Most honoured guests from Russia, Mikhail Piotrovsky, director general of the State Hermitage Museum St.-Petersburg, Ekaterina Genieva, director general of the Rudomino All Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, Alexander Petrov, executive director of the Rudomino Library, Yuri Chistov, director of the Kunstkamera St. Petersburg, Sergey Korostelev, member of council of trustees of the Sobranie Foundation with his family and sculptor Ivan Korjev-Chuvelev with his wife. And from Amsterdam Ernst Veen, founder and former director of the Hermitage Amsterdam, Paul Mosterd, vice director of the Hermitage Amsterdam, Hedy d’Ancona, boardmember of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica Foundation, Joost Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Rachel Ritman, all of you present here… a heartfelt welcome at the inauguration of the exhibition ‘A Curious Tsar: Peter the Great and Discovering Nature’s Secrets in Amsterdam‘!
From personal experience I can tell you that curiosity roots in inspiration, and that inspiration is highly contagious! When Paul Mosterd of the Hermitage Museum suggested me on Christmas Eve to join the Hermitage in organizing an exhibition on Peter the Great, the idea inspired and challenged me…and made me curious! Would we be able to meet the challenge to complement the rich and vivacious exhibition concept of the Hermitage, and maybe even offer an extra eye-opener? And oh, would that old family rumour that Peter the Great had visited my father’s birth house at Bloemgracht 15 be true?
Thanks to our curators José Bouman and Cis van Heertum, and with the most appreciated help of Robert Collis, author of ‘The Petrine Inrestauration‘, I proudly present the results of our discovery tour. One part of our small exhibition focuses the library of Robert Erskine, a follower of Paracelsus, practising iatrochemist. The other part highlights the anatomical collections of Ruysch and Seba. According to the owners of these cabinets of curiosities, they displayed the secrets of nature embedded in nature by God to reveal the purpose of his creation.
Let me highlight some small but precious eye-openers that we present in our exhibition:
1. Peter the Great not only visited Frederik Ruysch, a renowned physician and anatomist, at Bloemgracht 15. He bought his entire collection of more than 2,000 artistically decorated preparations. He also bought the collection of animals and plants of Albert Seba, a pharmacist who strongly believed in the interdependence of the macrocosm and man as microcosm. The tsar bought their collections wholesale for his own kunstkamera, which was established in St Petersburg in 1714 and still exists.
2. Peter was advised in his choice by his personal physician, and like Ruysch and Seba engaged in ‘reading the Book of Nature’. Erskine’s library surpassed that of Sir Isaac Newton, another notable practitioner of alchemy. In the section ‘professional literature’ we show some of the books that Erskine also owned.
3. We also present a recent acquisition of the library: an extremely rare Dutch-language edition of an early medical ‘pop-up book’ that was first published in 1619 by a physician belonging to Rosicrucian circles in Germany. This work, too, establishes a connection between the microcosmos and the macrocosmos. Erskine owned a later edition of the German version of this work, which we have given on loan to the Hermitage by way of a nod to this exhibition here.
I should like to get back to the topic of contagious inspiration. With the exhibition ‘A curious tsar’, running parallel to ‘An inspired tsar’ and celebrating 400 years of relations between Russia and the Netherlands, we have decided to also celebrate another anniversary. Today it is exactly twenty years ago that we opened the exhibition ‘500 years of gnosis’ in the Rudomino Library, accompanied by a bi-lingual catalogue in Russian and English. From the very first moment that The Ritman Library and The Rudomino Library launched their cooperation, the two libraries found they had a shared objective: to contribute to the promotion of religious tolerance and individual freedom of thought that lies at the core of the tradition of Christian-Hermetic Gnosis. Our relation was further intensified when in 1999 Joost Ritman donated some 300 post-1800 books on Hermetica, alchemy and related fields to The Rudomino Library, which became the basis for its Religious Department. In 2006 a formal cooperation agreement was signed between The Rudomino Library and the Ritman Library at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in The Hague. This morning Ekaterina Genieva, who once qualified the collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica as world heritage, unveiled a very special gift to our library that was made possible by a generous gift of the Sobranie Fund: a bust by the sculptor Ivan Korzhev of the famous Russian enlightened thinker Novikov. It has found a temporary place in the reading room upstairs, and Mrs Genieva will tell us more about it later during her speech.
Before I give the floor to Mikhail Piotrovsky, I would also like to announce a short speech by our board member Hedy d’Ancona, former minister of Education, Culture and Science, and Joost Ritman, who is a curious and inspired person by nature and who will surprise us – as usual.
Esther Ritman, director Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica
8 March 2013