Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

BAS, Elisabeth Jacobsdr, also known as Elisabeth van Campen (born Kampen 1571 – died Amsterdam, 2 August 1649), innkeeper, famous for the brand of cigar named after her. Daughter of Jacob Jansz Bas (died 1595), ships chandler, and Engeltje Lubbersdr (died 1582). Elisabeth Bas married Jochem Heijndricksz Swartenhondt (1566-1627), ship’s captain, on 15 June 1596 in Amsterdam. The couple had 2 sons, both of whom died young, and 2 daughters.

As the owner of a number of houses, Elisabeth Bas’s father must have been fairly well-to-do. In 1583 guardians were appointed for the two children, the eleven-year-old Elisabeth and the somewhat younger Lubbert, which suggests that their father remarried after the death of their mother, Engeltje Lubbertsdr. In 1585 Jacob Jansz Bas moved with his family from Kampen to Amsterdam. At the age of 24, Elisabeth (who then called herself Lysbeth Jacobsdr van Campen) married Jochem Heijndricksz Swartenhondt, the captain of a warship.

Jochem Swartenhondt was active as a privateer in the war against Spain, taking on such opponents as the Dunkirk privateers. In 1602 he seized six Spanish ships carrying sugar. A notarial act dating from that same year reveals that Lysbeth Jacobsdr ordered three thousand loaves of bread from her brother, the baker Lubbert Jacobsz Bas, who lived on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam. This indicates that Elisabeth was responsible for provisioning her husband’s ships, a task often carried out by sailors’ wives (Bruijn and Van Eijck, 123-24).

An inn on the Nes

In 1606 Jochem Heijndricksz Swartenhondt bought an inn on the corner of the Nes and Pieter Jacobszstraat called ‘De Prince van Orangien’ (The Prince of Orange). During the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-21), Jochem and Elisabeth probably ran the inn together, for the armistice left little for Jochem Swartenhondt to do at sea. ‘De Prince van Orangien’ was an elegant establishment, where the magistrates and town councillors entertained prestigious guests, including Prince Frederik Hendrik.

After the Twelve Years’ Truce, Swartenhondt again served the Admiralty in Amsterdam. He was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, and in 1621 defeated the Spanish off Gibraltar, for which Prince Maurits rewarded him with a golden chain. This can be seen in his portrait, painted by Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy in 1627, the year Jochem Swartenhondt died.

Elisabeth Bas outlived her husband by 22 years. She continued to run the inn until at least 1630, as evidenced by the expensive bills paid by the city to ‘the widow Swartenhondt’ for entertaining its guests. In 1631 she took in the children (whom she eventually raised) of her eldest daughter Maria, who had died a year earlier. Maria had been married to Marten Reynersz Ray, the son of a wine merchant on the Rokin.

Financially speaking, the widowed Elisabeth was well-off: in 1631 she had to pay 90 guilders in property tax (levied at a rate of 0.5% and thus called the ‘Two-Hundredth Penny’). Her will, drawn up in 1648, reveals that she was worth 28,863 guilders. A fortune of this size put her among Amsterdam’s well-to-do burghers.

The cigar brand

The portrait that later became so famous, said to depict Elisabeth Bas, must have been painted around 1642. The identities of both the portraitist and the sitter have been called into question, so that nowadays there is no certainty about either. In 1880 the Van de Pol family – descendants of Elisabeth’s eldest daughter and Marten Ray – bequeathed the portrait, along with some other family heirlooms, to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was thought to be a Rembrandt, so the museum was especially happy to take possession of it, since it had no other work that could be firmly attributed to the great master. There seemed no reason to doubt the portrait’s authenticity, and the public was enchanted with what they fondly referred to as ‘the little old lady’. It was also called ‘Rembrandt’s mother’, even though it was said as early as 1881 to be a portrait of Elisabeth Bas, the grandmother of several other people whose portraits were part of the Van de Pol bequest. In 1932, when the firm of H. Jos. van Susante & Co. in Boxtel (the Netherlands) selected ‘Elisabeth Bas’ as a brand name and put her well-known portrait on the cigar bands, her name became a household word: ‘Elisabeth Bas’ cigars became familiar to young and old alike.

In the meantime, the art historian Abraham Bredius had dropped a bombshell in 1911 by stating that ‘the little old lady’ could not be a Rembrandt. This sparked a debate that is still going on today. The majority opinion is that the painting is attributable to Ferdinand Bol, although the Dictionary of Art does not agree. To confuse matters further, in 1992 the art historian Pieter van Thiel cast doubt on the sitter’s identity. In his opinion, there is no compelling reason to identify the elderly woman as Elisabeth Bas.

The innkeeper Elisabeth Bas owed her fame – no matter how prosaic – initially to an intriguing (but unsigned and undated) oil painting and later to her appearance on a cigar band. Now that the brand of cigar no longer exists, she is in danger of fading into oblivion. Even so, the portrait of Elisabeth Bas is still considered to be one of the Rijksmuseum’s top pieces.

Archives

For relevant archival sources (including notarial acts and records in the account books), see the publications by Frederiks (mentioned below), which are based mainly on these archival findings.

Bibliography

  • J.G. Frederiks, ‘Het portret der weduwe van den admiraal Zwartenhond, door Rembrandt’, in: Fr.D.O. Obreen, Archief voor Nederlandsche Kunstgeschiedenis 6 (Rotterdam 1884-1887) 265-278.
  • J.G. Frederiks, ‘“In den Swartenhondt”’, Amsterdamsch Jaarboekje 1 (1888) 56-80.
  • S. Kalff, ‘De families Bas en Swartenhont’, in: Idem, Oud-Hollandsche karakters (Rhenen 1905) 3-26.
  • M. van der Duin, Admiraal Swartenhondt: een vergeten zeeheld uit de zestiende eeuw (Kampen 1927) [the epilogue by C.J. Welcker contains genealogical data about Elisabeth Bas in Kampen].
  • G. Kolleman, ‘Admiraal Swartenhondt en zijn vrouw Lysbeth Bas’, Ons Amsterdam 19 (1967) 57-62.
  • K.E. Sluyterman, Ondernemen in sigaren. Analyse van bedrijfsbeleid in vijf Nederlandse sigarenfabrieken in de perioden 1856-1865 en 1925-1934 (Tilburg 1983).
  • J.R. Bruijn and E.S. van Eijck van Heslinga, ‘Aan “Wijffje lief”. Brieven van zeekapitein Eland du Bois aan zijn vrouw’, Nederlandse Historische Bronnen 5 (1985) 111-144.
  • P.J.J. van Thiel, ‘Toeschrijving aan Ferdinand Bol: portret van Elisabeth Jacobsdr. Bas’, in: Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch and Pieter van Thiel, Rembrandt: de meester & zijn werkplaats (Amsterdam/Zwolle 1991) 322-327 [with comprehensive bibliography].

Illustration

Author: Els Kloek.

last updated: 13/01/2014