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"Images of History: The historical atlases of Frederik Muller (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam) , Simon van Gijn (Dordrechts Museum), Abraham van Stolk (Historisch Museum, Rotterdam) "
2000-07-08 until 2000-10-15
Amsterdam, , NL

Three seperate exhibitions devoted to historical atlases are to be held from July 8 to October 15, 2000. An historical atlas consists of a collection of prints, drawings and photographs pertaining to the history of an area or a city. Here the focus is on the Netherlands and its overseas territories. Down through the years, many events have been depicted by well-known artists, not only momentous occasions but also happenings which we would regard as unimportant. Some did so at the time of the event, others later. Engravers, draughtsmen and photographers all made their own contribution. The Netherlands had three such historical atlases: one in Amsterdam (the work of the bookseller Frederik Muller), one in Rotterdam (the collection of the lumber merchant Abraham van Stolk), and one in Dordrecht (compiled by the lawyer Simon van Gijn).

Not only the struggle against the Spanish, the naval wars with the English, the country's colonial past, and its domination by the French were recorded, but also the glorious deeds of William III, the capture of the treasure fleet by Piet Heyn, and the miraculous escape of Hugo Grotius are depicted with appropriate gravity or with a touch of humour. Less portentous happenings, such as a skating race for women held in Leeuwarden around 1805 and the World Exhibition in Amsterdam in 1883 are also represented. At all the venues, a colourful caravan of historical players in leading and supporting roles pass before the visitor. Three informative and entertaining exhibitions for young and old, highlighting the nation's glorious triumphs, but also the lesser-known events of the past.

The historical atlas of Frederik Muller

Frederik Muller Frederik Muller (1817-1881), the most important Dutch bookseller of the nineteenth century, grew up with books. He helped out in 'Bibliopolium', the store which his uncle Johannes Müller founded on Amsterdam's Kalverstraat, sorting and cataloguing books, prints and drawings. In 1840 Muller left to join the antiquarian bookshop of Jac. Radink, with whom he organised his first auctions. Several years later he went into business for himself. The original premises became too smaal, and a number of times he was forced to move to another address, ending up in a large canal house on the Herengracht. After the death of Muller in 1881, the firm, which by then had moved to the Doelenstraat, was increasingly devoted to art; it gained international fame as an auction house, until its liquidation in 1963.

The atlas

Frederik Muller's historical atlas is arranged chronologically and consists of over 25,000 sheets. It was compiled largely during the 50s, 60s and 70s of the nineteenth century, when a number of important collections came onto the market. The period it encompasses ranges from the earliest history of the Netherlands up until 1881, the year of Muller's death. He described nearly all the historical prints pertaining to the Netherlands, and published them in a four-volume catalogue. The latter appeared between 1863 and 1882, and is still regarded as a standard work. In compiling this book, Muller relied not only on his own collection but also on those of others, including Van Stolk and Van Gijn. In 1881 the Print Room of the Rijksmuseum purchased Muller's collection of prints and drawings devoted to the history of the Netherlands.

Exhibition in the Rijksmuseum

The exhibition to be held in the Rijksmuseum will feature a selection of the prints, drawings and photographs catalogued by Muller. The works will be presented thematically rather than chronologically. These drawings and prints depict lotteries, royal receptions, funeral processions, military campaigns, naval battles, floods, and stranded sperm whales. But there are also old Dutch parlour games, educational prints, and illustrated books dealing with various aspects of the nation's history.

Historical prints were highly newsworthy at the time of publication. Publishers and engravers were anxious to get a print of some current event onto the market as quickly as possible, in order to steal a march on their competitors. To that end, old copper plates were often used: the image or inscription was retouched and modified to suit the new situation, resulting in prints with almost exactly the same representation but depicting different events.

And finally, the exhibition also focuses on the interest which historians and art historians displayed in these prints. The historian Robert Fruin, for example, regarded them as an important visual source, and he advised and encouraged Muller during the compilation of his catalogue. Fruin was fascinated by this particular aspect of his discipline, to which Muller had drawn his attention. Indeed, on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary as professor at Leiden University, admirers presented him with a cabinet which was designed by Cuypers and contained over one hundred historical prints.

The historian Johan Huizinga took a somewhat more ambivalent view of the historical print. While at university he took up the drawing pen himself, and illustrated his history of the Netherlands by means of caricatures. These historical sketches were later published.

All the prints and drawings in Frederik Muller's atlas have been transferred to microfilm, in order to make them accessible to the public and protect the sheets from wear and tear. A selection from the atlas will soon be available on the Internet.

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