Scholars, Travellers, and Trade: The Pioneer Years of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, 1818-1840

Scholars, Travellers, and Trade: The Pioneer Years of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, 1818-1840

Scholars, Travellers, and Trade: The Pioneer Years of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, 1818-1840

Scholars, Travellers, and Trade: The Pioneer Years of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, 1818-1840

Synopsis

Today, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden is internationally known for its outstanding archaeological collections.This book tells the dramatic story of Reuvens' struggle to establish the museum, with battles against rival scholars, red tape and the Dutch attitude of neglect towards archaeological monuments.The book throws new light on the process of creating a national museum, and the difficulties of convincing society of the value of the past, and introduces scholars of museum and cultural studies to this fascinating subject.

Excerpt

Only in recent years has the history of museums become established as a field of academic enquiry in its own right. It is nevertheless surprising that the fascinating, sometimes painful story of the birth of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden has not been told before. the challenge is now happily taken up by Ruurd Halbertsma, who has ransacked the museum’s own archives to reveal its origins in the eighteenth century and to trace its rise from the modest collections of Leiden’s ancient university. the result is an important and compelling new chapter in Dutch and indeed European cultural history.

The central hero of the narrative is Caspar Jacob Christiaan Reuvens. He was professor at the university and an early pioneer of the new nineteenth-century discipline of archaeology. He conducted systematic excavations in Holland itself and laid the foundations of modern understanding of the Roman province there. in Leiden he had care of the marmora Papenburgica, that is to say, the classical marbles bequeathed to the university by Gerard van Papenbroek (1673-1743), who is described by Halbertsma as a ‘repres-entative of the Dutch “sedentary” school of collecting’. Reuvens was not himself of that persuasion, but travelled less in his short life than he should have liked and set about augmenting the founding collection of the museum by employing agents operating abroad on his behalf. He did, however, twice visit England, first in summer 1819, to take inspiration from the public museums there. in the then maturing British Museum he found a model for his own vision of a museum as universal index of ancient civilizations. His untimely death in 1835 at the age of 42 robbed the Netherlands of a figure of extraordinary energy and vision. It fell to his successors to realize his dream in the fine museum we see today in Leiden.

Ian Jenkins
Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum

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