The library has turned 60!

As the BPH is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the grand surroundings of the House with the Heads, we would like to recall its beginnings as a private collection

Joost R. Ritman, Amsterdam businessman, began collecting works in the fields of Hermetica, Alchemy, Rosicrucians and Mysticism in 1957. His collecting passion was inspired by a gift from his mother at the age of ..: a copy of the Dutch translation of Jacob Böhme’s Aurora, published in Amsterdam in 1686. Of course it would be appropriate to say: ‘and the rest is history’ , but we would like to mention that Joost Ritman decided to make his private collection available to a wider audience in 1984 when he opened the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) on Amsterdam’s Bloemstraat. The remarkable Dutch philologist Isaac Vossius, travelling to Italy to admire the libraries there, complained that private owners were more jealous of their libraries than their wives – private libraries were almost impossible to visit. Not so for the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, which welcomed visitors free of charge for decades. Not only were they able to browse the shelves of the modern book section, they were always regaled with beautiful exhibitions, curated by José Bouman and Frans Janssen, an indefatigable team that also searched far and wide for early printed books and manuscripts, at auctions and book fairs across Europe. The library did not only organise exhibitions in its own building, it also travelled to Italy, cradle of the Renaissance and the revival of Hermetism, to organise two acclaimed exhibitions, in the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana in Florence (199.) and in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (200.). Other international exhibitions followed, in such cities as Moscow, New York, London. 

A new chapter in the book of the library began when Frans Janssen retired and Esther Ritman succeeded him as director. She and her daughter, Rixande Ritman, have been managing the library since and have prepared the new phase of the library as the core collection of the Embassy of the Free Mind in the House with the Heads. After sixty years, the library is renewing itself and more Hermetically Open than ever, having entered the digital age and focusing also on the visual heritage of Hermetic wisdom with a new travelling exhibition: Divine Wisdom, Divine Nature. The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the visual language of the 17th century, which has already travelled to a  number of European cities and will also be crossing the Atlantic in the near future. 

What started out as a private library grew into an internationally famed institution with its own publishing house and research centre. This research centre, by the way, is the achievement of our emeritus librarian Dr Carlos Gilly, who conducted ground-breaking work in the history of the Rosicrucians. The presence of the BPH was even one of the main motivations for establishing the Chair in Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents in Amsterdam, which is saying something for the enormous pull factor of a collection that grew out of the passion of a single man and has evolved into a monument for Joost R. Ritman. The BPH in the House with the Heads is his lasting achievement: three cheers for him and the Thrice Greatest, the namegiver of the library!