The Armenian merchant through the eyes of the Baroque era artists and patrons

Armenian merchant Dutch figurine ChinArmArt

The Armenian merchant through the eyes of the Baroque era artists and patrons

The Rijksmuseum in Netherlands houses an intriguing Baroque-period figurine of an Armenian merchant with the monkey (Armeense koopman met aap, anoniem, ca. 1700 – ca. 1725). The personage of Armenian identity, draped in Oriental costume, wearing a turban and seated on a pearl as a chair, is involved in the whimsical action of receiving a diamond from the brown monkey. Being created of gold, pearls, and precious stones by anonymous Dutch draughtsmen and serving as an embodiment of the 18th century exotic and opulent taste and also the symbol of the wealth of its unknown, yet well-to-do patron, however, this work of art can be considered as a clue to open up the Dutch vision of Armenians at the time. 

As the historical context follows, Armenian merchants arrived in the Republic of the Seven United Dutch Provinces in three immigration waves during the subsequent 17th and 18th centuries.

The first wave arrived from Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, in Iran and was called ’Jolfalijnen’ or Persians by the Dutch. The second group came from the main Ottoman seaports Aleppo, Constantinople, and Smyrna, and the third from Archangel, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.

The main incentive to migrate was the rise of the Dutch Republic, and Amsterdam in particular, as a center of global economic activity in the 17th century. The Armenian business houses of Amsterdam threw off branches into other European cities and countries — Venice, Leghorn, Marseilles, Spain. From the coasts of the Baltic Sea, they imported yellow amber, for which there was a great demand in Smyrna. The import of Persian silk was almost entirely in Armenian hands from 1700 to 1765. As the Mediterranean Sea was infested by pirates during that epoch, their ships were escorted by war vessels. Among such sailing ships, one was named Coopman van Armenien (Merchant of Armenia). A consular report, dated 1653, states that the Armenische Coopman, escorted by the warship Gelderland, had reached Smyrna in safety.

The Dutch-Armenian cultural interconnections are widely conveyed in the first printed book in Armenian. Around 1660 the Armenian priest Mathevos Tsaretsi (Matheos van Tsar as he was known in Dutch) settled in Amsterdam and in 1661 the first book in Armenian was printed titled “Jesus the Son”. 

It’s noteworthy that Jerzy (Georg) Daniel Schultz (known also as Daniel Schultz the Younger (1615–1683)), one of the prominent painters of the Baroque era while traveling to Amsterdam has captured an Armenian merchant in one of his oil paintings. The canvas entitled ” The Armenian merchant with a hookah” (1769) is a part of the outstanding art collections of the Armenian Mekhitarist monks at San Lazaro, Venice.  

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