Friday, November 9, 2007

Jubilee Symposium of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

While riding his bike over the Amsterdam canals in the autumn of 1957, 16-year old Joost R. Ritman conceived the idea of founding a library devoted to the Hermetic tradition. Fifty years later, on October 26, 2007, the now famous Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica celebrated its 50-year jubilee with a splendid exhibition, Jacob Boehme’s Way into the World, preceded by a two-day conference for invited guests.

There was indeed much cause for celebration, for not only did the BPH survive a serious crisis during the 1990s when the invaluable collection of incunabula and other early prints risked being put up for auction, but it has emerged from those difficult years more strongly than ever before. The library staff was expanded, many new exhibition and research/publishing projects were initiated, and perhaps most spectacular of all, the BPH’s founder recently acquired one of the most famous monumental buildings from the 17th century Dutch Golden Age: the “Huis met de Hoofden” (House with the Heads), located on one of the Amsterdam canals, which will become the library’s future home.

The Huis met de Hoofden (image, right, courtesy of carries special significance for the BPH both historically and symbolically. In 1634 it was acquired by the Dutch merchant Louis de Geer, whose collection of books on heterodox religious traditions showed many similarities with the present collection of the BPH. In the same house, de Geer offered hospitality to Jan Amos Comenius, whose beliefs and aspirations of spiritual reform strongly resonate with those that inspired the present library’s founder. It was therefore appropriate that the participants in the BPH’s Jubilee Symposium were received on this historical spot.

Speakers at the symposium were:

  • Roelof van den Broek (Professor emeritus, University of Utrecht)
  • Antoine Faivre (EPHE, Paris)
  • Katya Genieva (Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow)
  • Carlos Gilly (Senior Researcher, Ritman Institute)
  • Frans A. Janssen (former director of the BPH)
  • Jean-Pierre Mahé (EPHE, Paris)
  • Johannes van Oort (University of Nijmegen)
  • Esther Oosterwijk-Ritman (Director/librarian of the BPH)
  • A.W. Rosenberg (Librarian Ets Haim/Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam)
  • Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann (Freie Universität, Berlin)
  • The BPH’s founder Joost R. Ritman (honorary speaker).

The symposium was followed by the official opening of the exhibition on Jacob Boehme, with a presentation of the first copy of the exhibition catalogue to the Dutch minister of Education, Culture & Science, R.H.A. Plasterk. This catalogue is in fact much more than a catalogue: it is also an important collection of scholarly essays on the history of the transmission of Böhme’s work and the crucial role that was played in this regard by the Dutch Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland.

The exhibition – including a unique collection of Böhme manuscripts – is open to visitors, and is warmly recommended to members of the ESSWE. Further information can be found at the BPH’s website.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As another visitor, I greatly enjoyed these two days and the atmosphere of enthusiasm it was set in.
The conference was held in the ‘Comenius hall’, formerly ‘big hall’, of the Huis met de Hoofden. In her talk, Esther Oosterwijk presented the library’s plans for the building. In the next few years, it is going to be thoroughly renovated and decorated in seventeenth century style, in order to restore it to its original glory, that of the dutch Golden Age in the time of the de Geer family.
Once finished, they are planning to use it, more so than the building in the bloemstraat where the library is housed now, as a platform for those interested, especially scholarly but also more generally, in Hermetic philosophy and related currents.