This talk was part of the symposium Rembrandt and Leiden: New Perspectives that took place at Agnes Etherington Art Centre on 8 November 2019. The symposium featured new research by international scholars on Rembrandt and his circle, Leiden and Dutch culture in the seventeenth century, connecting the exhibition “Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges” with new perspectives on the artist and his era.
Arthur der Weduwen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, and a specialist in the history of media, news and the book. His first major project was the compilation of the first bibliography of seventeenth-century Dutch newspapers, for which he received three prizes, and which was published in 2017 by Brill in a two-volume set.This talk was part of the symposium Rembrandt and Leiden: New Perspectives that took place at Agnes Etherington Art Centre on 8 November 2019. The symposium featured new research by international scholars on Rembrandt and his circle, Leiden and Dutch culture in the seventeenth century, connecting the exhibition “Leiden circa 1630: Rem …
The Dutch Book Revolution
The Dutch Book Revolution
The Dutch Book Revolution
The books of Rembrandt
The books of Rembrandt
The books of Rembrandt
Why do many books not survive
Why do many books not survive
Why do many books not survive
Use CTRL+F to find key words if it is a longer transcript.
[ Background Conversations ]
> So our final speaker is Arthur der
Weduwen, who is a historian specializing
in history of media, news, and the book.
He earned his PhD at the University
of St. Andrews in Scotland,
where he is currently a postdoctoral
His first major project, for which he
won three prizes, was the compilation
of the first bibliography of 17th-century
Dutch newspapers, published by Brill in 2017.
Current projects include a general history
of the library, to be published in 2021,
and two forthcoming books — two forthcoming
books, this is a busy young man —
on the early history of newspaper advertising.
His latest book, co-authored
with Professor Andrew Pettegree,
is the first comprehensive
study of the book trade
in the 17th-century Dutch Republic,
published this year by Yale.
And it’s called “The Bookshop of the World,
Making and Trading Books
in the Dutch Golden Age.”
And we do have a few copies of
it available for you as well.
[ Applause ]
> Stephanie, many thanks for
the very kind introduction,
and thank you all for coming here today,
of course, and a big thanks to Max again
for all the extremely smooth
and efficient organization here.
Now, we’ve heard a lot of nice things about
Rembrandt, wonderful stories from some
of his early years, but I would like
to start here today at a real low point
in Rembrandt’s life: in 1656, when
he’s forced to declare bankruptcy.
Now, by this point, Rembrandt had really
fallen a long way and an inventory was made
of all the possessions left in his house.
Now, this included a cornucopia of furniture,
of artistic props, of things like pikes
and crossbows, of paintings, of
course, but also of 22 books.
The Dutch Book Revolution
Now, do we know what some of these books were.
It included Flavius Josephus’s
It included an old Bible.
It included a book of German military drills,
clearly something he might have
used for some of his compositions.
And also 15 unnamed large items.
And here, of course, on the right, one of
his very early paintings, I think 1626.
And you see there in the bottom
right, a huge pile of books.
And I think this is generally one of the ways
in which he may have been using some of these.
But really when we think about these 22
books, and Rembrandt around this time,
that this relatively speaking
for Amsterdam was a tiny library,
and in some ways a fitting
mark of his near destitution.
For by this point, the Dutch Republic was a
land that was absolutely teeming with books.
Its publishers produced some of
the most fabulous books of the age.
And not only that, but in the 17th century,
the Dutch published more books per capita
than any other book-producing nation.
For these reasons, it’s all the more
surprising that it’s taken quite a long time
for the true history of the book trade
to be written in the Dutch Golden Age.
And in a way — I don’t want to lay blame here
— but perhaps we’ve been dazzled a bit too much
by the great Dutch painters
of the era and we’ve seem
to have overlooked the quieter revolution going
on in a bourgeois homes of Dutch citizens.
And this revolution was the way in which books
and prints were moulding
and reshaping Dutch society.
Now, it is said that Dutch homes found space
for perhaps 3 million paintings
on their walls in this century.
They certainly produced many more
books, perhaps as many as 350 million.
They traded at least 4 million
of these books at auctions.
Now, this is really the story that
Andrew Pettegree and I have tried to tell
in the book here, “The Bookshop
of the World,” as Stephanie said,
you see here the English edition published
by Yale, and then the Dutch edition as well.
But I would like to tell you that the title of
this book is not the title that we envisaged.
We originally called this book
Trading Books in the Age of Rembrandt.
And we thought this was a nice idea, a nice title.
And both publishers of the English
and the Dutch edition didn’t
like this at all, for different reasons.
The Dutch publisher thought liked Rembrandt,
but they thought it might be sort of drowned
out by all the other fantastic Rembrandt books
there, so they wanted something different.
Whereas Yale — and this is quite, you
know, a bit shame face, to be honest —
they said, well, it’s not really
clear really enough Rembrandt,
I think people won’t know what we’re talking
about when we’re talking about Rembrandt.
So you need something that forces us into the
17th century and into the Dutch Golden Age.
So Rembrandt clearly not popular enough.
Which is surprising to me and certainly,
I mean, this audience here, anyway.
So Rembrandt is not in the title of the book.
But because we had this title, we have
written Rembrandt all throughout the book.
So if you go through the book, in multiple chapters,
we find Rembrandt — at his bankruptcy.
We find him at Latin school.
And of course, we talk about education there.
We find him in the world of prints and we
find him in the worlds of business publishing
and relating here predominately to his debts.
And, of course, if we go to
many Rembrandt paintings,
we do find a large number of items there.
The books of Rembrandt
Having said that, we also use Rembrandt
as a little bit of a departure.
Because I think, at least relative
to his peers in this period,
I don’t think Rembrandt was all too interested
in books, especially later in his career.
And I think if you compare
it to some other artists,
I would say that books are almost conspicuously
absent from the entire oeuvre that he produced.
But if books are present in his paintings,
then they tend to be exactly the books
which have always attracted
most attention from scholars.
And those are substantial,
massive, and magnificent books.
Books like these.
Like the wonderful 1112 Volume Blaeu Atlas.
Truly one of the most significant
publishing projects of this period.
It’s the largest atlas to
be produced in this era.
Now, these are the books that have
often stood at the centre of attention
to what the Dutch could produce in this period.
But a book like this would cost the
equivalent of an annual salary for all
but the most affluent citizens
in the 17th century.
And really what fuelled the book trade in
this period was a steady and recurring trade
in the sort of books that might be careful
and considered purchases of an artisan
or a bourgeois household, which
would buy three or five books a year.
And these were books they bought for use.
A book for medical recipes, to ensure
the health of their households.
A book on accounting to help
their son to a better job.
And most of all, books as
part of their religious life.
These sort of books tell us not
only how the Dutch lived their lives
but who they actually were.
But these these humbler books are the
books that have become almost invisible
in a story of the Dutch Republic.
And I would like to elaborate on
that point a little bit today.
And the reason for that is
that these were generally books
which were not destined for posterity.
They were intended to be used every day or
regularly and then worn out and replaced.
Few of these books have made
it through the centuries
to take their place on the shelves of a library.
And those that do survive are almost
invariably the single surviving copy
of a print run of 500, 800, maybe even 5,000.
So this book that we wrote is partly an exercise
in reversing this historical invisibility
and provide more context on the true
extent of Dutch book production.
for it’s really these cheaper, humbler books
that take us closest to understanding the heart
and soul of the complex and contradictory
society that is the Dutch Republic.
Now, why was the potency of these
smaller books not recognized
on scholarship on the Dutch Republic?
This is partly an issue that, before the digital
age, it was impossible to reconstruct quickly
or relatively quickly a corpus of
surviving print that’s scattered
around some 8,000 libraries
and archives worldwide.
And this is something that we’ve
been trying to do at St. Andrews,
and reconstruct on a global scale the holdings
of early printed books and to compare records
and thereby buildup a far
greater body of sources.
Generally, bibliographers say, if
they’re looking at German books,
they will look in German
libraries, but not necessarily
as much in libraries in other countries.
So this is something we’ve been trying to
do specifically for the Dutch Republic.
But it also became very clear to
us in an early stage that if we are
to fathom this new book world, we could
not rely solely on what survives today.
We must also hunt for what we call “lost books.”
Books which were indeed printed and published
in this period but do not survive today.
And I’m going to show you some of the techniques
with which we’ve been doing
that a little bit later.
Why do many books not survive
Now, why do many of these books not survive?
Well, partly this is an issue
of library collecting culture.
Libraries, particularly the large
scholarly libraries visited by historians,
tend to collect a certain sort of book.
Very often the books that professional men
and serious collectors would most value,
like this beautiful Blaeu Atlases, big,
serious books of scholarship,
often in scholarly languages.
And this specifically excluded the
sort of books favoured by craftsmen
and more humble bourgeois households
when these were being produced.
If we think of Sir Thomas Bodleian, the creator
of the famous Bodleian Library in Oxford,
when he founded this, he
specifically forbade his librarian
to accession what he described
as idle books and riffraff.
And by that he meant books in English.
[laughter] Now, this was much the
same in the lovely Library of Leiden,
which is specifically designed
really for use by its professors
to consult big, expensive reference works.
Around the time that Rembrandt
was a student at Leiden,
the library was not formally opened to students.
It was closed to students for
a period, for about 25 years.
This was really a professorial resource
with almost no vernacular books,
books not in Latin or Greek or Hebrew or Arabic.
Then again, the people who bought more humble
books didn’t take very good care of them either.
The sort of little religious texts,
prayer books, and catechisms or almanacs,
these were all books that really made up the
trade in this period, but they were books
that were heavily used and then discarded.
There’s a couple up here, and these are — I’ll just run
you through some of the examples
that have been highlighted in our story.
They are books like this.
On the right you have a Dutch
school book, a really horrible book,
It’s called “The Mirror of
Youth,” in translation.
Which is a dialogue between a father and son
about all the atrocities of the Dutch Revolt.
And it’s got quite graphic, very
cheap woodcuts all throughout,
some of which are repeatedly
used in totally random scenes.
But this is an incredibly cheap book
that would have been standard reading
at all Dutch vernacular schools.
And you see it’s — I think
this is the 15th impression,
and we only have two other impressions
surviving before this edition.
On the left, you have a Dutch-French dictionary.
And this is an extraordinary item,
held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam,
which was part of a find of a Dutch naval
expedition, to find a northeast passage
to the Indies in the late 16th century.
And the sailors took with them Bibles
and catechisms and also this dictionary.
And when the expedition failed and they
had to sail back, they left this behind.
So this was found in the 19th century
in Novaya Zemlya, in the north of Russia,
in the little house that they had built.
And it’s come back to the Rijksmuseum.
Again, and this dictionary is the only surviving
example of this entire print run of this item.
Then we’ve got catechisms.
Again, very practical, very
treasured, practical books.
We’ve got stories of the great
exciting Dutch voyages of the period.
Which, of course, really, really sparked
the imagination, as you can imagine,
of many young boys and girls of this time.
And an even more humbler,
very daily pieces of print.
On the left here, this is
an incredibly common genre.
On the left here, you see a wedding broadsheet.
Now, this is a poem written by someone to
celebrate a wedding of two of their friends.
And it’s printed just as a
placard on a single side.
And these were standard fare
in the Dutch Republic.
If you went to a wedding — well,
these days we have a photographer.
In the 17th century, you
would have a wedding poem.
Sometimes you would have
three or four different ones.
And it was specific writers who would produce
hundreds of these throughout the period.
But again, rarely they don’t survive.
And then another aspect of the Dutch
print trade, an example on the left there,
is really an incredibly competitive
and dynamic newspaper market.
This was really the period of the invention
of newspaper, of newspaper advertising.
And the Dutch had about 50 different
newspapers in this particular period.
But these too rarely survive.
Now, with a sort of broader global
perspective, we should not forget books
which were destined for foreign audiences.
Because in this period, Dutch books not
only were produced for Dutch audiences
but for customers all across
the European continent.
And Dutch booksellers really dominated
the international trade at this point.
They had branches in Scandinavia and Germany.
And some publishers catered
exclusively for this market,
often in religious texts, like
on the left-hand side here.
This is a Hungarian edition of
the Psalms printed in Amsterdam.
And on the right, you have a German Lutheran
Bible, specifically produced for the markets
in what is now roughly Prussia
and Northern Germany.
Now, these sort of books, again, they
don’t tend to survive in Dutch libraries
but they do tend to survive in libraries in
Germany and Hungary, etc. But we also begin
to touch here on a little bit of
a paradox that’s playing here.
And it’s the fact that some of the books in
our great libraries survived so well because —
precisely because they were not much read.
[laughter] And in a way, it’s a strange paradox
that the books that were most valued by owners
in this period have often
survived least well today.
Then there is a second paradox that I would
like to talk about, and that’s the fact
that the books that made reputations in
this period were not necessarily the books
that made publishers a lot of money.
Dutch publishers were so successful in
conquering international markets precisely
because they chose not to publish certain books.
So you never see sort of great Latin legal
works being printed in the Dutch Republic,
because that was a market that was
absolutely swamped by editions from Lyon,
by editions from Venice or Southern Germany.
So what the Dutch did, they bought these
books cheaply abroad, took them to Amsterdam
and Leiden and then re-exported
them at higher prices.
And the way they worked in
the market for whale blubber,
they did the exact same thing with books.
It’s just another commodity.
And one particular family
captures this paradox really well,
and that’s the Elzevir family
of Leiden and Amsterdam.
Which is founded by a guy called
Louis Elzevir who arrives
in Leiden 1580, practically bankrupt.
But he quickly begins to sell
books to the university professors
and develops a relationship with them
and he starts to make some money then.
And he establishes dynasty that really dominates
the international trade in the Dutch Republic.
Elzevirs are most famous for publishing
Galileo, on the left here the example,
when his publications were forbidden in Italy.
For publishing the likes of
Balzac, you have there on the right.
And for publishing Descartes.
But what we also know is that the Elzevirs
were extremely tight with their authors
and always drove an incredibly hard bargain.
And they drove the hardest bargain
of all with some very young authors,
and those were Leiden University students, who
had to publish their disputations at the university.
Often several a year as they were
practising and leading up to their promotion.
And the Elzevirs could set particular
prices because they had a monopoly
on these particular dissertations.
So there were many complaints about both
the quality of the printing for these
and the high rates that they set.
But this is really where the
Elzevirs made most of their money.
But the reason this hasn’t been
recognized it’s because only about 15%
of all the dissertations originally
published have no longer survived today.
So if Rembrandt was defending a
disputation when he was a student —
which is certainly possible
— it has not survived.
But we shouldn’t say that’s
Now, the Elzevirs also made a big
market in the trade in Latin classics,
small format Latin books, which were —
as we’ve heard before, in the Latin
School these were essential reading.
So again, you have a large captive market
with students who constantly need books.
And as we know, students often throw away books.
So this is a market where you
constantly need new editions.
So that’s another aspect of that.
And finally, the Elzevirs also made a
particular claim to fame by being some
of the very first booksellers
to hold specific book auctions
and publish printed auction
catalogues of these sales.
And on the left side here, you have the
earliest printed auction catalogue in the world.
This is the catalogue of the books of
the Dutch statesman Philips van Marnix,
which was auctioned in Leiden in 1599.
Now, the auction market was a
big boon for the Dutch book trade
because it injected a certain
cash flow in the business.
This was a society in which
credit and book exchange —
so selling books for other books
— was the main means of trade.
But in auctions, you had to pay cash.
So this was a very welcomed
injection for many booksellers.
But it also promoted collecting.
And it promoted the growth
of personal libraries.
Because as soon as people realized
that they could invest in books —
that is they could build up a library, say, of
1,000 items, but comfortable in the knowledge
that when they died, their heirs
could then sell their library
and make a decent return on all that investment.
So libraries were both practical but
they were also a relatively safe bet.
And this is really what we see
starting in the 17th-century.
We know of over 4,000 book auctions
that took place during this period,
all with printed catalogues like these.
But these catalogues also provide
a glimpse into another paradox,
if not some of the hypocrisy
of Dutch book-selling business.
Now, like most early modern countries, the
Dutch Republic had a system of book censorship,
forbidding the printing of subversive
and unorthodox religious works,
which you were not allowed
to print, buy, or sell.
But then again, if we look at
some of these auction catalogues,
we start to find things like this.
Which are specific sections
in the auction catalogues
of libri prohibiti, or forbidden books.
So these were separately marketed to an
audience to say, this is really the good stuff.
[laughter] This is what you want to buy.
And this just went on happily ever after.
While the magistrates of Leiden were the
first to ban the publications of Spinoza
in the Dutch Republic, Leiden was also the town
where almost all auctions with
libri prohibiti were held.
Including from some libraries
owned by Leiden’s magistrates.
So it’s a funny world.
You have to be careful.
These auction catalogues also allow us to
reconstruct the corpus of books published
in the Dutch Republic in the 17th-century.
And from many of these catalogues and
other contemporary references, Andrew and I
and our team in St. Andrews have now accumulated
references to almost half a million books sold
at auction or marketed for sale in catalogues
in the Dutch Republic in the 17th-century.
Now, this provides us with really interesting
material, because we can compare this
to the corpus of books that we know
of that does survive and find some
of these lost books, some of these lost items.
I should say, this also involves
the use of newspaper advertisements.
Which when they were first introduced in
the Netherlands, are almost exclusively
for announcements for newly-published books.
And I’ll just show you a couple of examples.
Oh, this is very neat too.
Obviously, this is a beautiful,
gorgeous Dutch still life you see here.
Wonderful spread of delicacies
you could eat in the 17th-century.
But if we look very closely,
there’s also a book here.
Does anyone see it?
Does that help?
This is a title page of an Amsterdam almanac,
which is being reused as
a pepper cone [laughter].
And as you can see here, the detail on
the almanac is fantastic, really precise.
You’ve got the beautiful coat of
arms that you can just make out
and a nice red and black double printing.
And we specifically know that this was a
widespread use, because we have a reference
from Pierre Bayle, the French philosopher.
When he’s insulting about a
fellow scholar’s publication.
He says, oh, I tried to get this guy’s book,
but it’s so bad that all the copies have
already been sold to the spice sellers
to be rolled up into little rolls.
[laughter] So this was a common practice.
I’ll give you one example here, and that is the
example of an extremely popular devotional work
by a Lutheran minister called Johann
Habermann, translated into Dutch.
This was really for the Lutheran
community in the Netherlands.
Very popular book.
These are three surviving
examples, including this lovely —
in the center, this lovely heart-shaped book.
Which is a real rarity to see it like that.
So we know of 11 surviving editions
of Habermann’s works printed
in the Dutch Republic in this period.
But we have found another 47 in catalogues
and then another eight lost
editions in newspaper advertisements.
So from 11, we have gone
to 66 different editions.
And this is really how you can transform what
you know of particular popularity of authors,
and therefore also of relatively
of their use within Dutch society.
And we can do this for multiple
different sorts of texts,
but generally it concerns religious works.
In my conclusion, I just want
to return to the city of Leiden.
And a few years ago, I came across a very
interesting source in the archive of the city.
Which — and this reveals the instruction of
the magistrates of Leiden to their town criers.
These were the individuals who were
charged with proclaiming the law
and who could also be employed by
citizens to make announcements.
So you’ve lost your dog, your child’s run away,
you would go to the town criers of Leiden to go
out on the streets and make this news known.
Town Criers of Leiden
And here again, we have a lovely
bird’s eye view of Leiden.
And these are the 51 locations in red dots where
the town criers had to make their announcements.
So first of all, this is just interesting
to see in terms of the cityscape,
you know, where do they have to go.
They’re generally proclaiming on bridges,
which particularly carry
voices, of course, quite well.
And it gives you some sense to what extent
the magistrates of the city were also involved
in engaging with their public, with their
community in this particular period.
But why this is also interesting is the
fact that in all Dutch cities —
and this is a unique thing in this
period compared to other countries —
these town criers would also have
been carrying with them bundles
City Hall Press
of printed posters and printed fliers.
Which they would post up at these locations
in their wake, so that people could then,
if they had missed the announcement, it
would be posted up there for them to read.
And Leiden was actually one of the first cities
where the municipality was really determined
to make sure that all their
communications were printed.
After the siege of Leiden, they actually set
up a press in the city hall, the Raadhuis press,
where they produced documents like this.
The one that’s on the left here is a receipt
to a citizen who has contributed a fourth loan
to the war fund to help fight the Spaniards.
And on the right, you have a regulation
of the guild of the butchers of Leiden.
So these range really from the high political
to really the mundane regulations of the city.
But these are absolutely crucial documents,
because they, in a way, are some of the prints
that I think affect the daily lives
of citizens to the greatest extent.
Now, Rembrandt, too, had personal
experiences with such humble notices.
And here, you have the printed
notice of his bankruptcy sale from 1656,
which would have been plastered
all over Amsterdam.
And you have here also crucially — to
think about the interaction between print
and oral communication — on the
bottom here, you have the Dutch phrase
“zegget voort,” pass on the word.
If you start to look in Dutch paintings
of the period, you also start to see,
these posters were truly everywhere.
Here’s two examples, one
from the Beurs
in Amsterdam, the financial heart of the city.
And if you look in the top —
see if I can get my pointer —
posters all over here, posters
up on that wall there.
And here we go to the toll house in Amsterdam.
If you come out to the train
station in Amsterdam,
this would have been roughly in that location.
And again, this is where all incoming
ships would pay their toll dues
and they would share information.
So this was a real hub where lots
of printed posters would be found.
So if we start to think of these cities
as constantly being plastered by print.
You start to see how ubiquitous
this is and how important it is
for all these printers also to stay in business.
So finally, if anyone ever questions why some of
these little books or ephemeral posters matter,
The Declaration of Prince William
then we only need to consider what I think
in my opinion is the most influential
book of the Dutch Golden Age.
And this is a very little book.
It’s a small quarter pamphlet of
roughly 40 pages, printed in The Hague.
And interestingly enough, printed in English.
Now, this is the declaration of
Prince William III of Orange,
in which he justifies his invasion of England.
Now, this pamphlet was printed in
advance of the invasion of 1688.
And it was printed in total secrecy.
It was, however, printed
in a massive print room.
He printed over 50,000 copies of this in
English, to take with him with the Armada.
So that once they arrived in
England, they could distribute it
around to justify this military invasion.
And there’s this wonderful exchange between the
English ambassador in The Hague and King James
II and VII of England and Scotland, where
James says, you must get this declaration.
We must know what it says so we can start
a response before the invasions happen.
And so the ambassador here says,
you know, I’m really trying my best.
I’m trying to get to this declaration.
But the printer of the states
— because they’re paid so well
by the authorities — are not to be corrupted.
I can’t bribe them.
And I’ve even seen that some
of his servants can be bribed,
but they too will not endanger their
lucrative places in this business.
And he says, I will leave no stone unmoved.
And then there’s another letter a week
later where he says, no, I’m sorry,
I really couldn’t get get hold of the copy.
[laughter] It gets even worse too,
because when James finally has a copy,
when William has already set
sail, he reads it and he’s
so angry, he throws it in the fireplace.
And then he he needs to get a second
copy because he forgot what it says.
So he has to borrow Princess Anne’s copy.
So it’s total disaster.
But really, you know, this little book that
played a significant role in the formulation
of the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
It was direct passages were cited from this to
say, this is what William said when he invaded,
so this will be our constitution.
And really with that bill, I
think we see the true formation
of modern Western political democracy.
And that change I think was the achievement of a
century-long of Dutch experiments and experience
in the world of books and printing.
And in that sense, it’s a testament to the
power of the press and the influence of the book
on the culture of the 17th-century.
[ Applause ]
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