Bert van de Roemer is a university lecturer at the Cultural Studies department of the University of Amsterdam. His fields of interest are the history of collections, the relation between the visual arts and natural sciences in past and present, and cultural life in Amsterdam in the early modern period. He has published widely on these subjects, including the Dutch collectors and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, Simon Schijnvoet, Frederik Ruysch and Levinus Vincent. (See tab 'Research projects' below for more information). For his research project into the theoretical backgrounds of Dutch collections of curiosities from the early modern period he obtained scholarships from the Institute of Culture and History in Amsterdam, Herzog August Bilbiothek Wolfenbüttel, an Hiob Ludolf Fellowship at Forschungszentrum Gotha and the Max-Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. He is a member of the Maria Sibylla Merian Society and teaches courses like 'The History of Collections', 'Museology' and 'The Discovery of Nature'.
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a German-born woman later living in the Netherlands, is famous for her groundbreaking work on caterpillars, moths and butterflies. Her extraordinary story and her contributions to art and science have fascinated many scholars and nature and art lovers, and have inspired artists and writers alike. In 2017 an international conference in Amsterdam celebrated the conjunction of new scholarship and artistic works related to this pioneering naturalist and artist. This book is the result of this cross-pollination.
Maria Sibylla Merian. Changing the Nature of Art and Science provides new insights into Merian's life and work, re-examines the existing canon, and explores her influence on the contemporary arts. The contributing authors variously investigate her network, her processes and products, and her impact on art and natural history. Her work is compared to that of artists and scientists who preceded and followed her, as well as to that of contemporaries, both male and female. Altogether, this richly illustrated volume presents the most recent knowledge about one of the most remarkable women of the early modern period. The book is edited by Bert van de Roemer, Florence Pieters, Hans Mulder, Kay Etheridge and Marieke van Delft, all members of the Maria Sibylla Merian Society.
D’Amboinsche Rariteitkamer, published in 1705, was a well known treatise on the crustaceans, moluscs and minerals of the Indonesian island Ambon. The traditional literature on this work depicts a difference between the editor of the text and images, Simon Schijnvoet (1652-1727), and the original author, Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702). Schijnvoet was seen as the ‘frivolous collector’ who did not understand the motives of the original author, whereas Rumphius was seen as the ‘serious naturalist’ and biologist avant la lettre, whose work predated Linnaeus. This paper re-evaluates these contrasting views by placing both men against a broader background of a ‘scientific culture’ and ‘knowledge production’, that was in part informed by the practice of collecting. By discussing their views on the classification of specimens, the formation of specific stones, and the locality of fossilised shells, questions emerge about Rumphius’s modernity and Schijnvoet’s alleged indifference. Even though their opinions often diverged, it will be shown that the motives and interests of the two men were not that different.
A video essay about Linnaeus' Animalia Paradoxa, the unclassifiable animals. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was the great systemiser of the natural world, who ordered every species in neat sections according their alleged basic essentials. In 1735 he published the first table of his division of the animal world, with six classes: quadrupeds, birds, amphibians, fishes, insects and worms. However, in the lower part of his table was a section with a group of animals that defied classification: the Animalia Paradoxa or the contradictory animals. A category of ten unclassifiable creatures of which Linnaeus doubted if they really existed. Among them where the hydra, dragon, unicorn, satyr, but also the pelican. We can praise Linnaeus for bringing order into chaos and systemizing nature, but also blame him for making nature less open, less imaginative, and less colourful.
The video essay was produced from images and sources in the Artis Library, with kind assistance of the curator Hans Mulder, and from different sources on the internet.
Collectors of curiosities gained deep knowledge of their naturalia while cleaning, embellishing, positioning, arranging and maintaining the objects they had so onerous obtained. The essay ‘Art opens the Book of Nature’ in the catalogue Medusa’s Menagerie. Otto Marseus van Schrieck and the Scholars illustrates these procedures in the case of three collectors of curiosities of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The anatomist Frederik Ruysch tried through his ‘art’ of anatomical preservation to dispel the decaying effects of death. Simon Schijnvoet used his knowledge of the ’art’ of classicist architecture to order his collection in an elegant as well as instructive way. Levinus Vincent and Joanna van Breda, producers and merchants of luxury textiles, applied their knowledge of artful textile techniques to make splendorous assemblages of butterflies, beetles, flies and other insects. Through their art the collectors opened the Book of Nature.
For the new facsimile of Maria Sibylla Merian's principal work, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium from 1705, (facsimile published in October 2016) Bert van de Roemer wrote one of the introductory essays. When Maria Sibylla Merian settled in Amsterdam in 1691 she could have chosen no better place to develop to the full her talent and passion as a naturalist and painter. She describes in the preface of her book how she was stimulated in her entomological research by the insects she found in the many cabinets of curiosities the city harbored. She also took part in a lively network of collectors, naturalist and publishers. This essay describes her relation towards three collectors: Simon Schijnvoet (a fellow naturalist who supported her work), Frederik Ruysch (a distinguished professor in anatomy and botany), and Levinus Vincent (a rival merchant and collector).
For more information about the facsimile see: http://www.sibyllamerian.com/home.html.
By studying and analyzing the handwritten travel account of Z.C. von Uffenbach (1683-1734), this project focus on the geographical distribution of the cultural industry in Amsterdam in the early eighteenth century. Instead of looking at one professional group, the project takes an interdisciplinary perspective, and wants to present a cross section of the total creative scene of Amsterdam. In doing so it will provide new data for historians and scholars of various disciplines. The first results can be found on the digital map http://arkyves.org/view/uffenbach/.
Von Uffenbach’s travel account Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland, published in 1754, is a well known source. However, the original manuscript holds many valuable data that were not included in the final publication. One of the most important assets is that the addresses of many cultural workers are recorded, which makes an analysis of the geographical distribution of this professional and social group possible.
For the website Public Domain Review, Bert van de Roemer explored the curiosity cabinet of the Dutch collectors Joanna van Breda and Levinus Vincent and how the aesthetic, cognitive and religious drives behind the meticulous ordering practices blended together, in an attempt to emphasise the wonder of God’s creations by restoring the natural world to its prelapsarian harmony. Joanna and Levinus created a spectacular 'Wonder Theatre of Nature' in their cabinet and many visitors were amazed and would kneel down in awe for this beautifully arranged collections. As producers and merchant of luxury textiles, like silk, damask and brocade, Levinus and Joanna would employ textile techniques to embellish their collections. Drawers with butterflies, beetles and other insects were arranged in beautiful ornamental forms to add more splendor to God's creation. See full text here: http://publicdomainreview.org/2014/08/20/redressing-the-balance-levinus-vincents-wonder-theatre-of-nature/.
In 1670 Willem Goeree (1635-1711) published a small treatise titled Inleyding tot de practijck der al-gemeene schilder-konst (Introduction to the practice of the general art of painting), which was the first of several writings on the arts. Eight years later Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678) published his lengthier Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the academy of painting). Even though art historians paid less attention to the versatile Goeree, when they discuss them the two writers together they are often treated as if they were of one accord. However, after reading the texts of Van Hoogstraten en Goeree, one might be struck more by the differences rather than by the similarities. They discuss comparable themes, but the reader seems at times to enter another world.
Van Hoogstraten’s writings bear traits that are, for a large part, rooted in the old humanistic and traditional Aristotelian-scholastic school of 'bookish culture'. He shows an accumulative manner of collecting data, not only in his thoughts, but also in the way he transmits these thoughts. Goeree is just as long-winded, but we see a more analytical approach of his topics which at times reveal traces of the New Philosophy. Also an inclination to mathematize and analyse the arts forms a distinct contrast between the two authors. These differences become manifest on different levels: in the organization of their chapters, in the way they render their information, in their opinions on the intellectual development of the artist, and in their views on the aspect of chance in art.
2013 was a special year of celebration for the city of Amsterdam. The festivities pivoted around the historical fact that 400 years ago the burgomasters of Amsterdam decided to the construction of the famous canal ring. Other festivities were: the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum after 10 years, 125 years of Royal Concertgebouw and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 175 years of Artis Zoo (the zoological garden), 225 years of Felix Meritis (the centre of Enlightenment), 150 years since the abolition of slavery (the Dutch were rather late with that) and 40 years of Van Gogh Museum. The newly formed organization of Amsterdam Marketing coordinated all these festivities in an efficient and effective way. An item of the journal Amstelodamum reflects on the year and discusses related topics and publications. See: Amstelodamum 101 (2014)-1, p. 32-45
Buurtbewoners in Amsterdam ondernemen steeds vaker actie om het erfgoed van hun directe omgeving veilig te stellen en onder de aandacht te brengen. Zij richten kleinschalige organisaties op die zich op microniveau inzetten voor het materieel en immaterieel erfgoed van hun directe omgeving door middel van acquisitie, beheer en presentatie. Voor het maandblad Amstelodamum onderzocht Van de Roemer negen van deze initiatieven: musea, archieven en websites. Deze buurtinitiatieven hebben vooral de laatste twee decennia opgang gemaakt. Elizabeth Crooke's Museums and Community geeft een goede introductie op het onderwerp.In deze studie gaat zij uit van het begrip community museums; een begrip dat ruimer gehanteerd wordt dan de buurtmusea die in dit onderzoek centraal staan. Crooke beschouwt de buurtinitiatieven als onofficiële tegenhangers van de gevestigde staats- of stadsgestuurde musea. Zij leveren een grote bijdrage aan een positief identiteitsgevoel en de sociale cohesie binnen de gemeenschap. De Amsterdamse buurtmusea worden vanuit dit kader behandeld. Het onderzoek, gepubliceerd in Maandblad Amstelodamum 97-3 (2010), is gebaseerd op interviews met betrokkenen en geeft een beeld van het rijke aanbod in Amsterdam.
The elaborate way in which the Dutch physician and collector Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731) decorated and presented his anatomical cabinet has raised the question of whether we should view him as a scientist or rather as an artist. In the past, the embellishment of the preparations was interpreted as supplementary or opposed to his quest for anatomical knowledge: the artistic adornments were designed to comfort the beholder confronted with death or were meant as self-confident statements about Ruysch artistry. In an article that will be published in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek van de Roemer stresses the importance of another train of thought in which the two are not regarded as distinct but ofthe same order and intimately related.
Ruysch often used textiles to decorate his preparations. Dissected arms, legs and heads were dressed up with fine damask that served to cover up the wounds. Likewise, instead of common cloth he often used meticulously injected human tissue to coverhis phials. He moulded skeletons of crying fetuses holding human tissue as handkerchiefs to wipe their tears. Scenes like these reminded Ruysch of Psalm 138,in which God's creation of the human body is compared to an intricate piece of embroidery. In his anatomical work, Ruyschstressed that all organs were made up of vessels and veins (Omne Organon ex Vasibus), and needlework was an appropriate metaphor to stress the elaborateness of God's own handiwork. In his cabinet, Ruysch combined this "divine embroidery" with textiles made by the human hand, thereby emphasizing the existence of an intellectual entity that was responsible for the human tissue. This way of working concurred with contemporary physico-theological discussions against atheism, in which the so-called argument from design played an important role. The decorations also served as visual stimuli to enhance a sense of wonderment regarding the divine intelligence of creation.
The motives of collectors of curiosities from the so-called
Dutch Golden Age have generally been considered from a social
and economical point of view. In his dissertation van de Roemer
shows that Dutch collectors of shells, minerals, insects, coins
and precious artefacts certainly also had a more theoretical
understanding of their objects and their collecting activities.
With the collection of the Amsterdam provost Simon Schijnvoet
(1652-1727) as a case study, he explores the relationships
between the religious, scientific and aesthetic rationales and
concludes that systematic and aesthetic ordering principles
found a common base in religious reflections on nature.
For a better understanding, Schijnvoet's collection is placed against a background of the struggle against atheism (Spinoza) and the rise of fysicotheology (Boyle, Ray), topics which were hotly debated in Amsterdam around 1700. The view of nature as a complex mechanistic product directly governed by thehand of God according binding mathematical laws seems also to have had a distinctive influence on contemporary classicist art theory. In the collections, cross references between products of art and nature became manifest. Van de Roemer received his Ph.D. in November 2005. The title of his dissertation is: De geschikte natuur. Theorieën over natuur en kunst in de verzameling van zeldzaamheden van Simon Schijnvoet 1652-1727 ( Neat Nature. Theories about nature and art in the collection of curiosities of Simon Schijnvoet 1652-1727 ).
'Het is ongelooflyk voor die dezelve nooit beschouwt hebben; men ziet'er in
woestenyen, bergen, stroomen, vervalle gebouwen, steeden, gewolkte luchten, en
andere zeldzaame gezichten,' schreef de verzamelaar van zeldzaamheden Simon
Schijnvoet (1652-1727) bij de prent die hij had laten maken voor
D'Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (1705). De prent laat een keur aan
opmerkelijke stenen zien.Deze zogenaamde figuurstenen waren gewilde
verzamelobjecten omdat zij door de natuur zelf van fraaie afbeelding waren
voorzien. De fascinatie voor de stenen kwam voort uit hun ambigue status tussen
kunst en natuur. In deze zeldzaamheden leek de gebruikelijke verhouding tussen
de twee domeinen te zijn omgekeerd: hier imiteerde de kunst niet de natuur, maar
de natuur de kunst. Op de prent zijn verschillende soorten figuurstenen te
herkennen. De 'boomstenen' lieten allerlei vegetatieve vormen zien. De
tekeningen van 'landschapsstenen' riepen associaties op met rotslandschappen of
met steden in bergen. 'Tuinstenen' toonden overeenkomsten met plattegronden van
tuinen, forten of eilanden. Naast deze meer reguliere figuurstenen zijn nog twee
uitzonderlijke exemplaren afgebeeld: bovenaan een klein stuk Egyptisch
marmer met de gedaante van een biddende pausen in het midden een grote Duitse
agaat met een tekening van een grot.
Rond 1700 waren er allerlei theorieën in omloop over het ontstaan van deze stenen. Rumphius dacht dat de bijzondere tekeningen onder invloed van de planeten tot stand kwamen. De grillige en variabele vormen van de tekeningen schreef hij toe aan het veranderlijke en bedrieglijke karakter van de planeet Mercurius. Een andere verklaring voor de boomstenen werd geopperd door de jezuïet Athanasias Kircher. In zijn D'Onderaardse Wereld (1684) veronderstelt hij dat boomstenen ontstaan doordat resten van planten in de massa waaruit een steen gevormd wordt terecht is gekomen. In 1735 kwam de Duitse predikant Friedrich Christian Lesser (1692-1754) met een verklaring voor boomstenen die de huidige opvatting benadert. In zijn Lithotheologie veronderstelt hij dat gekleurde, minerale sappen door de stenen trekken, waardoor tekeningen ontstaan die op bomen, of zelfs op boslandschappen lijken. Na deze verklaring benadrukt Lesser dat God, als wijs en kundig schilder, de hand in deze werken heeft, omdat hij zowel verantwoordelijk is voor de materie, als voor de natuurlijke processen waardoor de materie beweegt. Beschouw, zo maant hij de lezer, daarom de stenen niet als een grappig spel, maar als een genoegen voorde ogen, dat ons door de Schepper gegund is. ['Verklaring der prent' in: De Achttiende Eeuw 36 (2004), nr. 2.]
From 2000 to 2005 van de Roemer contributed to the
international research project 'The "Paper Museum" of the
Academy of Science in St.-Petersburg (1735-1765)', a
collaboration between the Universiteit van Amsterdam, the
Amsterdam Historical Museum, the Hermitage and the Academy of
Sciences of St. Petersburg. Aim of this project was the
unlocking of the approximately 2,200 surviving drawingsthat
were made of the objects kept in the Kunstkamera in St.
In the early eighteenth century, Russian ruler Peter the Great established the Kunstkamera as an encyclopaedic museum of the Academy of Sciences.The drawings cover a wide range of disciplines, from botany and anatomy to archaeology and Chinese objects, and were used to document the objects in the museum's collections and to illustrate Academy members' publications. The volume, for which Van de Roemer edited the catalogue, was published by Edita (see reference).
A continuing research project of Van de Roemer deals with
the first municipal kunstkamer of Amsterdam . On 28
April 1699 a group of painters received permission from the
burgomasters to establish a kunstkamer (literally: art
chamber) in the majestic town hall on the Dam Square .The aim
was to breathe new life into the city's artistic endeavours. A
large hall , which was suitable for different purposes, was
placed attheartists' disposal. First, it enabled the artists to
exhibit and sell their work. Second, a start was made arranging
and conserving the city's collection, which also functioned as
a study collection for young artists.Third, the spacious room
was also usedasan academy in which 'the fraternityofpainters'
could organise lessons in drawing and painting. The fact that
surprisingly little research has been carried out on this first
manifestation of cultural policy of the Amsterdam city council,
may be due to the limited impact of the art chamber on the
city's art life.
In 2000 Bert van de Roemer supervised a team of art history students to unearth some facts about the founding of the forgotten and unknown art chamber. He continued his research in 2004, together with Eymert-Jan Goossens ( Royal Palace on the Dam ), which led to a preliminary publication 'The art chamber in the town hall of Amsterdam ' in: Backhuysen at the Helm! (Amsterdam 2004).
Museums tell us how societies create, articulate, reflect, orchestrate and present knowledge and esthetic experiences. The course Museology gives insight in contemporary museum practices and the theoretical reflections on these practices. In seven lectures relevant themes are discussed, such as missions and ideals, museum architecture, collecting, museum displays, commercialism, restitution and repatriation. During the seminars and excursions students will be trained in analyzing museum displays through the method of discourse analysis. In the second half of the course students become acquainted with the work field through excursions and talks with specialists or by working on an assignment given by a museum.
The video gives an example of a practice situation. In 2017-18 students were asked by the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam to study and reflect on the work of the artiste Charlotte Salomon by making video essays. These essays were presented in the museum. (course description in Dutch)
Kunst- und Wunderkammer, cabinets of curiosities and encyclopedic collections still form a source of inspiration for contemporary artists, philosophers and writers. These collections of the past reflect the world view of the owners and the society they lived in. This course presents an overview of the history of collections from the sixteenth to the twentieth century and relates them to general philosophical ideas about the world, nature and the arts. It describes how old private collections were transformed into the first public museums in the eighteenth century, and how they evolved in anonymous state institutes in the nineteenth century. Topics discussed are the German Kunst- und Wunderkammer, Italian studioli, Dutch cabinets of curiosities, the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, the Glypothek in Munich, the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Museumsinsel in Berlin. (course description in Dutch)