Niccolò Van Houbraken
Self portrait or
François Rivière’s portrait

Corridoio Vasariano
Galleria degli Uffizi

*** this paper was updated after the initial publication, see at the bottom.

The Van Houbraken family is a line of flemish painters from Antwerp who emigrated to Sicily around the 1620s-1630s and then to Livorno, in Tuscany, in the second half of the 17th century.

Jan (or Johannes) Van Houbraken (1612-1676?), disciple of Peter Paul Rubens and Matthias Stom, emigrated to Messina with his son Ettore (or Hector), another painter whose works are often confused with those of his father. In Messina Ettore had several children with a local woman named Giuseppa Maffei, daughter of architect Nicola Francesco Maffei, some of whom we can identify through the Church registers of Livorno, as the family emigrated there in 1674.

Giuseppa Maffei died on 15 November 1717 aged 76 years old and was buried in the Madonna church, Ettore himself died and was buried in the “Stimmate” church on 21 November 1722 aged 98 years old.

Of his children, three can be traced, as I mentioned above, through the church registers of Livorno:

  • Maria, who died on 16 January 1745 aged 92 years old and was buried in the church of the Misericordia.
  • Niccolò, who died on 25 December 1724 aged 64 years old and was buried in the “Stimmate” church.
  • Placido, who died on 9 October 1684 aged 14 years old and was buried in the Madonna church.

Focusing on the most famous of them, Niccolò, the painter, I could find his marriage record and also the records of 12 children.

Niccolò Van Houbraken married Caterina Valsisi on 12 July 1702 at the Collegiata church, witnessed by Carlo son of Giuseppe Batacchi and Pietro son of Francesco Sardi. It appears that they adopted a Turkish child named Giuseppe Maria who died aged 7 years old on 31 March 1704 after having been baptized earlier.

Their other 11 children were as follows (all records are from the Collegiata church):

  • Stefano (1703-1704)
  • Stefano (27.7.1704 – 29.6.1722)
  • Maria Teresa (16.8.1706 – 24.2.1765) married, with descendants in the Sorbi, Pieri, De Bonis, and Canon families.
  • Carlo Francesco (30.3.1709 – 27.4.1710)
  • Angiola Isabella Reparata (17.1.1711 – ?) uncertain fate
  • Maria (20.9.1711 – 20.9.1711)
  • Paolo Francesco (16.10.1712 – 27.1.1742) twin
  • Pietro Felice (16.10.1712 – 3.11.1712) twin
  • Maria Elisabetta (8.9.1713 – 6.7.1714) twin
  • Pietro Giuseppe (8.9.1713 – ?) twin, uncertain fate
  • Agostino (27.8.1718 – 29.4.1770), uncertain if he married or not.

A little background information on Niccolò’s wife, Caterina Valsisi: she was baptized on 12 Nov. 1676 and died on 17 Jan. 1732, daughter of Leonardo Valsisi and Teodora Bicci. Her brother was the famous printer/editor Jacopo Valsisi (8.12.1670 – 15.11.1746).


After publishing this small contribution I have been asked to add some information on one of Niccolò’s daughters, Maria Teresa (1706-1765).

Maria Teresa Van Houbraken married on 6 February 1736 at the Collegiata Church with Lorenzo Giuseppe Michele Sorbi, an insurance broker. Together they had at least 7 children:

  • Luigi Gaetano, born 28 June 1738
  • Anna Maria Costanza, born 22 March 1741, married Pieri
  • Chiara Giulia, born 19 May 1743, died 19 December 1822 . married De Bonis
  • Rosa Angelina, born 8 June 1744
  • Cassandra (uncertain) married Canon
  • Giuseppe Santi Martino (uncertain)
  • Caterina (dates undetermined) married De Bonis

Of these, Chiara Giulia and Caterina married two De Bonis brothers, Filippo (in 1771) and Giuseppe Baldassarre (in 1768). As much as it would be quite extraordinary to find a connection with the local painter Vincenzo De Bonis, this is not the case: Vincenzo De Bonis, in fact, was born in 1786 in a family from Camaiore while the two De Bonis brothers were born in a family from Valletta, Malta, originally named De Bono.