17th century Flemish and Dutch paintings

Unidentified 17th century Dutch painter, SOLD
Panoramic view of Seville
Oil on canvas : 64,3 X 126,5 cm
Unsigned
Frame : 84,8 X 146,5 cm

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SOLD
In short
 
This rare panoramic view of Seville tells the story of Spanish economics: how Colonial silver paid for Spain’s heavy loans from Genoese bankers and for its war efforts.
 
Between 1503 and 1680 Seville monopolised the trans-oceanic trade: all ships returning from the Spanish colonies in the Americas were obliged to moor in Seville, where taxes (at a rate of 20%) could be collected from private merchants. This turned Seville into the biggest and richest town of Spain. Our impressive painting testifies of the Moorish past of Seville and of its numerous, wealthy churches and and monasteries.
There are not many large 16th or 17th century bird’s eye views of Seville known and all of them sit in public collections.
 
The ships returning from the Americas to Seville brought sugar and tobacco, but above all huge amounts of silver. The choice for Seville had been a rather unfortunate one: the town lays along the Guadalquivir River, 100 km inland. As the sailing ships became larger its cargoes were unloaded in Cadiz and shipped upstream with galleys. At left, close to the pontoon bridge, you can see such a galley.
 
The two ships flying a red cross, the Cross of Saint George, are from Genoa. The right one also flies the Spanish flag, the X-shapes Burgundy Cross. The Ligurian Republic of Genoa had been turned into a satellite of Spain. Its bankers were since 1557 the main sponsors of the Spanish empire: in return for that American silver they leant money to the Spanish crown.
 
As our painter from the second half of the 17th century was Dutch, he also painted three Dutch ships: after the Peace Treaty of 1648 relations between the Dutch Republic and Spain had normalised.
 
About Seville
 
In 1503 the Spanish Crown made Seville its sole centre for trade with its colonies in the Americas: all Spanish ships coming from Spanish America were obliged to moor in Seville, where taxes (at a rate of 20% for private merchants) could be collected. This turned Seville into the largest, richest and culturally most diverse city of Spain. In the 16th century it had a population of around 130.000 people.
 
Sadly Seville lays about 100 kilometres inland and a journey along the sandbanks and wrecks of ships along River Guadalquivir could be dangerous, especially as sailing ships became larger. An inefficient, costly system was installed: the cargo of the galleons was unloaded in Cadiz and carried further upstream to Seville in galleys. Only in 1680 was Cadiz officially designated as the main import port for transatlantic goods.
 
About our view of Seville
 
In the left lower foreground one sees the Castle of San Jorge (the former headquarters of the Inquisition). On the same river bank at the extreme left the Monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas (holding today the Andalusian Contemporary Art Centre). On the opposite river bank sits San Laureano.
 
The Triana pontoon bridge over the River Guadalquivir connects the Castle of San Jorge and the Triana neighbourhood with the city centre. This floating bridge on boats was first built by the Moors in the 12th century. Only in 1852 was it replaced by a solid, metal arch bridge. It leads to the Triana Gate.
 
At the centre right the highest tower, 104 m high, is the Giralda, the bell-tower of the Christian Cathedral and former Minaret of the Great Mosque. 
To its left, the second highest tower belongs to the Church of San Pedro.
Between the Cathedral and San Pedro stands the Arenal Gate, which was destroyed in 1864.
 
Left of San Pedro stands the Church of the Divine Saviour (Iglesia del Salvador), the second largest church of Seville.
 
At the extreme right of our composition stands near the river the Golden Tower (Torro del Oro), constructed at the start of the 13th century under the Moorish Almohad Caliphate. City walls lead to a smaller tower, the Silver Tower  (Torre de la Plata), built during the same era. Left of that tower were the Seville Shipyards (Atarazanas de Sevilla), specialising in the construction of galleys.
 
At left, close to the Triana pontoon bridge you can see such a Sevillian galley transporting the American Colonial goods from Cadiz, where the transatlantic sailing ships had arrived, to Seville, its final Spanish destination. 
 
About the privileged relationship between Genoa and Seville
 
During the 15th, 16th and 17th century the Republics of Genoa and of Venice were the two main competitors on the Mediterranean trade routes. On top of that Genoese bankers practically controlled the European world of maritime finance and insurance between 1557 and 1627. Some thirty Genoese bankers-venture capitalists financed Spain’s main foreign endeavours.
 
Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492 under Spanish, Castilian flag, was a native from Genoa. Until 1568 the Spanish voyages to the New World were almost entirely financed by Genovese merchants who had settled in Seville. 
 
The famous Genoese admiral and statesman Andrea Doria (1466 – 1560) had first been at the service of the French King François I before turning to the King’s enemy, the Spanish Emperor Charles V (1500 – 1558) in 1528. The Republic of Genoa enjoyed Spanish protection, became its geopolitical ally and in fact a satellite of Spain. The Emperor, leading simultaneously two empires (one in the Old World and one in the New World) was financed by the Fugger family of bankers from Augsburg until the Spanish state went bankrupt in 1557, the Emperor passed away one year after. After 1557 Genoese bankers took the leading position of the Fuggers under the new King Philip II (1527 – 1598) and under his successors.
 
Genoa became the main European centre for international credit. Its bankers dominated Spain’s fiscal-military transactions from their counting houses in Seville. In return for fluid credit high rates of interest were reimbursed with enormous shipments of American silver that were rapidly transferred from Seville to Genoa, thus providing capital for further ventures. That silver was sold to the other Italian states in exchange for gold that was used to pay the King’s dues in the Low Countries. Following the fourth Spanish bankruptcy since 1557 (1575, 1596 and 1607) in 1627 the Genoese bankers were not brought down, but they rightly decided to draw down their exposure to Spain (declaring itself bankrupt again in 1647, 1652, 1662 and 1666) and turned for a new, less risky market to King Louis XIII of France.
 
About the importance of silver during the 16th and 17th century
 
A major reason for the Spanish colonization of the Americas had been the discovery of precious metals, gold and silver, of which there was a severe shortage in Europe. As a result Spain’s money supply increased tenfold (causing inflation). Silver was mined from the Cerro Rico Mountain near Potosi in present-day Bolivia and on a much smaller scale in Zacatecas in Mexico. 
 
The Spanish empire paid its huge loans from Genoese (and also of Portuguese) bankers with that silver. Part of it remained in Italy and in the rest of Europe. It was sold and exchanged for gold. On top of that Genoese loans could only be paid back in gold. The result was that that silver, changed into gold, served to pay the King’s dues in the Low Countries: the Eighty Years War fought in Flanders and in Holland was financed with American silver. Funny enough it was the Dutch capture by Piet Heyn of a Spanish silver fleet in 1628 that financed the final Dutch victory over, peace with and independence from Spain in 1648. 
 
Interestingly enough the rest of that Colonial Spanish silver ended up in China. Spain (just as all other European nations) had a great desire for Chinese silk and porcelain, while China had long running shortages of silver, which the Ming dynasty needed for minting coins. That American silver was actually the only European commodity that China was interested in.
 
Why should you buy this painting?
 
Because this beautiful view of Seville also tells of the history of Spain, running two Empires and financing its wars with Colonial silver and Genoa’s gold.
 
Comparative paintings
Click photos for more details