The Rijksmuseum has purchased four outstanding silver salt cellars made by the renowned Amsterdam silversmith Johannes Lutma. These partially gilded objects are among the most important examples of seventeenth-century Dutch silversmithing. Two of the salt cellars were previously displayed in the Rijksmuseum from the 1960s onwards; the other pair was held in the Amsterdam Museum.
Prior to the Second World War, all four were the property of Hamburg resident Emma Budge, who was Jewish. Following her death in 1937, the cellars were sold at auction. Following the publication in 2018 of the conclusions of the Restitutions Committee, the descendants of Emma Budge submitted a claim for the two salt cellars in the Rijksmuseum collection, the two salt cellars in the Amsterdam Museum collection, and two objects in the collection of Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague. On 16 November 2022, the Restitutions Committee issued its recommendation that these objects be returned to Budge’s descendants. In the case of the salt cellars held by the Amsterdam Museum, the recommendations were binding. The State Secretary for Culture and Media complied with the recommendations, and on 5 December 2022 decided also to return the Rijksmuseum salt cellars to the descendants. On 12 May 2023, the Dutch state and the City of Amsterdam returned the objects to the claimants. That same day, the heirs sold all four salt cellars to the Rijksmuseum.
Johannes Lutma (1584-1669) was Amsterdam’s foremost silversmith in the seventeenth century. The four salt cellars are undisputed masterpieces in his oeuvre, very little of which has survived to the present day. These objects were the first in which Lutma combined the ornamental auricular style with a classical formal idiom. From a historical and art-historical perspective, it is of major significance that Lutma probably designed a large ensemble of objects very early in his career and later produced the constituent elements – including the four salt cellars – in phases over the course of many years. The identical style used for the feet unifies the ensemble, while differences of detailing in the human figures and salt dishes give the two pairs distinct identities. The constituent elements of the very few other surviving ensembles of this kind from the first half of the seventeenth century are far less well-matched. Costly cellars of this kind would stand on the tables for important banquets given by wealthy art lovers, or at the headquarters of citizen militias or the navy, for example.
On 6 September 2023 the complete ensemble will go on display at the Rijksmuseum, which will continue to draw attention to both the art-historical importance of the objects and the story surrounding their provenance and restitution.