Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam. Flickr: © Hans de Meij

Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam. Flickr: © Hans de Meij

I once read a few years ago in a local Rotterdam paper that Rotterdam is not a very bookish city. However, this doesn’t prevent residents of being proud a certain famous native—Desiderius Erasmus! Residents are so proud of him that unlike most universities being named after the host city, Rotterdam’s university is known as the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and her iconic bridge is called the Erasmus Bridge, and there’s a statue of him outside the Laurenskerk. It is no surprise then, that the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, one of larger more important museums in The Netherlands, not too mention its drawings collection being amongst the world’s most important, hosted an exhibition of the philosopher. What is interesting is how small and austere the setting is. Perhaps this is a result of the acquirable exhibition materials or to emphasise the humbleness of the philosopher in a no-nonsense city with a large working-class population. Whatever the case, the small room made one feel as if one were in what every enclosed academic setting feels like—a shrine to the past.

Before entering one has to walk a few steps upward, into an elevated room. The enclosed space and the framing of the doorway to the front wall creates the impression of entering sacred space. The image is small, and happens to be the only colour portrait in the room. The positioning of the photo sets the tone—this is a dedicated, yet temporary, memorial to Erasmus.

entrance

This being the only photo portrait elevates its status among the other six portraits along the walls. It is a standard Holbein-style portrait. There Erasmus portraits by Holbein are on display—below is one that is similar, but not the more closely available one (not reproduced here due to licensing; thank you strict and expensive David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University.).

Lucas Cranach I. Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus c. 1530-1536

Lucas Cranach I. Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus. c. 1530-1536

Hans Holbein d.j. (workshop?), Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, c. 1530

Hans Holbein d.j. (workshop?), Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, c. 1530

They are quite similar in composition, the main difference being the hands. In the image unavailable, the hands are in the same exact position, the main difference being that Cranach’s Erasmus looks much older than Holbein’s. This Cranach stands out mostly because it is on colour, but there are other treasures to discover that break away from the typical Erasmus portrait. On the right wall there is a reclining scene. It is refreshing to view an interior scene, even if it reminiscent of the Roman funerary scenes.

Edouard Taurel. The Last Days of Erasmus in Basel. c. 1879-1881.

Edouard Taurel. The Last Days of Erasmus in Basel. c. 1879-1881.

Along the left wall of the room are enclosed many (mostly published) materials, which include: ‘Querela Pacis,’ ‘Lucubratiunculae,’ a letter addressed to Nicolaas Everaarts, a ‘Portait of Desiderius Erasmus’ by Balthasar Jenichen, ‘Familarium Colloquiorum Formulae,’ ‘De Civilitate Morum Puerilium Libellus,’ and Moriae Encomium Erasmi Roterodami Declamatio.’ Above these are two last images.

I will not lie—I do not know much about Erasmus, nor have I read any of his word (yet). However, despite my joint degree in classics and philosophy, and that I used to live in Rotterdam, it felt right to dedicate a post to a man that was an important figure within Humanism. After all, although many of the portraits may be similar, this small room is just a dedication to one man who helped shaped our current world in the city where he was born, and one of the images above the enclosed documents depicts Erasmus’ link to Rotterdam—a fitting ending to this blog post. In the view from his study, one sees Rotterdam. Naturally this would have never been possible, and is thus fictional, but it is a lasting reminder of connection Erasmus has to the city. 

Erasmus in Rotterdam is exhibiting until 16 February at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Museumpark 18 3015 CX Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Frans Huys. Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus. 1555.

Frans Huys. Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus. 1555.