Book Chapter

Carlo Helman : merchant, patron and collector in the Antwerp – Venice migrant network

This contribution is part of the monographic number of the Nederlands Yearbook for History of Art dedicated to a large overview on the “Art and Migration. Nethelandish Artists on the Move, 1400-1750”. In the dynamics of migration, circulation, establishing trough Europe in the Modern Era, the network’s analysis play a fundamental role. The essay explores the prominent role played by Antwerp merchants in Venice in forging contacts between artists, patrons and agent of art in promoting the exchange of goods and ideas within their adopted home. In the course of the 16th century, and more particularly towards the end of that period, the complex network of Netherlandish merchant families, operating on a European level, played a crucial role in the circulation of artists, paintings and other artworks in Italy and beyond. The article proposed here deals with Carlo Helman, a Venetian resident of Antwerp origins, a major figure whose importance in this context has been insufficiently studied. Helman’s family firm traded in practically every kind of commodity, ranging from wool and spices to pearls and diamonds, and, indeed, artworks, “in omnibus mundis regnis”, as we read in the commemorative inscription on his monumental tomb in the Venetian church of Santa Maria Formosa. A high-class international trader in Venice, Helman was consul of the “Nattione Fiamenga”. Helman had a conspicuous collection of art, including classics of the “Venetian maniera” like Titian, Veronese and Bassano, but also important pictures by Northern masters. Moreover, his collection contained a remarkable cartographic section. In Venice, Helman had contacts with the Bassano dynasty, Paolo Fiammingo, Dirck de Vries, Lodewijck Toeput (Pozzoserrato) and the Sadeler brothers, artists who, in one way or another, introduced novel themes and typologies on the Italian, and, indeed, European market. The dedication to Helman on a print by Raphael Sadeler, reproducing Bassano’s Parable of the Sower, photographs the merchant’s role in the diffusion of Bassanesque themes in the North. Helman’s connections with the Zanfort brothers, dealers in tapestries and commercial agents of Hieronymus Cock are further indications of the merchant’s exemplary role of collector, merchant and agent of artists in a European network of “art” commerce.


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