The Ritman Library and The Hermitage Amsterdam 1

Cultural heritage institutions are working together more and more to make things happen, and it’s happening here in Amsterdam, too. On 8 March Mr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of The State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, officially opened A Curious Tsar. Peter the Great and discovering Nature’s Secrets in Amsterdam, the new exhibition now showing in The Ritman Library. In the major new exhibition on Peter the Great and his times in the Hermitage Amsterdam: An Inspired Tsar, includes a copy of a remarkable early 17th-century medical ‘pop-up book’ given in loan to the Hermitage by The Ritman Library. Its counterpart, in Dutch, is on view in the A Curious Tsar exhibition, which tells the story of Peter the Great’s fascination for the cabinets of curiosities he found in Amsterdam and that of his trusted physician, the iatrochemist Robert Erskine.


The Ritman Library in the Hermitage

Maybe you have already been to see the wonderful exhibition in the Hermitage. If you have, you will no doubt have come across a very special book, the Pinax microcosmographicus, a work by the German physician Johannes Remmelin and the first anatomical atlas to reflect microcosmic and macrocosmic relations, part of the collection of The Ritman Library.

Pinax microcosmographicus, by Johannes Remmelin

The Tsar’s personal physician, the Scotsman Robert Erskine, owned a later edition of this work. Erskine is another focus of the exhibition: as the Tsar’s trusted physician, Erskine mediated in the purchase of cabinets of curiosities and as a follower of Paracelsus he treated Peter the Great with iatrochemical medicines. He owned an exceptional library in the field of alchemy and hermetic philosophy – a number of works from the collection of The Ritman Library which were also to be found in Erskine’s private library is on show in the A Curious Tsar exhibition.

Exhibition ‘Peter the Great, an inspired Tsar in the Hermitage Amsterdam

Now a hero, and now a sage,
building ships or sailing the seas,
his mind encompassed all his age,
and he worked from his throne without cease.
Aleksandr Poesjkin

In 2013, a year of celebration in Dutch-Russian relations, the Hermitage Amsterdam is preseningt a major exhibition devoted to Peter the Great (1672–1725), the modernizer of Russia. The exhibition paints a picture of this unconventional, inspired and inquisitive Russian tsar, who by the time he took power at the age of 17 was determined to transform his country. His achievements include reforming the military and the church, expanding trade and industry, and improving education and public health. He turned Russia into a great European power with a brand-new capital city: St Petersburg, his “window on the West.” With historical artefacts, paintings, gold jewellery from the ancient world, weapons and unique documents, the exhibition sketches the life of this peerless ruler. From his youth Peter collected art, including a Rembrandt, planting the seed for St Petersburg’s later Hermitage collection. An enthusiastic traveller, he went on two visits to Western Europe, including the Dutch Republic. It was the city of Amsterdam, in particular, that inspired him to found his new capital. Peter befriended many leading figures in Dutch society, such as Nicolaas Witsen (mayor of Amsterdam), Christoffel van Brants (shipper, and grain and arms merchant), Albert Seba (apothecary and collector of natural curiosities) and Frederik Ruysch (physician, anatomist and botanist). Like a sponge, he absorbed what they taught him about shipbuilding, making instruments, carpentry, etching, dissection, pulling teeth, making paper, gardening, bookmaking, and much more. Find out how this knowledge bore fruit in Russia during your visit to Peter the Great, an Inspired Tsar. You will also find many of Peter’s personal effects, such as his suits and one of his coaches, all of which show how profoundly he was influenced by Western tastes.

For more information about the exhibition go to the website of the Hermitage Amsterdam.

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One thought on “The Ritman Library and The Hermitage Amsterdam

  • Vara Sue Tamminga, PhD

    The connection between Russia and its vast, opulent grandeur and the small, humble celebration of middleclass citizens and even servants in Dutch painting created a curious bond. Russia with its absolute monarchs, the Netherlands with its love of democracy and vacillating support of the House of Orange, made for an odd couple. Yet both were hungry for change and new ideas. The Netherlands takes on the role of tutor to so much of the world in Russia and in the far east. Even the marriage of the Dutch Princess Pavlovna in the 19th century into the Russian aristocracy influences the folk stories and ballet of late 19th century Russia. Fascinating exhibit. I would love to hear some lectures on this mysterious alliance.