A DUTCH TORTOISESHELL BOX WITH TWO ENGRAVED SILVER PLAQUES
Amsterdam, 1691, with maker's mark of Steven des Rousseaux (1654-1733)
H. 5 cm
Diam. 12.5 cm
Steven des Rousseaux (Paris circa 1654 - Amsterdam 1733) in 1672 worked for the silversmith and assayer Roelof Hensbergen in Amsterdam. In 1681 he was registered as citizen of Amsterdam and silversmith. Des Rousseaux must have been prominent in the silver guild because in 1695 he was chosen headman of the silver guild and in 1710 he became member of the “Goede Mannen” who mediate in disputes between silver smiths and their clients. His maker’s mark is only on the silver plaque on the underside of the box, with the coat of arms of Costantijn Ranst (1635- 1714), suggesting that Ranst ordered the silver from des Rousseaux and had it made as a present to a member of the family whose coat of arms is engraved in the silver of the lid. The engraved coat of arms on the silver lid was initially thought to belong to the van Etten family from the small town of Etten-Leur in Brabant (see Uit Verre Streken, October 2016). However in 1691 that family was already long extinct in the male line. After additional research the coat of arms with the three castles can now be safely attributed to the Bijsterus family. Henricus Bijsterus, a Remonstrant clergyman, in 1670 became citizen of Amsterdam. His wife Hester Gravia (1635-1685) was the widow of Johan Hop, the brother of the powerful Grand Pensionary of Amsterdam Cornelis Hop (1620-1704).
In 1670 or 1671 Henricus and Hester had a son, Wilhelmus Bijsterus who later would have very close relations with Cornelis Hop. Cornelis would even become godfather to Wilhelmus’ son. Hester’s sister Catharina (1655-1735) was married to Isaac Ruts (1635-1712), member of a very rich and influential Amsterdam merchant family. After Hester’s death Henricus remarried Elsje Colijn (1634-1706), again a member of an important Amsterdam patrician family. Henricus died in 1688 so a few years before the box was made.
His son Wilhelmus studied at the Remonstant Seminary in Amsterdam. In 1694 he became burgher of Amsterdam and in 1701 Remonstrant clergyman, subsequently in Warmond, Delft and Amersfoort. He died in Leiden in 1749. In 1691, when the box was made, Wilhelmus was barely 20 years of age. Eventhough Constantijn Ranst was one of the richest men of Amsterdam why should he give a young man such a precious present? In 1691 Wilhelmus became a member of the Remonstrant Brotherhood of which Ranst already was a member and as such a good acquaintance of his father, the former Remonstrant clergyman in Amsterdam. Constantijn and Wilhelmus moved in the same Amsterdam circles and were almost neighbours, Ranst living on the Herengracht and Wilhelmus with his stepmother on the Keizersgracht. Another possible candidate is Lucas Bijsterus, born in 1651 or 1652 in Alkmaar.
In 1674 Lucas married Lijsbeth van Velsen, daughter of the bookprinter Jacob Samuelsz van Velsen in Amsterdam and till at least 1682 worked as a bookprinter and editor in Amsterdam. In 1692 Lucas, as a widower, turned up in Rotterdam where he married Neeltje Jacobsdr van Raemburgh. They had a son Simon who was baptized in the Remonstrant church in 1693. If Lucas left Amsterdam in 1691, could Ranst have given the box as a farewell present? We don’t know but personally I think Wilhelmus is the more likely candidate to have received the box from Ranst. However, family relationships can be traced but friendship relationships are much more difficult to trace. Constantijn Ranst, born in Amsterdam in 1635, signed up with the VOC and sailed to Batavia in 1659, making a stop at the Cape of Good Hope where he met Jan van Riebeeck who founded the Dutch settlement at the Cape.
In 1662 Ranst was sent to Deshima where he became Secunde for a year. From 1665 till 1667 he was “Opperhoofd” in Tonkin and in 1668 he was back in Deshima as “Opperhoofd”. From 1669 till 1673 he was Director of Bengal in Hugli. After his return to Batavia he was elected in the “Raad van Indië”. In 1677 he sailed back to Holland as Admiral of the return-fleet. He settled in Amsterdam where he bought Herengracht 527 and neighbouring 529, two very important canal houses, and he also bought seven warehouses on the Prinsengracht. In 1664 in Batavia he had married Hester Hartsinck, daughter of Carel Hartsinck, Director of Indië. A daughter born in 1671, called Hester like her mother, back in Holland married Jacob Hinlopen, one of the directors of the West Indiën Company. In 1717 Herengracht 257 was rented out to Tsar Peter the Great during his second visit to Holland, who apparently left it in a mess. Jacob Hinlopen inherited the house and until recently it housed the Geelvinck Hinlopen Museum. During the Dutch Golden Age Constantijn Ranst was one of the 250 richest men of the country and he owned a painting by Rembrandt “the adoration of the three Magi”.