We have added 77 labels to objects in the permanent collection, which describe their connection with the Netherlands’ history of slavery.
Rembrandt van Rijn
Marten & Slavery - Marten and Oopjen’s wealth was entirely related to the money that Marten’s father and later the couple themselves earned from the refining of raw sugar from Brazil in Amsterdam. This sugar had been cultivated, harvested and processed by enslaved Africans. Fortunes were made in Europe from sugar, which had become very popular in a short time. The Amsterdam sugar industry catered to the lion’s share of demand in Europe. This enormous production was only possible through the large-scale deployment of enslaved people.
On display in Philips wing, room 1.5
Oopjen & Slavery - After the death of her husband Marten Soolmans (adjacent), Oopjen married Maerten Daey. Prior to this, Daey had spent a few years in Brazil. The tragic story of the enslaved Francisca has come down to us from contemporary sources. Daey had taken her captive, locked her up, and raped her multiple times. When it turned out that Francisca was with child, he sent her away and refused to recognize their daughter Elunam.
23 works of art from this collection are currently on display in the Rijksmuseum. View and follow the route using the free Rijksmuseum app.
Adriaen van Ostade
Tobacco & Slavery - The man on the bench smokes a pipe. In the 17th century, smoking was so common in the Netherlands that it was widely reported by foreign travellers: the smell of the Dutch Republic was the smell of tobacco. By far the most and best tobacco was cultivated in the Americas by enslaved people. Virtually the entire harvest was shipped to the Netherlands and then sold on to other countries. Such a system of forced labour thus made it possible for the Dutch to not only light their pipes daily, but also become rich from the tobacco trade.
On display in room 2.13
Frans Jansz Post
Dutch Brazil & Slavery - Frans Post made idealized renderings of Brazilian landscapes for a Dutch audience. The reality in Dutch Brazil was different, especially for the enslaved people who had to work on the plantations under appalling conditions. Cutting sugar cane was treacherous and sometimes resulted in serious injury. The work in the sugar mills was no less dangerous: people suffered burns from the hot fires and the splashing, boiling liquid and their limbs were torn off by the rotating rollers in the mills.
On display in room 2.10
The ‘Silver Fleet’ & Slavery - By capturing the gold and silver laden Spanish Treasure Fleet, the Dutch West India Company acquired enough money to conquer Olinda from the Portuguese in Brazil. In doing so, they also took over the lucrative sugar production. Sugar was a popular yet costly product that could only be extracted from sugar cane. Between 1635 and 1645, the Dutch transported about 25,000 enslaved people from various parts of Africa to Dutch Brazil, where they had to cultivate and process sugar cane alongside the indigenous population.
On display in room 2.9
Fort Elmina & Slavery - The young man behind Valckenburgh is one of the many people enslaved by the Dutch West India Company. African traders took him and other prisoners to trading posts to be sold. This human trafficking was organized and coordinated in Fort Elmina (in present-day Ghana). The Dutch transported a total of 550,000 Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean. As slaves they were dehumanized: they were taken far away from their place of birth, separated from their families and friends, branded, and denied any say over their own actions and bodies.
The Dutch West India Company & Slavery - Diplomatic gifts, such as this crown, played a major role in alliances between European countries and African rulers. Ardra, a great kingdom in what is now Benin, was known for ‘the multitude of slaves traded there.’ With the arrival of the Dutch West India Company, not only did the demand for enslaved people increase, but the nature and scale of the slave trade and slavery also changed. Aside from the fact that people were now transported to other continents, in the colonial system slavery became hereditary and linked to skin colour.
Michiel van Musscher
Thomas & Slavery - Thomas is standing in the background. He wears a turban, is barefoot and has an iron collar around his neck. He probably got his name from the man to whom he is handing a pipe and a cloak: Thomas Hees. In North Africa, Hees negotiated the release of Dutch sailors who had been forced to work as slaves. Back in Amsterdam he had himself portrayed with his young servant behind him. Thomas’ neck collar is a reference to slavery and ownership.
Forts & Slavery - This series of paintings hanging high up in a row features various Dutch East India Company (VOC) trading posts in Asia. Invisible are the thousands of enslaved people who were forced to actually built them or toiled inside their walls. They were traded in these forts and taken to other stations. The VOC shipped between 660,000 and 1,135,000 human beings in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Jan Pietersz Coen & Slavery - The people of the Banda Islands, part of the Moluccas, did not want to sell their nutmeg exclusively to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). To secure this monopoly, Jan Pietersz Coen proceeded to virtually exterminate the Bandanese. Of the approximately 15,000 original inhabitants, an estimated 14,000 were murdered. The rest either fled or were enslaved. In addition, the VOC seized people from the Indonesian archipelago, India and Madagascar and forced them to work on the nutmeg plantations.
Bartholomeus van der Helst
The Treaty of Münster & Slavery - During the war with Spain, Dutch trading companies conquered Spanish and Portuguese colonial outposts in Asia, Africa and America. The Treaty of Münster, to which the Amsterdam militiamen depicted here toast, ensured that the Netherlands retained these captured territories. Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius, among others, were regarded as Dutch possessions. For centuries the Dutch used these islands on a massive scale as a sales point and transit port for enslaved people.
On display in room 2.8
Hugo de Groot & Slavery - At the beginning of the 17th century, the well-known jurist Hugo de Groot described the grounds on which someone could legitimately enslave another human being. This, incidentally, did not apply to the Netherlands, so De Groot reasoned, because for centuries anybody was officially free. Some people attempted to claim this general right through the courts. Others, faced with a forced return to the colonies where they would once again be deprived of liberty, took flight.
On display in room 2.5
Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne
Servants & Slavery - Prominently portrayed in the middle ship is an African child, who, judging from his clothing, must have been a servant. We know neither whether he had been enslaved nor how he ended up in the Netherlands. This painting makes it clear that African children were brought to the Dutch Republic as early as 1615. That is almost ten years before the Dutch West India Company was founded and Dutchmen actively traded in enslaved people in West Africa.
Cornelis van der Voort
Laurens Reael & Slavery - In the early days of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) the most important administrators did not see eye to eye regarding the deployment of enslaved people. Laurens Reael, for example, maintained that the use of forced, unpaid labour was no solution to the shortage of workers. This was not because he considered it morally wrong, but rather because people subjected to slavery, according to him, ‘always try to escape, (...) as it is difficult to forget the delights of the country where one was born and raised.’
Adriaen Thomasz. Key
William of Orange & Slavery - In 1580 William of Orange and his followers maintained that Philip II, king of Spain, was no longer entitled to serve as ruler of the Low Countries. Philip would want to enslave the Dutch and treat them as cruelly as he did the colonized South Americans. Some thirty years later, the Netherlands, then independent of Spain, began to trade in enslaved people and slavery itself, first in Asia and later in the Atlantic region.
On display in room 2.1
Frans Francken (II)
Charles V & Slavery - In the right foreground of this painting, the personifications of the continents of the Americas, Asia and Africa offer their riches to Charles V. In Europe this fealty was taken for granted because Europeans considered themselves to be superior. Charles V, too, took this as a given. In 1518, as ruler of the Spanish Empire, he issued the first 'asiento' (monopoly contract) to ship thousands of people directly from Africa to the Spanish colonies in South America. This was the beginning of the large-scale transatlantic slave trade, which would persist for more
The Black Community & Slavery - As in most other 17th-century works, only white people are seen in this painting. And yet, a modest community of African people actually lived nearby the Kloveniersdoelen complex from 1630. They came to the city as servants, sailors or political emissaries from the moment that Amsterdammers became active in the colonies, at trading posts in Asia, Africa and America, and in the trade of enslaved people.
On display in Nightwatch gallery
Joachim von Sandrart (I)
Cornelis Bicker & Slavery - Cornelis Bicker, the seated man portrayed here, was director and major shareholder of the Dutch West India Company (WIC) during its early years (1622 to 1628). At that time the WIC’s aim was to conquer Portuguese-Brazil for its numerous sugar plantations. The indigenous people of Brazil and enslaved Africans were forced to work there. Bicker also traded in sugar himself. His warehouse in Amsterdam overflowed with crates of sugar, which earned him 100,000 guilders (now more than 1 million euros) in a single year.
Servant & Slavery - A child in a red cape is visible in the middle of this group portrait. He is probably the servant of Roelof Bicker, the man next to him. Having a African servant was a status symbol in affluent circles. Who this youngster was and how he ended up in Amsterdam remains unknown. According to Amsterdam city law, he was entitled to his freedom: ‘Within the city of Amsterdam and its areas of law, all men are free, and none are slaves.’ The question is the extent to which he was able to attain that freedom.
Willem Claesz. Heda
Salt & Slavery - One year after this picture was painted, the Netherlands conquered Bonaire for its salt pans. The Arawak (the original inhabitants) and enslaved people from West Africa were forced to mine the salt pans. They stood day in and day out barefoot in the stinging salt water and under the blazing sun. In the Netherlands this salt was used to preserve meat and fish or ended up in luxurious salt cellars, like the one shown here.
On display in Gallery of Honour
Spices & Slavery - The spices in these pies were often obtained by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) through violence and slavery. Cloves came from Ambon, one of the Moluccan islands, which was conquered by the VOC in 1605. The Ambonese had to harvest cloves alongside workers enslaved by the VOC. Nutmeg came from the Banda Islands (south of Ambon), which were taken by force in 1621. Enslaved people had to pick the nutmeg seeds on plantations and strip off their covering (aril).
Pieter Jansz. Saenredam
The Church & Slavery - Dutch pastors initially rejected slavery as something done only by Catholic Portuguese and Spaniards. Their attitude changed when the Dutch themselves became active in human trafficking at the beginning of the 17th century. The biblical story of Cham, who was cursed by his father Noah to serve his brothers forever, was central to this. Pastors explained this story as Africans being predestined to serve Europeans and thus legitimized the slave trade.
Jan Jansz Mostaert
The 16th century & Slavery - Research on this portrait suggests that the sitter was the African man Christophle le More. Christophle started out as a stable hand and became Charles V's bodyguard. His daily wage was twice that of a craftsman in Brussels in the 16th century. At the time this portrait was painted – before Dutch colonial slavery – people of colour of all ranks and positions were living throughout Europe. At the court of Charles V this constituted two people in 1520.
On display in room 0.6
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