Cornelis Jan Witsen

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Cornelis Jan Witsen, depicted in a captain's uniform.

Cornelis Jansz. Witsen (bapt. 8 September 1605, Amsterdam – 12 March 1669, Amsterdam) was a counsellor and mayor of the city of Amsterdam. He was the father of Nicolaes Witsen and the son of Jan Witsz(en) and Grietje Claes.


Cornelis (far left), with fellow aldermen, like Gerrit Reynst by Bartholomeus van der Helst.

The Witsen family was involved in the grain trade with Russia. He began his career as captain of the Schutterij and ended it as hoofdschout (head bailiff). Furthermore he was administrator of the Dutch West India Company and had a seat in the Admiralty of Amsterdam. He was involved in the building of the Lands Zeemagazijn, now the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum. As a member of the Admiralty of Amsterdam, in 1656, he was sent with a diplomatic mission to England for talks with Cromwell at the laws on shipping. He took his 15-year-old son with him.

Witsen was a great patron of painting and supported the painter Rembrandt through his 1653 financial problems by providing him with a loan to buy a house. Five years later Witsen caused Rembrandt's bankruptcy by claiming back these 4.180 guilder.[1]

Witsen was best known for his library. He praised the poet Jan Vos and the painting of Bartholomeus van der Helst. The educator Comenius condemned him for supporting the proto-Enlightenment thinker Adriaan Koerbagh.


  1. ^ Crenshaw, P. (2006) Rembrandt's Bankruptcy. The artist, his patrons and the art market in seventeent-century Netherlands, p. 70, 78.