Johan van Staveren was born in 1613 or 1614. His parents were Adriaen Jans van Staveren and Machtelt Symons van Borsen, an oil miller and soap boiler.1 Evidently Adriaen was not satisfied with these occupations alone, for his name appears in connection with a wide variety of public offices. He was a member of the Leiden city council in 1621 and was elected alderman no less than ten times and mayor five times between 1626 and 1646.2 Although little is known about Adriaen’s financial situation, given his highly successful administrative career, Johan and his siblings most likely grew up in comfortable circumstances.3
Van Staveren was registered in the Album Studiosorum of the Leidse Academie (Leiden University) in October 1628. This did not mean that he enrolled as a student; after all, he was just fourteen at the time. It was customary to enter in the Album the names of not only regular students, but also the pupils of the highest class of the Latin school, which was the gateway to the university.4 However, like Rembrandt eight years earlier, Van Staveren elected to pursue an artistic rather than an academic education.5 Who taught Van Staveren to paint cannot be firmly established, but on the basis of his style and subject matter, he is generally thought to have trained with Gerrit Dou.6 This must be taken with a grain of salt, for the two painters were almost the same age. In 1644 Van Staveren was involved in founding the Guild of Saint Luke in Leiden. When the Guild was finally organized in 1648, he registered as a member and is recorded as paying his guild dues until his death.
In addition to his skill as a painter, Johan van Staveren was also an accomplished administrator. Following in his father’s footsteps he eventually rose to become mayor in 1667. To that end he followed a career path typical of many young patricians. He started out in 1641 as captain of a civic militia guard, a position he held for eight years. In 1651 he became a member of the city council and by 1656 had served ten terms as alderman. His appointment as mayor in 1667 was the crowning achievement of his administrative career.7 Van Staveren must have been an influential man, especially after 1648, when his younger sister Cunera married Pieter van Assendelft (1622–88), scion of an eminent patrician family that had been spawning city administrators since the mid-sixteenth century.8 In 1674 Van Assendelft, a draper and owner of a stone quarry, was taxed on a capital of 35,000 guilders.9 Van Staveren, too, was a man of means. In the will he and his sister Alida, with whom he lived until she married in 1663, drew up in 1650, they bequeathed 12,000 guilders to their relatives.10
Van Staveren is known primarily for his genre scenes and portraits, as well as a few other subjects. His depictions of hermits in caves, many versions of which have been preserved, are entirely in keeping with the Dou tradition. This affinity, however, is less evident in his history pieces and landscapes, which often include anachronistic-looking castles. His work varies in quality and generally lacks the high level achieved by some of Dou’s other followers. Perhaps it was his average talent that forced him to pursue an administrative career. The fact that he gained professional momentum in the mid-1650s may not have been a coincidence, for precisely in those years it became increasingly difficult for a painter to make a decent living in the Leiden art market.11 For Van Staveren painting may, thus, have increasingly become an (important) side job. If so, then Van Leeuwen’s omission of the artist in his city chronicle of 1672 is quite understandable. His name is also missing from Arnold Houbraken and Jacob Campo Weyerman’s publications. Van Staveren appears only in an anonymous manuscript with “biografieën” (biographies) of Leiden painters, which was probably written by a Leiden art lover in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.12 About Van Staveren he noted that: “many splendid works by him [could once] be seen in this country, which were said to have been finished by his master. The art dealers already acquired the most and best [works] long ago, as well as many others by various pupils of Dou, and sold them abroad as paintings by Dou.”13
If his biographer is correct, Van Staveren’s best works could well lie hidden in the oeuvre of his putative teacher.14 Johan van Staveren died at the end of April in 1669 and was buried in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. He never married, and as his sole heir, his sister Alida inherited all of his paintings. After the death of Alida’s husband, the minister Eduardus Westerneyn, an inventory of his possessions was drawn up in 1674. It appeared that the couple owned more than 200 paintings, 72 of which were by Van Staveren.15 That so much of his work remained unsold suggests that it was not in demand. Yet this also illustrates his success as an administrator. Given the time and energy required by his career, selling his work would have become less of a priority. Clearly he did not need to sell his paintings, since he died a wealthy man.