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Between Rome and Amsterdam:

Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

Thijs Weststeijn

Abstract Keywords

The German scholar Barthold Nihusius, a famous Berthold Neuhaus,

convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, wrote forty letters Athanasius Kircher,
from Amsterdam, where he worked in Blaeu’s printing office, to Otto Heurnius,
Athanasius Kircher in Rome. These reveal how Dutch collections Alexander VII,
of antiquities and related publications contributed substantially to Joost van den Vondel
Kircher’s interest in Egypt. The view that the hieroglyphs expressed
the original language in which God had spoken to Adam attracted
him in particular. In addition, the exchange resulted in detailed
images of Egyptian antiquities. The transfer of knowledge from
the Middle East through the Low Countries to the Eternal City
appears as an essential route in the rise of Egyptian studies as a new
discipline. 1
The original obelisk is presently
kept inside the church, a modern
copy is in the cemetery. See Veld-
man, Maerten van Heemskerck,
pp. 144–145.
Introduction: the Heemskerk Obelisk 2
The majority of Van Heemskerck’s
Interest in Egypt blossomed in the Low Countries from
Roman drawings are now in the
1570 onwards, when the artist Maarten van Heemskerck erected Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Cf.
a sizeable obelisk in Heemskerk, his hometown near the sea in Philips Galle after Maarten van
the province of Holland (Fig. 1).1 The exotic object was a grave Heemskerck, Piramides Aegypti,
monument for his father, inspired by the painter’s experience 211 mm × 257 mm, Rijksmuseum
in Rome: he was one of those Northerners who brought the Amsterdam, featuring pyramids
ancients along after visiting the Eternal City. For Van Heems- and obelisks, in the foreground
Pharaoh Psammetiches, from the
kerck antiquity had an Egyptian flavour. He drew many obelisks
series of ‘Eight Wonders of the
including the one in front of St Peter’s Basilica, still under con- World’ published by Theodoor
struction, and depicted the ruins of the Temple of Serapis before Galle. Obelisks were depicted by
they made way for the Quirinal Palace. Eventually, he even por- many artists in the Netherlands,
trayed the Pyramids of Gizeh – though this was from the mind’s among them Zacharias Heyns
eye rather than observation.2 (c. 1566-before 1638) in an Album
The Heemskerk obelisk marks the beginning of a lively amicorum for Abraham Ortelius
(fol. 104, Cambridge University,
debate on Egypt, which would engage some of the main col-
Pembroke College Library) and
lectors and scholars of the age and only draw to a close around Jan van der Noot (c.  1539–1595)
the 1650s. It resulted in the circulation of knowledge, including in Een cort begryp der XII. Boecken
images and material objects, among four smaller towns around Olympiados (Antwerp 1579). (This
the Dutch capital: Enkhuizen, Harderwijk, Heemskerk, and note continues on p. 260)

Fragmenta 5 (2011) pp. 247-262 DOI 10.1484/J.FRAG.1.103519 247

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

Fig. 1: Maarten van Heemskerck, Memorial to Jacob Willemsz. van Veen, 1535, 224 cm x 61 cm (bottom), 24 cm
(top). Formerly in the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church, Heemskerk; presently kept inside the church.

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

Leiden. The remote province of Holland would prove seminal

to the nascent European interest in Egypt: ideas from this area
reached Rome where they involved the Pope’s inner circle. In the
Dutch towns, Egyptian objects were displayed and discussed,
copied in drawings and prints, and sought out by visitors from
abroad. So whereas Van Heemskerck brought Egypt from Rome
to the Low Countries, the present chapter will argue that the
movement soon went the other direction.
It seems that the Netherlands’ location, far from the
Eternal City as the alleged centre of European culture, was essen-
tial to the renewed interest in Egypt. After all, Egypt was itself
seen as a marginal aspect of Christian civilization and it was most
likely to be pushed towards the centre by an impulse from the
outside. The following shall suggest that such an exchange, rang-
ing not only across the Alps but also involving the Middle East,
was made possible by one aspect in particular: material culture
and its potency to mobilize ideas over an extended geographical
area. This chapter will raise the question whether, in the case of
the eccentric scholarship of the Low Countries, we should speak
of a short-lived moment of mere curiosity, which characterized
the encyclopaedic interests of collectors throughout Europe, or
rather of a transfer of useful knowledge that heralded the devel-
opment of modern Egyptology.

Collecting Egypt: Brinck, Heurnius, Paludanus, Reynst

The first collector of Egyptian objects in the Nether-
lands was Bernardus Paludanus (or Berent ten Broeke), who had
no less than three mummies on display in Enkhuizen, at the time
a bristling harbour for global trade extending to East Asia and
Various catalogues of Paludanus’
the Americas.3 Paludanus had actually been to Alexandria and collection survive, including one
in the BMLF (Ms. Ashb. 1828.10);
other places in 1578, where he collected not only Christian rel-
the following will refer to Barge, De
ics, seeds, and gems but also Egyptiaca. With great effort he had oudste inventaris.
his sarcophagi shipped to Holland where they, unsurprisingly, 4
See the discussion in Jorink,
made a great impact, attracting scholars from abroad.4 When ‘Noah’s Ark’.
the internationally renowned French historian, Joseph Scaliger, 5
Scaliger et al., Scaligerana, II,
arrived in the Dutch Republic in 1593, first on his agenda was to p. 484: “Paludanus à Enchuse,
look for the mummies. He expressed his amazement about “the ostendit Mumia, integram, corpus
body of an Egyptian man buried 3000 years ago, it is a real antiq- Aegyptiacum ante 3000 annos
uity”.5 Another famous visitor, the philosopher Hugo Grotius, sepultum; est vera antiquitas.
wrote likewise that the “wonders of Egypt” had fascinated him.6 Quidam persuasit à Gourges,
esse unum ex corporibus Regum;
Paludanus’ colleagues were part of a Europe-wide net-
adoravit illud & scripsit ad patrem,
work that stretched to the Middle East. He exchanged objects tamquam si vidisset corporis Sancti
with Ernst Brinck, an expert in Eastern languages who became reliquias”; see also Grafton,
secretary to the Dutch embassy to Constantinople in 1612 ‘Rhetoric’, and Dijkstra, ‘Mysteries
and, upon returning home, displayed his collection in Harder- of the Nile?’.
wijk. A third person who merits attention was the medical doc- 6
KBC, Ms K.S. 3467,8 f 3/v; cf.
tor Otto Heurnius who tried to lay hands on Egyptian objects Jorink ‘Noah’s Ark’, note 34.

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

His contact was David le Leu through a Dutch merchant in Aleppo.7 He had two mummies
de Wilhelm (1588–1658) who and a large sarcophagus shipped to Leiden and devoted a book
visited Syria and Egypt from 1617 to them, De mummia sive conditura cadaverum [On the Mummy
to 1629. (This note continues on and the Preservation of Bodies].8 Finally, Egypt also featured in
p. 260)
the collection of the merchant brothers Gerard and Jan Reynst in
The book remained unpublished; Amsterdam. This was one of the largest cabinets of art and antiq-
Barge, De oudste inventaris, p. 51;
uities in Europe and an important node in a scholarly network
Jorink, Het ‘Boeck der Natuere’, p. 295.
that depended on Italy in particular. During one of his trade
The collection bought by Reynst
visits to Venice, Jan Reynst bought the prestigious collection of
included 230 antiquities and 140
modern paintings. The Italophile
Andrea Vendramin which he had shipped to Amsterdam in its
Dutch merchant traveled in the entirety. Gerard Reynst’s houses on the Keizersgracht eventually
bel paese with his nephew Michiel attracted dignitaries from all over Europe, including Maria de’
Hinlopen and was eventually Medici and Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III when he toured
buried in Venice. See Logan, The in the Netherlands.9
‘Cabinet’. Some of the Reynsts’ Egyptiaca were published in print.
Dannenfelt, ‘Egypt’. The procedure illustrates how exchanges between the Neth-
Kircher honoured the objects erlands and Italy resulted in new knowledge and perhaps even
“ex Cimeliarchio Domini Gerardi the rise of a new discipline. The images were made to order by
Reinst, Senatoris et Scabini Amstel- Athanasius Kircher, who is often regarded as the founding father
aedamensis”, Kircher, Oedipus
of Egyptology; his collection in Rome, one of the first public
Aegyptiacus, I, p. 210; Ivi, III, facing
pp. 30, 458, 524, 525. galleries in Europe, is seen as a similarly seminal institution.10 In
the first publication in which Kircher claimed to have translated
Van Waesberghe offered 2200
scudi for the publishing rights the hieroglyphs, Oedipus Aegyptiacus [The Egyptian Oedipus,
in the Holy Roman Empire, 1652–1654], nineteen of the objects were identified as coming
England, and the Low Countries; from the Musaeum Reinstianum.11 In regard to the transfer of
he published seventeen of Kircher’s knowledge including texts, images, and objects, we should note
books in richly illustrated folio- that Kircher, one of the most active members of the European
sized editions, by 1676 he had Republic of Letters, depended heavily on the Netherlands. For
sold 3220 copies. See Stolzenberg,
one, most of his books were printed in Amsterdam and he used a
The Great Art of Knowing, p. 10;
Begheyn, ‘Uitgaven van jezuïeten’, Protestant publisher, Johannes Janssonius.12 The majority of the
p. 139. artists who made illustrations came from the Low Countries too,
Others were Coenraet Decker including some of the most accomplished of their day such as
(1651–1685), Willem van der Cornelis Bloemaert from Utrecht, who arrived in Rome in 1633,
Laegh (1614–1674), Theodoor and Lieven Cruyl from Ghent who eventually worked in Rome
Matham (1606–1676), Jean van as a priest and architect.13
Munnichuysen (1654/1655- Contacts with scholars at Dutch universities were
after 1701), Crispijn van de Passe
more complicated. Here, Kircher depended on the services of
the Younger (1597/1598–1670
a colleague based in Amsterdam as an intermediary: Barthold
or after), and Athonie Heeres
Sioertsma (born 1626/1627). Neuhaus or Nihusius, a German Lutheran whose conversion to
(This note continues on p. 260) Catholicism had been discussed widely.14 A meticulous corre-
Pierre Bayle asked whether spondent, he sent Kircher no less than forty letters from Amster-
Nihusius should be known as dam in the 1640s and 1650s.15 The first professor of Amsterdam’s
a “famous convert or a famous university, Gerard Vossius, characterized him as a “vir doctus et
converter”, Bayle, Dictionnaire, III perhumanus, nec infacetus”.16 Humane but somewhat too serious,
pp. 510–514. the German embodied the international reach of the European
APUG, Inv. 557. Republic of Letters in which texts, drawings and engravings, and
Bayle, Dictionnaire, III, p. 512. material objects circulated. On the one hand, Nihusius worked

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

closely with some of the main Dutch scholars based in Amster-

dam who were not unfavourable towards Catholicism. On the 17
See Allard, ‘Berthout Nihuys’.
other, he was closely linked to Rome and to the Pope himself: 18
Chigi was much respected by the
his position in Amsterdam was even supported financially by Dutch publishers Elsevier and
the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide.17 This mediating position, Blaeu, the latter even dedicated
combining access to Dutch collections of material objects with his great Atlas to him. Nihusius,
the scholarship of the Curia, seems to have been essential to the who worked as corrector in Blaeu’s
rise of Egyptology which took off when Nihusius begun to send printing office between 1630
detailed illustrations of Egyptian objects to Rome. and 1660, maintained contacts
after Chigi’s return to Rome
It is possible that Kircher and Nihusius were first brought
and apparently also kept an eye
together by Fabio Chigi himself, the later Pope Alexander VII. on Blaeu’s manifold activities in
From 1639 to 1651 Chigi had been a Nuncio in Cologne (from printing Catholic books (most of
which the Curia administered its affairs in the Dutch Republic) which appeared under the fake
and established excellent contacts with printers in Amsterdam imprint “Judocus Calcovius of
and Leiden.18 The prelate, whose scholarly interests were excep- Cologne”). (This note continues
tional, may have noticed the Egyptian objects and related texts on p. 260)
in the Netherlands at that time. He helped to sponsor the pub-
On Kircher’s and Chigi’s shared
lication of Oedipus Aegyptiacus in 1655; Kircher, in turn, dedi- Egyptological interests, see APUG,
Chigi to Kircher, 19 June 1639; cf.
cated its last and crowning chapter to his Italian friend. When
Lo Sardo, ‘Kicher’s Rome’, p. 51. On
during his papacy, Chigi ordered the erection of the obelisk on Chigi and Oedipus Aegyptiacus, see
the Piazza della Minerva and the transformation of the Pyramid Rowland, ‘Panspermia’, 192–193.
of Cestius into a church, Kircher didn’t hesitate to compare him 20
Chigi described Nihusius to
to a reborn Osiris.19 In any event, from the 1640s onwards Nihu- Cardinal Barberini as “cattolico
sius, who, as cattolico olandese and assai buono antiquario, served olandese di qualche nome intorno
as Chigi’s agent in Amsterdam, sent many drawings of the Egyp- alle controversie degli heretici,
tiaca in Dutch collections to Kircher.20 The latter had engrav- è stimato encora assai buono
antiquario”, 20 October 1640.
ings made to include in Oedipus Aegyptiacus, noting each object’s
Between 1640 and 1643, Chigi
origin (Figs. 2–4). The correspondence between Nihusius and
wrote detailed letters to Barberini
Kircher reveals the two scholars’ precision in documenting the informing him on “gli heretici di
provenance of antiquities, noting, for instance, how a work had Holanda” and the Amsterdam
passed from the collection in Enkhuizen to the one in Harder- humanists, now in BAV, Chigiana.
wijk.21 Such exchanges apparently contributed to the objects’ See Hoogwerff, Bescheiden in Italië,
value: it seems that the Egyptiaca, when circulating in a schol- pp. 326–328 (quot. from p. 326).
(This note continues on p. 260)
arly network, accrued additional meaning each new transfer. The
material objects, rather than just being illustrations to an existing
Nihusius highlighted that
Paludanus had given a sarcophagus
discourse, played an active role in shaping this discourse.
to Brinck, Nihusius to Kircher, 22
Two examples illustrate the procedure. A burial vase september 1651, APUG, Inv. 557,
from Otto Heurnius’ collection, presently in the Museum of fols. 222–223. When the image
Antiquities in Leiden, was the basis for one of Nihusius’ drawings was printed in Kircher, Oedipus
(Figs. 5–6). In the print, the lid of the burial vase resembles the Aegyptiacus, III, pp. 431–432, the
original only in featuring a bird, but the hieratic eagle’s head has accompanying text highlighted the
acquired a particularly owlish character. Furthermore, instead of origin “Ex museis ... Ernesti Brinkij”.
Another sarcophagus came from
representing the hieroglyphs, the print includes a mention that
the “museum” of the Amsterdam
there should be hieroglyphs on this part of the vase. Even though merchant Hieronymus van Werle,
the visual rendition is so inaccurate, the accompanying text high- Ivi, III, pp. 428–429 (cf. Godwin,
lights the object’s value and its Northern pedigree, mentioning Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre, p. 77).
that it was displayed in Leiden. Originally, however, the object (This note continues on p. 260)

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

Fig. 2: ‘Statua constans marmore albo ex Cimeliarchio Domini Gerardi Reinst, Senatoris et Scabini Amstelaedamensis,
ab eruditissimo Bertholdo Nihusio mihi transmissa’, burial vase from the Reynst Collection, reproduced recto and
verso in Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (Rome: 1652-1654), I, p. 210 (photo: University Library, Leiden).

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

Fig. 3: ‘Sphyngis simulachrum ex Museo Reinstij’, in Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (Rome: 1652-1654), III, p. 458
(photo: University Library, Leiden).

probably came from Lower Egypt and was sent to Heurnius

from Syria by his Dutch friend. Egyptian imagery could appar-
ently travel a great distance before ending up in the caput mundi.
Perhaps this Northern detour through a geographically marginal
area was necessary for an object before its importance could be
realized in the centre. Actually, along with the object came much
more: an authoritative vision of Egypt that held great appeal
to Kircher. Otto Heurnius used objects like this to develop his
conception of Egypt half a century before Kircher published his
Heurnius would become famous in Dutch history
for introducing clinical medicine at the University of Leiden
in 1636.22 He built the university’s anatomical theatre which
became the most important of its kind in all of Europe (Fig. 7).
The theatre included an array of exotic objects that responded to
the ideal of encyclopaedic scholarship, but its focal point was an
Egyptian sarcophagus. According to the inventory, there were 22
Huisman, The Finger of God.

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

Fig. 4: ‘Figurae ex Reinstiano museo’, in Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (Rome: 1652-1654), III, p. 524-525
(photo: University Library, Leiden).

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

also images of Isis “that are full of Hieroglyphics”, “little idols

that were found with the mummies in the rooms under the earth
in the Egyptian land”, an asp, and a stuffed crocodile.23 Heurnius
furthermore contacted his friend in Syria with a list of requests:
more mummies; the head of a hippopotamus and its sexual
organ; an ibis and a chameleon; leaves of papyrus; and, surpris-
ingly, “four pounds of red lentils”.24 Heurnius was a physician
and this was, obviously, a medical environment; one explanation
for his interests is that ground mummy was regarded as a potent
medicine. Yet he had other, more ideologically important rea-
sons to be interested in Egypt, as his writings from 1600 onwards 23
Stricker, ‘De correspondentie’.
reveal. These expressed the belief in prisca scientia or the perfect 24
Barge, De oudste inventaris; Jorink,
knowledge of the ancients that had been lost by subsequent gen- ‘Noah’s Ark’, note 43.
erations. Heurnius shared this ideal with his contemporaries: 25
See Jorink, Het ‘Boeck der Natuere’,
many Dutch scholars sought out anything ancient, preferably p. 294.
predating the Greek and Roman civilizations.25 26
See, for instance, the various essays
Universities in the Netherlands were greatly interested in Jorink and van Miert, Isaac
in historiography and they did not shun interpretations that Vossius. Vossius corresponded with
contradicted Biblical history.26 This interest was curiously min- Nihusius and also travelled to
gled with the study of the local Dutch past and even linguistics. Rome, where he visited Kircher’s
One theory held that Egyptian history was the direct forerunner museum.
of Dutch history, but it was also possible to turn this argument
Becanus, Hieroglyphica, quoted
around: the linguist Johannes Becanus thought that Egyptian from Purnell, ‘Francesco Patrizi’,
p. 115. Heurnius refers to Becanus
civilization had had a Dutch predecessor. He used etymology to
in Barbaricae Philosophiae Antiqui-
prove this, stating, for instance, that the name of the Egyptian tatum, p. 246: “ex nomine Thoot,
deity Thoth clearly derived from the Dutch term ’t hoofd, the quod dicit originem ducere ab Heet
head, signifying that Thoth was the head of the gods.27 & Hoot, quae voces Cimmeria
Another scholar at Leiden’s university, Joseph Scaliger, linguae caput denotant […] Verum
who had admired the Dutch mummies in 1593, was the first veritati consentaneum esto, Hoot ac
Thoot Aegyptiis caput signare”.
European to realize that Biblical history could not accommodate
Egyptian antiquity. If the chronology of the Pharaonic dynasties
Grafton, Joseph Scaliger, pp. 405–
was correct, Egyptian civilization would be older than the Uni-
versal Flood. This was an idea with potentially radical impact.
Cf. the ‘Introduction’ in Manning,
The Emblem.
Scaliger arrived at his famous conclusion that the Pharaohs had
lived in a kind of “proleptic time”, before but not really predating
In the circles of the Antwerp printer
Christopher Plantin (c. 1580),
the Flood, which would salvage the Biblical account.28 Dutch
the Alkmaar physicist Cornelis
scholars would only dare to draw the ultimate conclusion around Drebbel (1607), and the merchant-
1650: the Bible should not be taken literally! Although opinions mystic Abraham van Beyerland
obviously remained divided, the discussion illustrates the cen- (1643), respectively: Hermes
trality of Egypt in Dutch scholarship. One manifest aspect of its Trismegistus, Pimandre, Hermes
importance was the extraordinary popularity of emblems in the Trismegistus, Wondervondt van de
Low Countries: symbolic images which were held to be modern eeuwighe bewegingh and Hermes
Trismegistus, Sesthien boecken.
versions of the hieroglyphs.29 Another indication was the role of
According to Tim Huisman,
the Corpus Hermeticum, the main text of supposedly Egyptian “the degree of idiosyncracy in
wisdom at the time: it was translated into Dutch no less than Heurnius’ intellectual activities
three times in the first half of the seventeenth century.30 and convictions appears limited”,
Huisman, The Finger of God, p. 68.

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

Fig. 5: Egyptian burial vase, Leiden, Fig. 6: Image of Egyptian burial vase (see Fig. 5) in Athanasius
Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden (photo: Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (Rome: 1652-1654).
Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden, Leiden).

The different notions on language and history came

together in Heurnius’ theory that Egypt was the basis of all
human civilization, laid out in Barbaricae philosophiae antiqui-
tatum libri duo [Two Books on the Foreign Philosophy of Ancient
Times, 1600]. He even argued that one should not look at
Hebrew as Christianity’s sacred language, but to Egyptian. This
idea reflected an occupation shared by other Dutch scholars: the
search for the language that had been spoken by Adam when he
gave all the objects in nature their names in the Garden of Eden.
According to Heurnius, this was the language that was first writ-
ten down in the hieroglyphs.31
On the study of hieroglyphics in What was particularly new about Heurnius’s ideas was
the Low Countries in relation to his attitude towards the Corpus Hermeticum. Whereas scholars
Adamic language see Weststeijn, such as Marsilio Ficino had regarded Hermes Trismegistus, the
‘From Hieroglyphs to Universal presumed author of the Hermetic texts, as a contemporary of
Characters’. Moses, Heurnius placed him much earlier in history. Trismegis-
Heurnius, Barbaricae Philosophiae tus would have spoken the Adamic tongue and would have been
Antiquitatum, pp. 245–252, ex- the first to write down the language in which God had spoken
plains the importance of Hermes
directly to man.32 It was this central idea that proved irresistible
Trismegistus as the first natural
philosopher and theologian, even
to one man who would build his career on it: Kircher. If there is
preceding Orpheus: “Certissimum one leitmotif in the famous Jesuit’s multifaceted writings, it is the
est Isidis & Osiris temporibus search for a universal language, which inspired his discussions of
Hermetem vixisse”, p. 246. the Universal Flood and the Babylonian Confusion of Tongues

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

Fig. 7: Claes Jansz. Visscher, after Joannes Woudanus, Leiden’s Anatomical Theatre, 1644, engraving, 38 x 32 cm,
Leiden, University Library (photo: University Library, Leiden).

and his studies of oriental writing systems, cryptography, and

symbolic logic. Heurnius’s idea that the hieroglyphs expressed
man’s most natural language greatly appealed to Kircher in this
context. If Heurnius’s statement were true, deciphering the
inscriptions on the obelisks would be a matter of philosophi-
cal exploration rather than linguistic study. If man would only
arrive at truth in his doctrine, he would automatically be able
to understand the divine words of God’s original language. In
short, being a good Catholic was the only prerequisite for an
adequate translation of the hieroglyphs. This was precisely what
Kircher was waiting to hear. And Egypt was only the beginning:
eventually he came to argue that all civilizations, including those
in the Far East and in the Americas, had originated in Egypt.
This reasoning explains why Kircher, when he translated
the hieroglyphs in Oedipus Aegyptiacus, paid as much atten-
tion to linguistic technicalities as to arguments from authority.
He emphasized his network of foreign scholars, including the
Dutch contacts mediated by Nihusius. He noted carefully where

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

the Egyptiaca that he illustrated came from: having been part

of famous collections in Northern Europe clearly contributed
to the status of these material objects. Furthermore, in Oedipus
Aegyptiacus, Kircher quoted his correspondence with Heurnius
in full to underscore the authority of his statements: he was
apparently not ashamed that he derived the basic idea for his
book from the Low Countries.
A final chapter in this exchange between the Nether-
lands and Rome is the reception of Kircher’s book. It involved
the century’s most renowned Dutch poet and playwright, Joost
van den Vondel, whom Nihusius described to Fabio Chigi as
the “Dutch Pindar and Sophocles”.33 Vondel was concerned
with positioning himself as a Catholic author in a country
where Protestantism was politically dominant and he sought
“Justus Vondelius, nuper factus the acquaintance of Nihusius, who probably gave him a copy of
Catholicus, quem D. Marius
Oedipus Aegyptiacus.34 In 1652 the poet wrote a Pindaric ode in
vocitare solet Hollandiae Pindarum
praise of Kircher’s translation of the hieroglyphs, presenting him
ac Sophoclem; admiraturque a
multis jam annis, de vernacula as “Enlightener of the Veiled Wisdom of the Egyptians”.35 Von-
poesi, tota haec natio”, Berthold del singled out the obelisk on Piazza Navona, that was Kircher’s
Nihusius (Amsterdam) to Fabio main contribution to the facade of Baroque Rome, as a gedenck-
Chigi (Cologne), 5 November naelt or ‘needle of memory’. The poem compared the Jesuit to
1644; see Hoogewerff, Bescheiden Oedipus who had deciphered the mysteries of the Sphinx. It
in Italië, p. 391. Nihusius arranged
highlighted the revival of the wisdom of Hermes Trismegistus,
for Vondel’s poem in praise of
failing, however, to mention that this revival had been instigated
Innocent X (‘Olyftack van Zyne
Heiligheid Innocent den Tiende’) fifty years earlier in Vondel’s own country.
to be offered to Chigi in 1653. See The circle was closed in this story of transalpine exchange
Sterck, Vondel, p. 111. when Vondel sent the printed copy of his poem to Rome, where
In 1653 Vondel wrote Nihusius it was translated into Italian; this text now resides in the archives
a respectful letter, “Brief aen den of the Pontifical Gregorian University. Father Kircher himself
hooghwaerdigen en hooghgeleerden was duly made aware of the impact his theories made in the Low
heer Bertholdus Nieuhusius”; Countries, as his correspondence with Nihusius reveals.36
Sterck, Vondel, pp. 121–124.
‘[Op den] Edipus of Teeckentolck Conclusion: Material Culture Connecting Rome,
van den E. Heere Athanasius
Northern Europe, and the Middle East
Kircher, verlichter van de gebloem-
de wijsheit der Egyptenaren, en
The above has traced a movement of objects from the
gedencknaelt, te Rome herstelt Middle East to the Netherlands, which inspired a vision of
door Innocent den X’ (1652), Egypt that appealed to the Vatican itself; eventually it involved a
printed in Vondel, Poëzy, I, pp. flurry of transalpine communication. Perhaps the theories devel-
496–500; modern edn: Vondel, De oped by Heurnius and Kircher have lost some of their original
werken van Vondel, pp. 562–566. appeal. The exchange of objects and images that sparked these
Vondel’s poem was translated into theories, however, illuminates processes of knowledge transfer
Italian by Reyer Anslo. A copy and the formation of a new discipline in the seventeenth century.
and the translated manuscript are
The main historical relevance of the short-lived fashion
in the APUG, Inv. 562, fol. 184,
and Inv. 563, fol. 311; cf. Nihusius’
for Egyptian wisdom in the Netherlands lay in the role allot-
letter to Kircher, Amsterdam, 20 ted to material objects, which gained new and potent meanings
September 1652, in APUG, Inv. when they were incorporated in Dutch collections. These con-
557, fol. 234. notations in turn sparked discussions in the wider Republic of

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology

Letters, involving the new articulation of existing European pre-

occupations with universal language, biblical history, and prisca
scientia. The eccentric position of the Dutch Republic in regard
to Rome, both geographically and in terms of prevalent attitudes
towards revealed wisdom, made it possible for scholars to be less
likely to refrain from provocative conclusions about Egyptian
antiquity. Heurnius’ and Kircher’s more obscure theories suggest
that ‘Egypt’ was a shifting category in Early Modern discussions;
yet the exchange of images mediated by Nihusius, linking Rome
to Amsterdam, exemplifies how, for the first time, Egypt could
arrive at the forefront of Western scholarship.37

Miguel-John Versluys first called
my attention to material culture
and its enduring ‘agency’ in shaping
European discussions of Egypt, cf.
Versluys, ‘Material Culture’.

Thijs Weststeijn . . . .

Continuation of footnotes from p. 247 21

… Elsewhere, Kircher didn’t fail to mention the origin
… To welcome Charles V in 1540, Utrecht’s Town of his imagery “ab eruditissimo Bertholdo Nihusio mihi
Hall displayed a frieze with “hieragliphie” [sic] or transmissa”, Ivi, I, p. 210. Nihusius also mentioned
“Egyptische letteren veel significatyf ”, which the painter the Harderwijk Egyptiaca in a handwritten message
Lieven van der Schelden (active 1550s-1590s) imitated to Kircher of 1651 that survives in the copy of a book
for Alessandro Farnese’s entry in Ghent in 1584. See with Kircher’s annotations, Adnotationes in Salmasii
Waterschoot, ‘Hieroglyphica’, pp. 47–85, 59. Joachim tractatum De primatu papae, Leiden 1645, now in
Beuckelaer painted hieroglyphs in his Market scene with the BVR; cf. Hoogewerff, Bescheiden in Italië, p. 237,
Ecce Homo, 1570, Stockholm, Nationalmuseum. no. 214. Nihusius seems to have developed personal
relationships with some of the collectors he contacted,
as he contributed to Paludanus’ Album amicorum of c.
1610–1630, fol. 489v-c (KB, 133 M 63).
Continuation of footnotes from p. 250
… In 1619 he bought a mummified arm, a burial vase,
and two funerary figurines at Saqqara near Cairo, which
he donated to Heurnius; see Jorink, ‘Noah’s Ark’.
… The honour of drawing Kircher’s portrait in Rome on
2 May 1655 fell to Bloemaert; it became the basis for
the scholar’s later effigies in print and painting. Kircher’s
illustrators are discussed in Godwin, Athanasius Kircher’s
Theatre, pp. 47–58; on Cruyl see for instance Egger,
‘Lieven Cruyl’.

Continuation of footnotes from p. 251

… Vondel’s conversion and Grotius’ presumed conversion
were important topics of discussion, cf. Nihusius’ letter
to Chigi of 17 May 1645: “Grotius is strictly speaking
no Catholic, although he seems not far from God’s
Kingdom”. See Brom, Vondels geloof, p. 267, and Rogier,
Geschiedenis van het katholicisme, pp. 728–729.
… Scores of letters between Nihusius and Chigi survive
in the Chigian library, cf. Ivi, p. 323 (n. 313), p. 339
(n. 318), p. 350 (n. 332), p. 354 (n. 336), pp. 373–379
(n. 353), and p. 392 (n. 357) which give an excellent
impression on the manner that Dutch humanism was
discussed internationally at the time. Hoogewerff
therefore called Nihusius Chigi’s “agent”, dealing with
printers and occasionally, it seems, also with artists.
One of their letters (17 January 1645) concerned the
engraving of a portrait of Innocent X by Theodoor
Matham (one of Kircher’s engravers).

. . . . Between Rome and Amsterdam: Barthold Nihusius (1589–1657) and the Origins of Egyptology


APUG – Archive of the Pontifica Università Gregoriana, Egger, Hermann, ‘Lieven Cruyl. Römische Veduten’,
Rome Mededeelingen van het Nederlandsch Historisch Instituut
BAV – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City, te Rome 7 (1927), 183–196.
BMLF – Bibliotheca Medicea-Laurenziana, Godwin, Joscelyn, Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the
Florence World (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009).
BVR – Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Rome Grafton, Anthony, Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History
KB – Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague of Classical Scholarship, 2 vols., (Oxford: Clarendon;
KBC – Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen New York: Oxford University Press, 1983–1993), II:
MPMA – Museum Plantijn-Moretus, Antwerp Historical Chronology (1993).
PCL – Pembroke College Library, Cambridge Grafton, Anthony, ‘Rhetoric, Philology and Egyptomania
in the 1570s: J.J. Scaliger’s Invective against M.
APUG, Athanasius Kircher Miscellanea Epistolarum, III, Gulandius’ Papyrus’, Journal of the Warburg and
Letters by Bartholdus Nihusius to Athanasius Kircher Courtauld Institutes 42 (1979), 167–194.
(Rome), Inv. 557 (1647–1653), fols. 222, 223, 234; Inv. Hermes Trismegistus, Sesthien boecken [...] met groote
562, fol. 184; Inv. 563, fol. 311. naarstigheyt, uyt het Grieckx ghebracht in ons
BMLF, Bernardus Paludanus, Index generalis Rerum Nederduytsch (Amsterdam 1643).
Naturalium omnium collectarum, 1624, Ms. Hermes Trismegistus, Wondervondt van de eeuwighe
Ashburnham 1828.10. bewegingh, die den Alckmaersche philosooph Cornelis
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tractatum De primatu papae, handwritten notes, 1651, beschreven van Mercurius driemael de grootste, die oock
in Claudius Salmasius, De primatu papae (Leiden: een philosooph en priester, en coningh soude in Egypten
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