meeting the increasing demands of the Spanish colonies in America for slave labor. The profits from the sugar industries in the Spanish Americas were invested in the purchase of Asian spices and luxury goods, which were then traded to West Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

The Ximenez d'Aragão business had two headquarters, both run by the sons of Duarte Ximenez (c. 1500-1560), who adopted the surname of d'Aragão: the firm of Tomás and André Ximenez (Emmanuel's uncles) based in Lisbon; and the firm of Fernão Ximenez (1525-1600, Emmanuel's uncle) and Rui Nunes Ximenez (1529-1581, Emmanuel's father), based mostly in Antwerp. Fernão Ximenez, in particular, brought wealth and power to the family. His financial assets, network of cross-cultural connections, and commercial knowledge gained him access to the highest levels of European society and secured him the protection of both the Crown and the Church. A breve issued in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V Peretti confirmed that he was born of an old Christian lineage.

While the Ximenezes had branches and agents in a number of cities apart from Antwerp, their ties to Medici Florence were especially strong. In order to promote the port city of Livorno and gain access to overseas trade routes, Cosimo I, Francesco I, and Ferdinando I de' Medici encouraged wealthy Portuguese merchants to settle in their territories by offering them privileges and favorable conditions. In the 1590s both Fernão Ximenez and Sebastián Ximenez (the son of Tomás Ximenez, and Fernão's nephew) were made Knights of Saint Stephen, establishing commanderies in Antwerp and Romagna respectively. Founded by Cosimo I de' Medici in 1561 with the aim of hindering the expansion of Ottoman trade, the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen also served as a means to create new nobles among the wealthy merchants. The fact that numerous members of the Ximenez family were made Knights of Saint Stephen amply evidences the high regard affluent Portuguese merchant families enjoyed in Medici Florence.

In his last will and testament, made in Florence on 4 January 1591, Fernão named his house on the Meir in Antwerp as the seat of the commandery of Saint Stephen and also stipulated that it should always be passed on to the male successors of the family line, preferring those who lived in or near Antwerp to those who lived elsewhere. In another testament dated 4 April 1596, Fernão named the sons of his deceased brother Rui Nunes – Duarte, Emmanuel, and Gonzalo Ximenez – as inheritors of his Antwerp house, and Duarte and Emmanuel as executors of his will. He further ordered that his remains should be buried first for six years in the church of the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence (a church connected with the Medici and the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen) and then moved to the family tomb in the choir of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. The unusual testamentary provision is a telling expression of the loyalties and emotional attachments Fernão felt toward the cities of Antwerp and Florence, which offered his family privileges and opportunities that other cities did not.

Fernão Ximenez and his wife Anna Lopes died within three months of each other in 1600. Of the sons of Ruy Nuñes, first Duarte, and then, from about 1610 onwards, Emmanuel became holders of the Antwerp commandery. In 1582, each of the two brothers married a daughter of Rodrigo da Vega d'Evora, Duarte wedding Maria de Vega and Emmanuel Isabel da Vega, while Anna Ximenez Lopes (their sister) had married her own much older cousin, the wealthy Portuguese merchant Simão Rodrigrues d'Evora (1543-1618). By the early seventeenth century, both the Rodrigues and the Ximenez families had acquired large country estates and aristocratic titles, and, as the most powerful merchant families in Antwerp, enjoyed privileges granted by the Archdukes Albrecht and Isabella such as exemption from attending the meetings of the Portuguese nation. Their presence in the city was marked by their luxurious life style, demonstrated through the furnishing of their houses, their clothing, headwear, carriages and horses, as well as their patronage of jewelers and glassmakers, collecting activites, and religious donations. This ostentatious display of wealth also served to confirm their newly achieved noble status and their reputation as trustworthy money lenders and commercial partners.

Throughout the early seventeenth century, Antwerp remained an important entrepôt for trade and finance and, until the 1620s, the brothers Emmanuel, Duarte and Gonzalo Ximenez continued to participate in various trading activities with Brazil (the main center of sugar production), West Africa (the main market for slaves), and India. Gonzalo, at the time representing the family in Lisbon, appears among the holders of a contract for the African trade, trading slaves from Angola to Brazil in exchange for caffa silk and glassware from Antwerp in the mid 1610s. In addition, the three brothers had middlemen and agents in Amsterdam, The Hague and other cities in the Dutch Republic and transported their cargos in ships that sailed under Dutch flags. The fact that in 1616 the brothers Duarte and Emmanuel Ximenez were mentioned among Antwerp merchants most knowledgeable in economic matters further documents that their judgment and expertise was in high demand.

In contrast to other Antwerp Portuguese New Christian families – who were under suspicion of secretly practicing the Jewish faith – the genuineness of Emmanuel Ximenez's Catholicism was, as far as we know, never questioned. His collection of devotional books, artifacts, and relics, his (futile) attempts to cure his long bedridden wife, whom he believed to have been bewitched, with exorcisms and pilgrimage journeys, suggest that the family had assimilated into the dominant Counter-Reformation culture. While Otto van Veen's Nativity triptych includes a portrait of Emmanuel Ximenez's sister Anna, shown wearing expensive diamond jewelry, so far no portrait of Emmanuel Ximenez has emerged. He did, however, leave an entry on a page in the album amicorum of Gillis Anselmo, the son of a merchant family, then living in the Dutch Republic, that had extensive trade relations with the Ximenezes in Antwerp. Emmanuel Ximenez, whose wealth came from the sea, chose the nautical image of an anchor, presenting a "monument of friendship," as he wrote, to the owner of the album. The four lines play upon the Stoic idea of 'constantia' in a turbulent world, asserting that "although God bestows his gifts on whomever he pleases, he who puts his faith in truth will nevertheless stand firmly."

Christine Göttler, University of Bern


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