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Foto: Sara Kerklaan

Renovation of Artis Library completed

Dirk Wolthekker,
23 juni 2022 - 16:36

It has taken three years, but now the Artis Library is ready for the future. The library on Plantage Middenlaan has been completely renewed and renovated, the building's foundations have been repaired and the collection is also protected from fire by fire-resistant panels.

Anyone who happens to be in the Artis Library toilet in the event of a fire (which is also accessible to the disabled) need not worry: the toilet has been 'walled over' with burnt boards, according to a Japanese procedure. ‘Because the wood has already been burned once, it cannot burn again and is therefore fireproof,’ says Hans Mulder, curator of the Artis Library on Plantage Middenlaan, part of the Allard Pierson. Anyone visiting the book gallery and reading room on the first floor will be confronted once again with the library's renovation: the room with often centuries-old books and book bindings has been provided with fire-resistant entrance doors. From Monday 27 June onwards, the library – the building is owned by Artis-zoo, the collection belongs to the Allard Pierson - will be accessible again to students, researchers and interested members of the public from outside.


Filling the museum

The library is without doubt part of Amsterdam's exceptional heritage. It was established in 1838 by publisher and bookseller Gerard Westerman, one of the founders of the Royal Zoological Society Natura Artis Magistra. Westerman's idea: bring nature into the city. This could be done in various ways: by bringing living nature and plants into the city (Artis), by housing dead nature as stuffed animals in the (just reopened) Groote Museum and by housing books, paintings and prints in that library so that scientists could study nature. A clever idea, says Mulder during a guided tour. ‘In this way, you can fill your own museum: what is alive outside goes inside as soon as it is dead, and in this way a collection is formed.’


The collection, which has been in the possession of the UvA since 1939, now contains one hundred thousand different items from the sixteenth to the twentieth century: old and rare printed works, manuscripts, watercolors, drawings and prints, covering the entire history of nature. The stuffed animals have meanwhile been moved to Museum Naturalis in Leiden. Among them is the last quagga, a subspecies of the African steppe zebra that became extinct in 1883.


Charles Darwin

The library also has special items: watercolors and books by the seventeenth-century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who studied plants and insects and made detailed drawings of them. Also to be seen: the first edition of Systema Naturae from 1735, compiled by the famous eighteenth-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, and letters from Charles Darwin to the Dutch biologist and botanist Hugo de Vries. Just by appointment via Hans Mulder, these letters can be consulted in the Artis Library. Mulder: 'We administer those letters on behalf of the De Vries heirs, but we have had to promise to show them at every presentation and guided tour'.

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