The Lives of Jan Six
Compelling history of an Amsterdam dynasty, the Buddenbrooks of the Netherlands
Having written on the rise and fall of a village, a country, a continent and a world power, popular historian Geert Mak has now come to what is closest to his heart: his own city of Amsterdam. He describes its history through the life and legacy of the art collector and patrician Jan Six (1618-1700).
In 1586, Jan Six’s Huguenot grandfather fled persecution in France with his family for Amsterdam. By the time Jan was born, the family had risen to prominence and wealth through the success of their cloth-dyeing works and the spectacular growth in the cloth trade. Jan built on the family fortune and became a major patron of the arts during the Golden Age. His extensive art collection included the portrait that his friend Rembrandt painted in 1654, a painting which is still considered one of Rembrandt’s best.
Mak tells the story of the Six family and the city of Amsterdam through their major collection of paintings, complementing them with other unique sources: Jan Six’s notebook containing recipes, anecdotes, religious reflections to dirty jokes; the Kleine Pandora, Jan’s album amicorum, containing work by the poet Joost van den Vondel (considered the Dutch Shakespeare) and drawings by Rembrandt; and the many manuscripts which Jan collected throughout his long life.
Later descendants of the Six family became burgomasters and scientists, they amassed great riches and lost them. Geert Mak examined everything kept by the Sixes – four centuries’ worth of letters, diaries and shopping lists, right down to their ball books – and has worked it all into the history of the Sixes, this Amsterdam Buddenbrooks-type dynasty avant la lettre. All this against the background of Amsterdam’s Golden Age, its ambitions and limitations, grandeur and the ever- present fear of decline.