Dirck Jansz van Santen

Dirck Jansz van Santen (1636-1708) was a leading Dutch colorist in the 17th century. His primary occupation was coloring the great Dutch atlases, but Van Santen also illuminated Bibles and illustrated books on poetry, gardening, astrology, and history.

He was born in Amsterdam in 1636, as the son of Jan Jansz van Santen, who had been a member of the local booksellers’ guild since 1651 and whose own publications date to the 1650s and 60s.  In 1653, Jan Jansz bought a house on Oudezijds Kerkhof for 4,000 Florint, indicating that the family was relatively well off.

In addition to training in his native Amsterdam, evidence suggests that Van Santen went to Paris to work on several projects. He may even have been hired by Louis XIV as a colorist for his atlases and Bibles. He certainly worked for prominent citizens in Amsterdam, including the mayor, Nicolaas Witsen (1641-1717), and Laurens van der Hem (1621-1678), a wealthy Amsterdam lawyer and collector. When van der Hem died in 1678, Van Santen had probably been working for him privately for years. Among van der Hem’s many treasures was an enlarged version of Blaeu’s eleven-volume Atlas Maior (1662). Var den Hem’s version consisted of no less than 46 regular and 4 supplement volumes, totaling more than 2,000 maps, prints, and drawings, all of which had been expertly colored by van Santen. The van der Hem atlas was an Amsterdam attraction, in part due to van Santen’s exquisite decoration.  Eminent foreign visitors came to view it, including the Medicis, the grand dukes of Tuscany, who offered an enormous sum for the bound portion of the Atlas (33 volumes), but to no avail.

It is not inconceivable that Van Santen set up his own print shop, or at the very least maintained a close relationship with one or more established publishers. But he also worked privately for wealthy Amsterdam collectors like Willem van Beest and Jacob Cromhout both of whom owned large collections of Van Santen illuminations.

Dirck Jansz van Santen died in 1708, well over the age of 70, and was buried in the Leidse Kerkhof in Amsterdam.

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