In 1661 Nooms sailed to the Mediterranean with a Dutch fleet under the command of the famous admiral, Michiel de Ruyter, who was being sent to the Barbary coast to put down the pirates and prevent them from doing any further harm to Dutch merchantmen. Nooms made numerous sketches on the voyage.
Nooms travelled extensively during his life and on one of his voyages he stayed in Paris sometime between 1650 and 1652. At this time he acquainted Claude Lorrain or a least must have seen some of his paintings, because the influence of Lorrain is clearly visible in his rendering of atmospheric light and depth in his Levantine paintings.
In this canvas we see French ships flying the pennant of Calais in the form of a white Nordic cross on a blue background. In the middle, a small carrier is unloading commodities with in the distance the fortress of Calais and on the far right a Dutch flute.
Nooms brings to life almost every type of ship then known – no fewer than 40 – from impressive war frigates, ‘Straits ships’ (that sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar) and large East Indiamen, down to the smallest vessels plying the inland waterways. His pursuit of a faithful representation of reality is reflected in his entire oeuvre, which consists of views of the harbour of Amsterdam, the Levant, sea battles and many drawings.
With the publication of a series of topographical and maritime etchings in 1650, Reinier Nooms laid the foundations for an extensive graphic oeuvre that would grow to 177 sheets in less than 15 years. Published in Paris, the prints are, as the title emphasises, ‘faits apres le naturel’. This striving for a faithful reproduction of reality dominates the entire oeuvre, which further consists of Amsterdam harbour views, levant views, sea battles and many drawings. Still today, Nooms’ etchings constitute one of the most important sources for our knowledge of seventeenth-century ship types.
Nothing is known about Nooms’ origins and early years, yet it has always been assumed that the man who signed his work with ‘Zeeman’ appropriated this right because of an earlier career at sea. Books on helmsmanship mentioned in the estate inventory seem to confirm this view. The painter settled in Amsterdam in 1652, where he married the sister of printmaker Michiel Mosijn in the following year. They take up residence in a house owned by the still-life and interior painter Nicolaes Outhuys, located on Handboogstraat between Spui and Heiligeweg.
From the marriage, two daughters are born, successively Neeltjen and Lisbet. Yet Zeeman seems not to have taken the principles of marital fidelity very closely, according to a complaint by Maria Jansdr. Mosijn that is recorded in the Amsterdam Municipal Archives. She declared to the detriment of her landlord ‘that the aforementioned Claes Outhuysen was the cause of her husband Reynier Seeman leaving him and leading an honourable and improper life, because that her husband was brought by the aforementioned Outhuysen dicmaels in hoerhuijsen wiert, coming many times with the aforementioned. Outhuijsen at two or three o’clock at night and later at home, and if she or the aforementioned Outhuysen’s wife wanted to say something, the aforementioned Outhuijsen beat his wife severely every time and walked out again with the aforementioned sailor and stayed out all night, she also declared that she saw … Outhuijsen, Ryckert van der Cley, Reynier Zeeman and Dirck Outhuysen were in a infaem whorehouse, namely the widow Spillebouts, being an old woman with 2 daughters, living on the corner of the heysteegh on the rear wall, because she saw Maria Seeman standing on the street and through a window. Maria Seemans verclaert, dat sy nooit een slagh van haer man had cregen dan tsedert hy metten voorsz. Outhuysen heeft verkeert en gewoond, clagende grotelycx, dat haer man soo by d’ voorsz. Claes Outhuijsen wiert bedorven.’ Through a number of prominent commissions, the painter then manages to escape not poverty, but temporary domestic discipline. In the mid-1650s, Nooms was commissioned by the Directie der Levantse Handel to paint a capital ‘Battle of Livorno’ to be placed in the northwest corner room on the second floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall and a stone’s throw from Jan van Galen’s mausoleum in the Nieuwe Kerk. The painting is currently in the Rijksmuseum collection; a modello for this painting is kept in Greenwich. In 1657, the painter may have spent some time in Berlin, where he was awarded a grant of 1,000 Thaler by Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg.
In 1661, he is back in Amsterdam, as on 26 May of that year he embarked on De Ruyter’s peace mission to four North African cities. The aim here is to enforce a guarantee of ‘free good – free ship’ and, by bringing up privateer ships, bring about an exchange of prisoners. Commissioned by the Amsterdam Admiralty, Nooms produces views of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Salé on his return, using the many sketches he made en route. Shortly before his death, he provides eighteen more drawings for Laurens van der Hem’s atlas, also North African coastal views. The latter commission secured his artistic legacy; historian Olfert Dappert draws richly on this material for his 1668 ‘Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewesten’. Some of Abraham Storck’s life scenes also go back to Reinier Nooms’ sketches.