Exhibitions

ADVOCATE OF FREE THOUGHT
ADRIAAN KOERBAGH (1633-1669)
17 September - 19 December 2021


 

ADVOCATE OF FREE THOUGHT
ADRIAAN KOERBAGH (1633-1669)


17 September - 19 December 2021

‘To the benevolent, truth-loving, peace-loving and wise readers’.
Adriaan Koerbagh, preface to the reader in Light Shining in Dark Places


The exhibition “Advocate of Free Thought. Adriaan Koerbagh (1633-1669)” is open to the public at the Embassy of the free Mind from 17 September. The exhibition, an initiative of Vereniging Het Spinozahuis in Rijnsburg, opened there in the autumn of 2019 and travelled to the Elisabeth Weeshuis Museum in Culemborg in the autumn of 2020. The exhibition now comes to Koerbagh’s native city Amsterdam. 

Adriaan Koerbagh: More Radical than Spinoza?
In a sense Koerbagh was more radical than Spinoza. Unlike Spinoza, who wrote in Latin, Koerbagh deliberately wrote in the vernacular, to enlighten the people of the Dutch Republic. Which message did he want to transmit? Belief, he said, is based on approval, which implies that you must have some knowledge of what you approve. You can believe what you want, but knowledge offers greater certainty. That is why he advocated a reasonable religion, as he held that reason was the only and most reliable word of God. It also created greater mutual tolerance.


In his own time, Koerbagh was regarded as an ‘atheistic monster’, as were philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Spinoza. Now he is rightly acclaimed as a free thinker. Koerbagh himself referred to free thought as follows:

‘Not all new and strange things must be rejected without cause, they must first be examined with an open and unbiased mind, and that which is true must be accepted and cherished. If we fail to do so, we will continue to wallow in the mire of ignorance.’

Koerbagh, who debuted as a lexicographer, elaborated his ideas in A Light Shining in Dark Places, which was only first published in the 21st century. In 1668 the printer, who was afraid he might be charged as an accessory to disseminating Koerbagh’s radical ideas, stopped printing half way through the book and handed the copy to the authorities. Koerbagh was arrested in the summer of 1668 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, a punishment he would not survive.

The exhibition honours the original freethinker Koerbagh. The light which he had wantd to shine on dark places has not been extinguished. Visitors to the exhibition can print a page from Koerbagh’s confiscated work, two copies of which have been preserved, part print, part manuscript. ‘Every religion needs a Koerbagh’, were the memorable words of his translator Michiel Wielema. The exhibition originally opened in Rijnsburg in 2019 to commemorate Koerbagh’s untimely death 350 years before. Note the dates in your diary and visit Amsterdam to find out that Koerbagh’s ideas are still very much alive – and still urgent!

Listen here to a Dutch podcast on Adriaan Koerbagh, by curator Hannah Laurens.

For a Dutch article about Adriaan Koerbagh and this exhibition, see here
 
Tickets
Buy your entrance ticket here.
Due to Covid-19 regulations, it is mandatory to buy a ticket online in advance.
 
Activities
 
Lectures and guided tours 
Please click here for an overview of lectures, guided tours and city trails on Adriaan Koerbagh and freethinking in the 17th century.
 
Courses
Please click here for more information about the courses on Adriaan Koerbagh. 

 

ARCHIVE

 


 

SECRETS OF NATURE

9 June - 12 September 2021

Travel with us to a time when the world was still full of secrets that were puzzling to explain. At the same time, knowledge about natural processes was rapidly expanding. The first major scientific discoveries were made, although they were not always accepted at face value. We only need to think of Copernicus’ discovery that the earth revolved around the sun. Many phenomena continued to remain a mystery however. This period marks the transition between the “magical” and the “rational” world picture. 

Magic and Modern Science

According to the magical world view, nature spoke in symbols. The ability to interpret them well could help acquire deeper insights into the purpose of creation, even the intentions of the creator. Our role in this sublunary world would become clearer and it might also prove possible to manipulate nature using magical formulas or practices. The books in this exhibition, all of which are from the Embassy of the Free Mind collection, sometimes reflect this symbolical interpretation of nature, and sometimes reflect a more modern scientific view of the world. One of the items on display is a human anatomy atlas, based on new scientific insights. It can be opened layer by layer to reveal the ‘secrets’ of organs, bones and veins.

Extraterrestrial life, mountain mannikins and herrings bearing strange signs!
There were also serious discussions about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, inspired by astronomical observations. Other books, however, show that the earth itself was still considered a very mysterious place, peopled by invisible spirits, including vicious mannikins who jealously guarded their gold. Nature was also believed to also transmit hidden messages, such as herrings bearing strange signs on their skins or erupting volcanoes announcing some pretty bad news for the world.

The good news is that this exhibition can be seen until the beginning of September.

There are special guided tours by the curators during the exhibition. Read more

 


 

EYE FOR THE WORLD 

Exhibition and catalogue on the visionary thinker Jacob Böhme

Prolonged until 1 August 2020

Embassy of the Free Mind, Keizersgracht 123, Amsterdam 

Amsterdam - From 14 December 2019 until 1 August 2020, the Embassy of the Free Mind (EFM) presents the exhibition ‘EYE FOR THE WORLD. The visionary thinker Jacob Böhme’. This travelling international exhibition is a collaboration between the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the EFM and pays tribute to Jacob Böhme as one of Germany’s greatest philosophers.

The shoemaker who did not stick to his trade
Jacob Böhme was a shoemaker by profession, but a writer by vocation. In 1600 he had an intuition that granted him an all-encompassing insight into the secrets of nature and the cosmos. It took him more than ten years to express this vision in his first work, Aurora. When this manuscript began circulating and became immediately popular, it was confiscated by the local authorities in 1613 and its author placed under a writing ban. Yet, this did not stop him from writing over thirty works during his lifetime. Böhme was a champion of toleration: he was an outspoken opponent of war, violence and the persecution of minorities.

International collaboration
This international project was launched by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) in 2017 when it presented in the Palace Chapel in Dresden the exhibition ‘ALL IN ALL. The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme’. The Embassy of the Free Mind (EFM) contributed to the Dresden exhibition by loaning historical books and manuscripts. For this Amsterdam edition the EFM draws even more extensively on its own collection. Also, EFM curators José Bouman and Cis van Heertum added a completely new facet to the exhibition and accompanying catalogue by presenting the results of decades of research by the Ritman Research Institute of the EFM into the role of Amsterdam in the dissemination of Böhme’s thought.

What’s there to see?
The exhibition draws visitors inside Böhme’s conceptual world by posing some of the evocative questions he asked in his books, such as ‘Do you think God is only the God of Christians?’ and ‘What do you think the earth and stars are made of?’ The answers Böhme himself found are developed in the themes Nature, Opposition, Fall, Creation, Rebirth and Freedom.

The exhibition also invites visitors to explore Böhme’s ideas by immersing themselves in the beautiful and complex imagery in his books, made by artists who sought to visualise his abstract ideas. Last but not least, it offers interactive touchscreens, including a symbolic portrait of Jacob Böhme, his own manuscript of Aurora, the amazing pop-up illustrations in the 18th-century English edition of his works and a map of Amsterdam charting all the printers and booksellers who can be associated with Böhme.

Which stories are told?
The exhibition EYE FOR THE WORLD tells adventurous stories. One of them is about how Böhme’s manuscripts found their way to Amsterdam in a chest of books and a convoy that was robbed. Another one deals with how Abraham Willemszoon van Beyerland, who translated Böhme’s manuscripts, had them printed at his own expense and distributed them himself, thus making Böhme’s works available after the latter’s death. Then there is the story of the remarkable coincidence that Aurora was not only the first book Böhme wrote, but also the first book (in Dutch translation) of the rich collection of the Embassy of the Free Mind. Amsterdam became Böhme’s gateway to the world.

The next stages
Thanks to the generous support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Free State of Saxony, the exhibition has previously travelled to Coventry, England, and will continue after the Amsterdam edition to Wrocław, Poland, in 2020. The exhibition will then be permanently displayed in Görlitz, Germany, where Böhme lived most of his life. The curators behind the exhibition and the accompanying catalogues and scholarly volumes are Claudia Brink, Lucinda Martin and Cecilia Muratori.    

Publication
The Dutch-language exhibition catalogue OOG VOOR DE WERELD, published by Sandstein Verlag, is available from the EFM shop or through the website. Price € 18.

[English subtitels available in CC] Watch a conversation by Sven-Ake Hulleman with Rachel Ritman about Jacob Böhme and reality, unity, the Divine and the inner Light. Rachel Ritman is also the author of 'Oog in Oog met Jacob Böhme' which is available in Dutch in the museum and in our webshop. 

Learn more about Jacob Böhme with two of the exhibition's curators via the video's below:

For an impression of the exhibition see our virtual tour below.

 

OPENING

The exhibition Eye for he World. The visionary thinker Jacob Böhme opened on 13 December 2019. Please find below a selection of photographs of the event.

 

  

 

 

  

 

 

 


 

 

KABBALAH & ALCHEMY

Exhibition in the Embassy of the Free Mind
13 June - 16 November 2019 

The Embassy of the Free Mind (EFM) is proud to present its first exhibition in its new premises The House with the Heads: Kabbalah & Al­chemy, which is on show from 13 June -16 November 2019. The EFM is a library, a museum and a platform for free think­ing. Kabbalah and alchemy were traditionally regarded as hidden currents in European cultural history. The EFM wishes to explore with this exhibition the relatively unknown relationship between these two disciplines by means of richly illustrated manuscripts and printed books from the 16th-18th centuries, deriving from its Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica Collection and seven special Hebrew loans from the Amsterdam Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos, the oldest still functioning Jewish library in the world.

Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae, Hamburg 1595, 
University Library Basel

 

Opening of the Kabbalah & Alchemy exhibition

(press release continues below)

  

   

  

    

  

  

   

  

 

Closer to God
Kabbalah is a Jewish mystical tradition that was passed down from generation to generation in circles of adepts. Kabbalists based themselves on the assumption that the Hebrew language was divine in origin, the language also in which God had created heaven and earth. By meditating on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the various divine names, kabbalists hoped to be able to come closer to God. The mystical longing to know God is also reflected in the image of the tree of life, represented in the exhibition by the oldest known printed woodcut from 1516. The ten divine attributes - Hebrew: sefirot – of this tree of life are the attributes through which God reveals himself to man.

From lead to gold
Alchemy has its roots in the Graeco-Roman Egypt of the first centuries CE. Alchemists tried to convert base metals into precious ones, such as silver and gold. This process was known as transmutation. Alchemists broke down substances to purify them and recombined them. In the Middle Ages many alchemists sought for the Philosophers’ Stone, the substance with which they could perform a successful transmutation. By the time of the Renaissance, it was also the universal medicine that purified the human body and cured all diseases.
Some alchemists were not merely concerned with purifying substances; they also strove for purity in their relationship with God and to perfect the world.

The natural and the supernatural
The exhibition in particular explores the 16th- to 18th-century phenomenon of ‘Cabala chymica’ in the Christian world. How are alchemy and Kabbalah related? One of the oldest works to have inspired Kabbalah, Sefer yetzirah (Book of Formation) urges the reader to ‘combine’ and ‘form’ – alchemists, too, combined substances in the laboratory to create something new, something better. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) was one of the first to regard kabbalah (or: cabala) as a part of magic – a means to connect the natural (alchemy, working with nature) with the supernatural (God, the angels). The logo of this exhibition is a circular engraving from the best-known work by the German alchemist and Christian kabbalist Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605): Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom). He said that ‘Kabbalah, magic and alchemy should be used in combination', making it one of the earliest examples of the phenomenon of Cabala Chymica.

Collaboration between the Jewish Cultural Quarter and the Embassy of the Free Mind

Peter Forshaw, head of the EFM’s Ritman Research Institute, has conducted scholarly research into this fairly rare phenomenon. Together with curator Cis van Heertum he presents his findings in the exhibition Kabbalah & Alchemy. The exhibition connects with the international exhibition Kabbalah. The Art of Jewish Mysticism on view in the Jewish Cultural Quarter (JCQ) from 29 March - 24 August. The EFM has loaned six rare printed works and manuscripts to the JCQ and has received seven unique loans from the JCQ for its exhibition Kabbalah & Alchemy. It highlights a fine collaboration between the Embassy of the Free Mind and its Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica collection (EFM) and the Jewish Cultural Quarter and the associated Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos stretching back more than thirty years.

Talks and tours                                 
The EFM has developed a programme of talks and tours in collaboration with the JCQ and Ets Haim. Among the speakers are Mirjam Knotter (curator Kabbala. The Art of Jewish Mysticism exhibition, JCQ), Heide Warncke (curator Ets Haim) and John MacMurphy (PhD candidate, Chair of Hermetic Philosophy, University of Amsterdam).

The exhibition Kabbalah & Alchemy will be opened on 12 June by Emile Schrijver, general director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter. The exhibition can be viewed from Wednesday-Saturday in the EFM until 16 November 2019.

We are grateful to:

Loans:

Our exhibition guide was sponsored by:

For images, click here.

Boris de Munnick, press officer 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; M 06-22978444
Embassy of the Free Mind, 123, Keizersgracht, Amsterdam

 


NEW THEMATIC DISPLAY CASES: PRIVATE PRESS BOOKS

 
Following the exhibition of Geert van Daal’s stunning bindings Spellbound, which featured superb specimen of blind-tooled, gold-tooled or otherwise ingeniously ornamented covers and boxes, the Embassy of the Free Mind turns to the inside of books with an exhibition devoted to a special category of books from its own holdings: private press books. The private press movement originated in England in the late 19th century and led to a true ‘Renaissance of printing’. From 5 December 2018 a choice selection of books of typographic beauty, printed on vellum or on special paper, beautifully laid out and illustrated by renowned artists, can be admired in the House with the Heads. It is the first time this special collecting interest is the subject of dedicated display cases in the library. Feast your eyes on works of substance!
 

BOOK OF WILLEM OF ORANGE

Back on show! The Dream of Poliphile, an extraordinary book published in 1559 that once belonged to William of Orange, Father of the Fatherland. The binding bears the supralibros of the Prince. This personal copy of William the Silent, as he was also known, is the only copy of this magnificent edition still in private hands. The well-preserved and pristine copy is of immeasurable value. The book will be on display until February 2019.

Prime Minister of England
Twenty copies of this edition have been preserved, five of which are in the Netherlands, including this copy. The other fifteen copies are in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. This is the only privately owned copy, which in 1690 was still part of the library of Robert Harley, who rose to become Prime Minister under Queen Anne. It was sold in 1743 and later appeared at auction in London (1938), New York (1951) and Paris (2006). The present Dutch owner bought the book at this latter auction.


The Year of The Silent
The Prince of Orange bought Le Songe de Poliphile in Paris in 1559 at the age of 26 as he was briefly staying at the court of Henry II. As they were out hunting, the French King privately told him of a secret agreement with the Spanish King Philip II to crush the heresy in the Netherlands. William concealed his disgust at the news, which partly earned him his later epithet, ‘The Silent’.

The Eighty Years’ War
On the eve of the Eighty Years’ War in 1567 the Prince left his castle in Breda to continue his battle against the Spanish King from Dillenburg, taking with him his favourite book. After his assassination in 1584 his library was completely dispersed, among others by family members.

Dream Story
At the time it was published, Le Songe de Poliphile acquired a cult following, due also to the erotic descriptions. The anonymous author, whose name is concealed in an acrostic, demonstrates his knowledge of occult matters throughout the story. The protagonist of the book, Poliphile, dreams he is lost in a dark forest. He has a long road ahead of him, actually a complex path of initiation, which will eventually lead him to his beloved, Polia. Together with her he visits the palace and the fountain of Venus. Poliphile ponders at length on the pyramids, doors, columns and obelisks he encounters on his journey. He wanders through beautifully laid out gardens, takes his time admiring curious statues (such as an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back), fountains, and allegorical animals. He reads lengthy epitaphs and stops to study enigmatic hieroglyphs. On his way he encounters nymphs, satyrs, gods and mythological figures.

Esther Ritman, director of The Embassy of the Free Mind: “The book recounts a love story which still appeals today and at the same time derives vital lessons from an allegorical description of Classical Antiquity.”


SPELLBINDING. A RETROSPECTIVE OF LUXURY BOOKBINDINGS

BY GEERT VAN DAAL

Hand bookbinder Geert van Daal (1941) has been making bookbindings and luxury cases since 1983 for the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica collection that has been brought together by Joost R. Ritman. The materials he uses are luxury leather types, parchment and marbled papers mainly made by himself. A renowned manual gilder, he exclusively uses 23 carat gold for the decorations. His work has won him awards at home and abroad. In the next few months we present some 100 magnificent bookbindings and cartonnages, made especially by Geert van Daal for the BPH, for other collectors and for himself. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue in Dutch.

The exhibition will run from 28 September until 24 November 2018.

 

    

More photos of the opening of the exhibition may be viewed on our Facebook page


LOST BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY OF WILLIAM OF ORANGE COMES TO THE EMBASSY OF THE FREE MIND IN AMSTERDAM.

During a special meeting in the monumental 17th-century town mansion the House with the Heads on 13 June, Esther Ritman, director of the Embassy of the Free Mind, and Bart Laming, chairman of the Stichting Boek van Oranje, opened an exhibition of an extraordinary book published in 1559 that once belonged to William of Orange, Father of the Fatherland. The binding bears the supralibros of the Prince. Long concealed in private collections, the book was discovered at an auction in 2006. This personal copy of William the Silent, as he was also known, is the only copy of this magnificent edition still in private hands. The well-preserved and pristine copy is of immeasurable value. The book will be on display in the museum on Keizersgracht 123 in Amsterdam through the end of August.

Bart Laming, chairman Stichting Boek van Oranje: “The Prince’s copy of the book was long hidden from view in private collections. The published translation and the exhibition make it accessible to a large public. Everyone can now experience the enchantment of the book, just as Stadholder William of Orange, Father of the Fatherland himself did.”

Facsimile edition with a new Dutch translation
The exhibition is organized to mark the launch of a facsimile edition with a new Dutch translation entitled De droom van Poliphile. The Prince of Orange owned a copy of the second edition in French, published in 1554, of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili originally published in a curious language in Venice in 1499.

Presentation of the first copy
The first copy was presented to Jelle Koopmans, Senior Lecturer in Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Amsterdam and chief editor of the translation project. A team of three Dutch and three Belgian translators have worked for two years on the translation, which is intended to be read, and above all appreciated, by a wide public. Stichting Boek van Oranje published the translation to fund with the proceeds of the edition the acquisition of this piece of Dutch heritage and permanently transfer it to a museum or cultural institution. The layout of the translation is based on the Poliphile font type and follows the original’s unique typography. The story is illustrated with prints from the original 181 woodcuts. The facsimile is printed in a large folio format and is bound in a faux leather binding that features the Orange coat of arms. The special edition is available in the museum shop and in bookshops at 99 Euro. (ISBN: 9789 08208 7307).

Exhibition
Books from the private library of Stadholder William of Orange have never before been exhibited in public. This book is now presented to the public for the first time in the Embassy of the Free Mind. The new facsimile edition in French and in Dutch can be browsed on the spot, offering visitors a window into the Prince’s reading.

Prime Minister of England
Twenty copies of this edition have been preserved, five of which are in the Netherlands, including this copy. The other fifteen copies are in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. This is the only privately owned copy, which in 1690 was still part of the library of Robert Harley, who rose to become Prime Minister under Queen Anne. It was sold in 1743 and later appeared at auction in London (1938), New York (1951) and Paris (2006). The present Dutch owner bought the book at this latter auction.

The Year of The Silent
The Prince of Orange bought Le Songe de Poliphile in Paris in 1559 at the age of 26 as he was briefly staying at the court of Henry II. As they were out hunting, the French King privately told him of a secret agreement with the Spanish King Philip II to crush the heresy in the Netherlands. William concealed his disgust at the news, which partly earned him his later epithet, ‘The Silent’.

The Eighty Years’ War
On the eve of the Eighty Years’ War in 1567 the Prince left his castle in Breda to continue his battle against the Spanish King from Dillenburg, taking with him his favourite book. After his assassination in 1584 his library was completely dispersed, among others by family members.

Dream Story
At the time it was published, Le Songe de Poliphile acquired a cult following, due also to the erotic descriptions. The anonymous author, whose name is concealed in an acrostic, demonstrates his knowledge of occult matters throughout the story. The protagonist of the book, Poliphile, dreams he is lost in a dark forest. He has a long road ahead of him, actually a complex path of initiation, which will eventually lead him to his beloved, Polia. Together with her he visits the palace and the fountain of Venus. Poliphile ponders at length on the pyramids, doors, columns and obelisks he encounters on his journey. He wanders through beautifully laid out gardens, takes his time admiring curious statues (such as an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back), fountains, and allegorical animals. He reads lengthy epitaphs and stops to study enigmatic hieroglyphs. On his way he encounters nymphs, satyrs, gods and mythological figures.

Esther Ritman, director of The Embassy of the Free Mind: “The book recounts a love story which still appeals today and at the same time derives vital lessons from an allegorical description of Classical Antiquity.”

   

Venue:
The Embassy of the Free Mind
House with the Heads 
Keizersgracht 123 
1015 CJ Amsterdam 

Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10:00-17:00
www.embassyofthefreemind.com

For more information 
The Embassy of the Free Mind
Boris de Munnick, Press & Publicity 
06 22 978 444 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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DETAILS FACSIMILE EDITION

Original title: Discours Du Songe De Poliphile
Translated under the editorship of Dr. Jelle Koopmans
Published by Stichting Boek van Oranje
Bound edition identical to the binding of William of Orange
Binding: sewn and bound
Font: Poliphile
Paper: Rives Laid Vergé (90gr/m2)
Original folio format: (335 x 222mm) 334 pages
First published June 2018 in a special limited edition
ISBN 9789 08208 7307 Price 99 Euro