The Rijksmuseum has purchased four outstanding silver salt cellars made by the renowned Amsterdam silversmith Johannes Lutma. These partially gilded objects are among the most important examples of 17th-century Dutch silversmithing.
Two of the salt cellars were previously displayed in the Rijksmuseum from the 1960s onwards; the other pair was held in the Amsterdam Museum. Prior to the Second World War, all four were the property of Hamburg resident Emma Budge, who was Jewish. Following her death in 1937, the cellars were sold at auction. The proceeds of this sale went to the Nazis rather than to Budge’s heirs. The Dutch Restitutions Committee recently decided that the salt cellars be returned to the descendants.
This acquisition was made possible by financial support from the Friends Lottery, the Mondriaan Fund, the Rembrandt Association, and private benefactors via the Rijksmuseum Fonds. The Rijksmuseum will place the four salt cellars on public view from 6 September 2023 in a special display that also tells the story of Emma Budge.
Johannes Lutma (1584-1669) was Amsterdam’s foremost silversmith in the 17th century. He was a contemporary and friend of Rembrandt, who etched a portrait of him, and Joost van den Vondel and other Dutch poets also praised him in their work. The four salt cellars are undisputed masterpieces in his oeuvre, very little of which has survived to the present day. These objects were the first in which Lutma combined the ornamental auricular style with a classical formal idiom. In 1638, Lutma commissioned Amsterdam artist Jacob Adriaensz Backer to paint portraits of himself and his wife Sara de Bie. The fact that the silversmith chose to be shown next an early version of these cellars strongly suggests that he regarded them as breakthrough works. The portraits are also held in the Rijksmuseum collection, and they will be displayed with the two pairs of salt cellars, which Lutma made in 1639 and 1643.
From a historical and art-historical perspective, it is of major significance that Lutma probably designed a large ensemble of objects very early in his career and later produced the constituent elements – including the four salt cellars – in phases over the course of many years. The identical style used for the feet unifies the ensemble, while differences of detailing in the human figures and salt dishes give the two pairs distinct identities. The constituent elements of the very few other surviving ensembles of this kind from the first half of the 17th century are far less well-matched. Costly cellars of this kind would stand on the tables for important banquets given by wealthy art lovers, or at the headquarters of citizen militias or the navy, for example.
Before the Second World War, the four salt cellars were owned by Emma Budge (1852-1937) and Henry Budge (1840-1928), a Jewish couple from Hamburg. Emma and her businessman and banker husband accumulated an extensive art collection. They also contributed to charities and the founding of the University of Frankfurt.
Following the death of Emma Budge in 1937, her property was sold off at Paul Graupe’s ‘aryanised’ auction house in Berlin. The proceeds of the sale were confiscated by the German Nazi party, the NSDAP, rather than being passed on to Budge’s heirs. It is believed that the four salt cellars were bought by a German dealer named Greatzer, about whom little else is known. These objects eventually found their way into the famous collection of silver belonging to W.J.R. Dreesmann. In 1960, central government and the City of Amsterdam acquired the four salt cellars at an auction of the Dreesman collection; two went on display in the Rijksmuseum and two in the Amsterdam Museum.
An investigation carried out by the Amsterdam Museum concluded in 2013 that the two salt cellars in its collection were of suspicious origin. This prompted the Rijksmuseum to initiate an investigation into the two salt cellars in its own collection. A year later, these objects were identified as suspicious on the websites of both the Rijksmuseum and the Museums Association. In 2014, restitutions committees in various countries designated the 1937 auction of Emma Budge’s estate as involuntary. This led to the return to Budge’s descendants of silver, porcelain, tapestries and busts by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the German food conglomerate Dr. Oetker. The Dutch Restitutions Committee arrived at the same conclusion in 2018, leading to the return of the bronze sculpture of Moses attributed to Alessandro Vittoria from the collection of Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle.
Following the publication in 2018 of the conclusions of the Restitutions Committee, the descendants of Emma Budge submitted a claim for the two salt cellars in the Rijksmuseum collection, the two salt cellars in the Amsterdam Museum collection, and two objects in the collection of Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague. On 16 November 2022, the Restitutions Committee issued its recommendation that these objects be returned to Budge’s descendants. In the case of the salt cellars held by the Amsterdam Museum, the recommendations were binding. The State Secretary for Culture and Media complied with the recommendations, and on 5 December 2022 decided also to return the Rijksmuseum salt cellars to the descendants. On 12 May 2023, the Dutch state and the City of Amsterdam returned the objects to the claimants. That same day, the heirs sold all four salt cellars to the Rijksmuseum. On 6 September 2023 the complete ensemble will go on display at the Rijksmuseum, which will continue to draw attention to both the art-historical importance of the objects and the story surrounding their provenance and restitution.
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