Paintings in the Ximenez House on the Meir

Like other members of the commercial and political elite, Emmanuel Ximenez participated in the rich culture of collecting that developed in Antwerp from the sixteenth century onwards. He also engaged in the trade of art and facilitated, for example, the transport of Flemish paintings to Medici Florence. Compared to the large collections of art assembled by other merchants in Antwerp such as Cornelis van der Geest (1577-1638) and Peeter Stevens (c. 1590-1668), the collection of paintings documented for the Ximenez house on the Meir was relatively small; it certainly also included inherited pieces. While paintings were to be found throughout the house, the spaces used to receive guests (the dining room, the two sitting rooms and a room adjacent to the large sitting room) were most splendidly adorned with works of art. For the room that housed Ximenez's extensive library and served as a meeting place for the learned elite, the inventory also lists dried 'Indian' animals, printed city views and maps as well as other luxury artifacts such as medals, small-scale images and sculptures, some of them stored away in cases or boxes. As a whole, the collection reveals a refined taste for what was new or newly fashionable, and what was visually attractive. Emmanuel Ximenez had a particular liking for subjects in Roman history, mythologies, and scenes from the Old Testament. He also displayed a preference for paintings of female nudes, as did other collectors in the cosmopolitan merchant city of Antwerp – despite the attempts of Counter-Reformation theologians to restrict the display of nudity in art.

Most of the family portraits are recorded as being in the dining room, where they hung among portraits of "various friends of the house" and of "various lords and princes." The inventory mentions portraits of Emmanuel's father and mother (Ruy Nunes Ximenez and Gracia Rodrigues d'Evora), of his uncles on his father's side (Ferñao and Andrea Ximenez, the representatives of the firm's branches in Antwerp and Lisbon, respectively), and of his uncles on his mother's side (Nicolão and Simão Rodrigues d'Evora). The latter proudly displayed the family's kinship with the Rodrigues d'Evora, another powerful Portuguese merchant family in Antwerp, whose fortune equaled or even surpassed that of the Ximenezes. Like other merchants with aristocratic pretensions, Emmanuel Ximenez also owned several sets of portraits: A set of twenty-two portraits of Medici princes and princesses as well as portraits of the three Medici popes were on display in the large sitting room on the back house, the most lavishly furnished space. Twenty-six "small painted portraits of the Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant," conversely, adorned the sitting room facing the street. While the Medici series showcased the family's strong affiliations with a dynasty that gained political power through banking and commerce, the Brabant series displayed their loyalties to the oldest and most prestigious local principality of which the Archdukes Albert and Isabella were its most recent members. A third set of portraits is documented for the library and described as "sixteen counterfeits painted on paper" ("sestien Contrefaitzels geschildert op papier"). This was undoubtedly a series of likenesses of learned men that introduced Ximenez as a man of virtue and knowledge to his guests. The portrait of Don Giovanni de' Medici, which hung in a separate room, might have been presented to Ximenez as a gift. During his extended stays in the Southern Netherlands as a soldier in support of the imperial troops, Don Giovanni lodged mostly in Antwerp.

That Ximenez fostered a deep interest in ancient and contemporary historia (and the interrelationship between the two) is also evident from the "twelve small pieces of paintings [depicting] the history of Claudius Civilis and Paulus Julius in ebony frames" ("tweelf stucksken schilderye Historie van Claude Civilis ende Paulo Julio in eben lysten"). A set of twelve panels of the same subject was acquired by the States General at The Hague from Otto van Veen (now Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) in 1613, and the set listed in the 1617 inventory of Emmanuel Ximenez's possessions was in all probability a version of that series. Further paintings of events in Roman history include a panel painting of Marcus Curtius (presumably presenting the hero on horseback), a canvas painting "of the Horatii" (presumably a multi-figure historia of the battle between the Horatii and the Curatii), and another multi-figure scene showing the Abduction of the Sabine Women. The preference for heroic subjects, considered appropriate for aristocratic households, again testifies to the social ambitions of a wealthy converso merchant.

Several paintings recorded in the inventory are linked to the names of the greatest Antwerp artists: A Susanna and the Elders and a Hercules and the Centaurs are identified as works by Frans Floris (1517-1570); two paintings depicting fires are attributed to Gillis Mostaert (1528-1598); the large painting on canvas showing Venus emerging from sea foam is attributed to Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and the "scenes of Poetry" on the harpsichord made by Joannes Ruckers to Hendrik van Balen (1575-1632) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). Over the mantelpiece in the bedroom hung a Judgment of Paris, a popular subject among painters of the time wishing to display their skills in rendering beautiful nudes. We might assume that Ximenez's choice in this case was also motivated by concerns for the health of his wife and his children. In his Considerations on Painting (c. 1619-1621) the papal physician Giulio Mancini recommends "lascivious paintings" for the place to which husband and wife retire since the sight of these paintings would encourage "sexual excitement" and the birth of "beautiful, healthy, and strong sons": Mancini refers to the book De matrimonio by one "Sanus" (most probably the Spanish Jesuit Thomas Sanchez) as an authoritative source.

Ximenez's collection included only a few examples of the 'newer' genres such as landscapes, still lives, and banquets. Given the size of the Ximenez household, the number of devotional artworks is surprisingly small. Listed are an "image of the Virgin Mary," a "painting of Our Lord in the Olive Garden," a "Saint Ursula," and two triptychs showing the Adoration of the Magi. Paintings depicting the costly offerings of the three kings are frequently mentioned in Antwerp inventories of the time. A traditionally 'Antwerpian' subject since the rise of the city's art market in the early sixteenth century, paintings of the Magi also offered the opportunity to 'display' the silverware produced or traded in the metropolis. In addition, the subject's associations with long travels and far-away lands undoubtedly had a particular appeal for Antwerp merchants engaged in long-distance trade.

Christine Göttler, University of Bern


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