Reinier Nooms, an Amsterdam painter and graphic artist also known as Reinier Zeeman (seaman), specialized in maritime subjects. His career coincided with the heyday of Dutch commercial and maritime power in the 17th century, and Amsterdam’s bustling harbor in the IJ estuary provided Nooms with much of his artistic inspiration.
The billowing clouds, fluttering flags, and slightly choppy waters give life to this engaging view of Amsterdam’s harbor. A warship and several merchant ships are tied up inside the breakwater for maintenance and repairs. A man on a temporary platform works on the hull of the three-master to the left of center, while his colleague tends to a vat of hot tar on a floating dock. Two women have tied their skiff to the dock to do laundry in the harbor’s waters.
This painting celebrates a powerful Amsterdam family and its link to an important warship owned by the city’s Admiralty. The castle depicted on the ship’s tafferel (the painted panel on the stern) identifies it as the Huis te Swieten, which was built in 1653 and captured by the English in 1665. The warship served as the flagship of Michiel de Ruyter, one of Holland’s greatest naval heroes, on three expeditions in the 1650s.
The Huis te Swieten was named after the country estate of burgomaster Cornelis Bicker (1592–1654), a wealthy merchant and a member of the most powerful family in Amsterdam in the 1650s. Cornelis’ brother Jan Bicker (1591–1653) operated a thriving shipbuilding enterprise on a newly reclaimed island off Amsterdam’s shoreline. Bicker’s Island, still known by this name today, was one of three islands created as part of the city’s expansion of 1610. In the mid-1650s Nooms made an etching of the shipyard on Bicker’s Island featuring a small guardhouse at one of the openings in the breakwater that protected the harbor. At the far left of Amsterdam Harbor Scene, we see a similar guardhouse, which, based on cartographic evidence, was situated at another opening farther out along the breakwater. The combination of the etching, which positively identifies Bicker’s Island, and contemporary maps of Amsterdam, confirms that Nooms painted this scene from the northeastern shore of Bicker’s Island, looking across the IJ.
The artist signed Amsterdam Harbor Scene as "R.Zeeman" upon its completion around 1658, embedding his coined name on the flag on the warship’s main mast. Coincidentally, Nooms accompanied De Ruyter on an expedition to the Mediterranean from 1661 to 1663.
center right on the flag: R.Zeeman
Probably commissioned by the Bicker family, Amsterdam. Private collection, England; (sale, Bonhams, London, 12 September 2009, no. 82); (Johnny Van Haeften, Ltd., London); purchased 19 January 2011 by NGA.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer. Japanese ed. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 2011: 20, fig. 2.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., and Daniëlle H.A.C. Lokin. Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo. London, 2011: 13, fig. 2.
- Bruyn Kops-Rahusen, Henriette de. "De Thuishaven van de Familie Bicker." Maandblad Amstelodamum 1 (2012): 34-43, 35 fig. 1, 36 fig. 2 (detail), 38 fig. 5 (detail).