Enfilade

Robert Jacob Gordon’s Drawings and Papers Now Available Online

Posted in online learning, resources by Editor on February 17, 2017

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Attributed to Robert Jacob Gordon, Upper (Northern) Half of Gordon’s ‘Great Map of Southern Africa, ca. 1786; ink, pencil, and watercolor on paper, 91.5 × 203 cm (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, RP-T-1914-17-3-A). More information and a high resolution image is available here»

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Press release (14 February 2017) from the Rijksmuseum:

Today the Rijksmuseum launches www.robertjacobgordon.nl through which all of Robert Jacob Gordon’s drawings, diaries and letters are made accessible to all for the first time. The 18th-century Dutch explorer documented South Africa’s inhabitants, flora, and fauna in more than 450 detailed drawings. He meticulously noted down in his diaries and letters everything he experienced during his expeditions. The drawings, which include unique 8-metre-long panoramas, form part of the collection at the Rijksmuseum. The diaries and letters are kept in the Brendhurst Library in Johannesburg. On the occasion of the exhibition Good Hope: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600, all of Gordon’s diaries and drawings are reunited for the first time and thus present a comprehensive view of 18th-century South Africa.

Zoom in on 18th-Century South Africa

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Robert Jacob Gordon, Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe), 1779 (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, RP-T-1914-17-149).

Through robertjacobgordon.nl, visitors are given a complete portrait of what Gordon encountered, and where. The site enables visitors to zoom in on the 18th-century map Gordon created alongside contemporary South Africa via Google Maps. The comparison revealed the uncanny accuracy of Gordon’s measurements. His diaries and letters are also made available digitally for the first time via the website. Gordon’s travel notes, discovered in 1960, are kept in the Brandhurst Library in Johannesburg. Through the website, these documents are made accessible for the first time. The original texts have been transcribed and translated into English for the occasion, with special functions linking Gordon’s texts to his drawings.

Robert Jacob Gordon

The 18th-century Dutch scientist Robert Jacob Gordon (1743–1795) travelled through the interior of South Africa during the second half of the 18th century. As a zoologist, cartographer, geographer, linguist, meteorologist, and anthropologist, he recorded his discoveries in an ‘Atlas’—a treasure trove of 450 drawings along with spectacular panoramas, multiple metres in length, that show precisely how Gordon portrayed the land, its inhabitants and the flora and fauna. To record all of this in words and in pictures, he made four extensive expeditions deep into the interior of South Africa, where he was frequently the mediator between the local people and the colonists, resolving conflicts arisen from arson, murders, and cattle thefts. As a representative of the European Enlightenment, Gordon poured his knowledge and expertise into the creation of ‘Great Map’, his compendium which remained unfinished due to his suicide in 1795 post the British invasion. A large number of Gordon’s drawings and metres-long, meticulously drawn panoramas can be seen in Rijksmuseum’s exhibition Good Hope: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600 (17 February to 21 May 2017).

robertjacobgordon.nl is made possible by Cees en Ingeborg van der Burg and is created by the Rijksmuseum in association with Fabrique and Q42. The web address is obtained thanks to the Doesburgs’ Historical Society HetHuisDoesburg.

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