Update: The BPH collection dissolved

Dante, Divina commedia. Venice, Giovanni Battista, Melchior and Domenico Sessa, 1564. From the BPH collection.

Almost a month after the conflict between Joost Ritman, Friesland Bank and the Dutch government became public knowledge, it now seems that things have not turned out well for the famous and unique collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam. The case has been discussed in the Dutch parliament and national media during the last two weeks. Despite the petition which has gathered the support of academics world wide, and despite the pressure put on Halbe Zijlstra, the Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, the Dutch Government has already made the first move towards a dissolution of the collection which may indeed become permanent.

In the Tweede Kamer of the Dutch parliament on Monday 13 December, Zijlstra made clear the intentions to integrate their part of the collection, amounting to 40 % , with the Royal Library in the Hague. Books and manuscripts had already been taken out of the library by the state before the weekend. After Zijlstra’s comment this week , the plan was confirmed by the Royal Library itself, who state that the core collection will be made available to the public by the middle of January. Statements that cataloging will be carried out in 2011 seem to suggest that a full integration with the Royal Library is being planned.

This means that the core collection of the library will probably be available for research again, but in the Hague, rather than in Amsterdam – and, significantly, without the highly knowledgeable and specialized staff which assisted visitors in the BPH. The core collection consists of 25 medieval books of hours, 359 medieval manuscripts, 44 incunables, and 3961 books printed before 1800. In other words, less than 6000 of the approximately 20.000 items held by the BPH.

Even though these particular items will be made available again, it is truly regrettable that the government seems to be satisfied with splitting it from the rest of the collection. The works own by the state may be among the most valuable ones from a cultural heritage perspective; but for research purposes, one of the things that made the BPH unique was that so much material was available at the same spot. This unique quality will now be lost. Additionally, by moving the items to the Hague, it has also been disjointed from the expertise in Amsterdam – first and foremost the staff of the BPH, but also the study and research milieu surrounding the chair for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. A great loss for this milieu now appears to be a fact.


First edition of Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Nuremberg, Johannes Petreius, 1543 . BPH collection.

Donum Dei. Ortus diviciarum sapiencie Dei. Manuscript, Germany, ca.1550. BPH collection.


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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A day to mourn.

  2. Help. I am planning to arrive in Amsterdam from Australia at the end of June in order to use the library. How do I find which parts of the collection are in Amsterdam and which in The Hague?

    • Hi Jane, that’s a bugger. Basically, there is nothing in Amsterdam anymore. The library is closed, and half its collection was taken to the Hague where it should in principle be available. The other half has been taken by the bank, and at present “no-one” knows what’s happening to them. Unfortunately I don’t know what exactly is in the Hague, and my impression from asking around is that it is unclear what precisely is in.

  3. […] promising news about the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, or Ritman Library, which was closed last November. Due to a large  debt and an ensuing conflict between Mr. Joost Ritman, Friesland Bank, and the […]

  4. […] of things being “decommissioned,” remember when the Ritman Library closed down? It looks like the collection of esoteric writings may be moving back to its home in Amsterdam. The […]

  5. […] and incunables that belonged to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (Ritman Library), which was dissolved almost a year ago, surfaced at an auction in London. As Brooke Palieri at the 8vo blog noted then, […]

  6. […] Holland and abroad got a nice present: The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica opened again, after facing complete destruction for a year. Unfortunately I was hindered from attending the opening on December 16 due to teaching […]

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