Lieke van Deinsen on the ‘Panpoëticon Batavûm’

Posted in museums by Editor on September 13, 2016

From the September 2016 Newsletter on Academic Activities at the Rijksmuseum:

As a Johan Huizinga Fellow, Lieke van Deinsen conducted research into a remarkable collection of eighteenth-century portraits of authors, better known as the Panpoëticon Batavûm. Her findings will be published as the first volume in the new book series Rijksmuseum Studies in History, which will be launched 13 October 2016.

unnamedCollecting was extremely fashionable in the eighteenth-century Dutch Republic. Wooden trays and cabinets, made specifically for the purpose, would be filled with collections of coins, stones and shells. The Amsterdam painter, engraver and amateur poet Arnoud van Halen assembled a collection of a different and unique kind. In 1719, he commissioned a cabinet that eventually served as the repository of over three hundred little portraits of Dutch poets past and present. The formal enshrinement of this remarkable collection did not, however, mark its beginning—or its end. Van Halen had started accumulating his Panpoeticon Batavum at the turn of the eighteenth century, and after his death the cabinet and its contents changed hands several times as lovers of literature and literary societies sought to acquire the Panpoëticon. The collection also inspired dozens of poets to articulate their highly emotional reactions on seeing this ground-breaking image of Dutch literary history. The wooden cabinet became the tangible monument to the Dutch literary canon at a time when Dutch culture was primarily described in terms of decline, Frenchification and the waning of the Golden Age.

The history of the Panpoëticon Batavûm literally ended with a bang. The wooden cabinet was severely damaged when a ship filled with gunpowder exploded in the centre of Leiden. In the aftermath of the disaster, the remaining portraits were sold separately and ended up all over Europe. Nowadays, eighty-three of the original portraits can be found in the Rijksmuseum’s collection.

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