Gerrit van Loo, voogd van Saskia, zwager van Rembrandt

In: Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries
Ben Broos
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During the six years before her marriage in 1634, Rembrandt's wife, Saskia Uylenburgh, lived in Sint Annaparochie (Het Bildt) with her sister Hiskia and her guardian, the town clerk Gerrit van Loo (ca 1580-1641). The Memorijen by Dirck Jansz. (ca 1579-1636) provide insight into the particulars of daily life in this Frisian county. Gerrit lived in comfort in the Regthuys, where Rembrandt's wedding celebration would later take place (fig. 1). In 1627 Gerrit, a widower, married Hiskia Uylenburgh, daughter of Rombertus Uylenburgh, a former mayor of Leeuwarden (fig. 2). Gerrit's first son was named Rombertus after his late grandfather. Johannes Maccovius (fig. 3), a Franeker professor, was witness to the baptism.In 1632, riots broke out in Het Bildt and Gerrit's family fled to Leeuwarden, taking Saskia with them. That was a turning point in her life. It was then that she probably first met her cousin Hendrick Uylenburgh, who ran a branch of his art dealership there. He had paintings by and after Rembrandt for sale there, including a 'Head of an Oriental Woman', which was also a portrait of Hendrick's wife, Maria van Eyck (fig. 4). Saskia decided to visit Maria and Hendrick in Amsterdam, and also looked up their cousin Aeltje Uylenburgh, who sat for a portrait by Rembrandt in 1632, when she was 62 years old (fig. 5). While in Amsterdam, Saskia met the painter at her cousin Hendrick's home. Three days after the baptism of Gerrit's daughter Sophia on 5 June 1633, Saskia became engaged to Rembrandt in Sint Annaparochie. It was then that Rembrandt drew her in silverpoint on parchment (fig. 6). Recent physical examination has demonstrated that the drawing of Saskia and the inscription beneath it were done at the same time and with the identical implement.After the death of her sister Antje in November of 1633, Saskia lived in Franeker with her brother-in-law, the widower Maccovius. Rombertus Ockema, the son of her oldest sister Jelcke, was studying in Franeker at the time. In his album amicorum, this nephew kept a calendar of all the Uylenburgh dates of death. This is concrete evidence for the close ties within this family, which meant more to Rembrandt than his own relatives from Leiden. In connection with her engagement to Rembrandt, Saskia requested and received a declaration of majority (venia aetatis). In March of 1634, Saskia's godmother, Sas Uylenburgh, passed on in Leeuwarden. She had earlier made Jelcke her heiress, instead of her goddaughter Saskia. The family took legal steps to challenge this decision, with Gerrit representing Saskia as 'curator'. He was repeatedly to fill this role later on, even when he was no longer her guardian.Presumably Saskia remained in Friesland from the time of her engagement until her wedding on 22 June 1634. Rembrandt did not even know her exact address. He engraved her portrait in what appears to be bridal dress (fig. 8). One month later, Rembrandt gave power of attorney, via a Rotterdam notary, to Gerrit van Loo, so that he could collect outstanding debts for Saskia in Friesland. In similar fashion, Gerrit organized the sale of a family farm for Saskia cum suis in 1634. In 1635, Saskia (visibly pregnant and therefore probably accompanied by Rembrandt) was witness to the baptism of Gerrit's fourth child, Antje (fig. 9).When Saskia drew up her first will in 1635, Hiskia was to be compensated for services rendered with a generous bequest. In 1638, Gerrit once again assisted Saskia with the sale of a farm, 'Ulenburghs Sate' in Nijemirdum. The legal proceedings against Jelcke over the inheritance of aunt Sas apparently turned out well; Hendrick Uylenburgh and Rembrandt wrote nearly identical letters to the notary in Leeuwarden, demanding their portion. Gerrit van Loo was one of the witnesses at the baptism of Titus on 22 September 1641. Gerrit passed away on 26 December of that year, as duly noted by cousin Ockema. In the spring of the following year, Saskia fell critically ill and had a second will drawn up. Once again, Hiskia was promised the bulk of her (greatly increased) fortune. Rombertus Ockema also recorded Saskia's death on 14 June 1642 (fig. 10).Rembrandt remained in touch with Gerrit's widow, Hiskia Uylenburgh, whom he turns out to have owed money in 1656. One year earlier, at the instigation of his father, Titus had altered Saskia's will to the detriment of her family. Titus married Gerrit's niece Magdalena van Loo in 1668. In his request for venia aetatis, he provided proof of his baptism, on which Gerrit van Loo is named as his former godfather. Beside Johannes Maccovius ('the professor') and François Coopal ('the commissioner'), Gerrit van Loo ('the secretary') turns out to have been the third brother-in-law to give meaning and colour to hitherto obscure aspects Rembrandt's life. They were the academics among Rembrandt's next of kin, all four alumni of Franeker University and longtime acquaintances.

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