BEECKMAN, Andries
(active 1651-57 Dutch East Indies)

The Castle of Batavia, Seen from Kali Besar West

c. 1656
Oil on canvas, 108 x 152 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Dutch expansion overseas was in both directions, eastward and westwards. In particular, it was the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) in 1621, each with clearly demarcated areas of activity, that caused the number of Dutch overseas territories to increase rapidly. Some of the settlements in the western hemisphere were only briefly under Dutch administration: Northern Brazil (1624-1661) and New Holland, with the city of New Amsterdam — the future New York — at the mouth of the Hudson river (1628-1664). On the other hand, the islands of Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and St. Martin are still Dutch, while Surinam became independent in 1975.

The Far Eastern territories were the most important, including settlements in India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Malacca (now part of Malaysia), Formosa (now Taiwan), the Japanese island of Deshima and the Indonesian archipelago. It was here, in Batavia on the island of Java, that the VOC established its administrative headquarters, with a governor-general in charge from 1610 onwards. Trading contracts were signed and alliances concluded with local princes. In 1652, a staging post for VOC ships was established at the southern tip of Africa, known as the Cape of Good Hope. The arrival of settlers was to transform this into a fully-fledged Dutch colony.

In the 17th century a striking number of Dutch artists sought work abroad. Historical research confirmed that they were the most travelled in Europe. However, it is not true that artists (with the exception of the cartographers) travelled in great numbers to distant continents in the wake of the ships of the Dutch East and West India companies. That happened only incidentally.

Andries Beeckman painted views of 17th-century Batavia (now Jakarta). His large painting of the Batavia market and fort provides striking evidence of the interest Asia and Asians stimulated in Holland. Much attention has been paid to the central figures in the painting. A man strolls with a woman whose clothing and appearance strongly suggest an Asian ancestry, while a servant holds a payung (parasol, symbol of status in Southeast Asia) above them.

In the background of the painting is the castle of Batavia, the bastion of Dutch rule in Asia. This was where the VOC's administrators lived. The governor-general is just arriving in town with his retinue. In the foreground is a market by the Kali Besar, or Great River. The Dutch built Batavia in 1619 on the site of Jakarta, which they had destroyed. Beeckman was commissioned by the VOC to paint this peaceful scene on the spot.

Beeckman made two versions of this painting.