Curator Sanne Steen's favourite Erasmus objects

Erasmus beeld
Curator and PhD student Sanne Steen with book in her hands from the Erasme exhibition.

An exhibition on our namesake Desiderius Erasmus is currently on display in the University Library. Through four themes, the man, the myth, the legend and the university, you will get to know Erasmus and discover his connection with the city of Rotterdam. Curator and PhD student Sanne Steen (ESPhil) talks about the exhibition using her favourite objects.

Letter by Erasmus on Luther from 1521, part of the Erasmus exhibition

Letter by Erasmus on Luther from 1521, from the Erasmus Collection

"In this handwritten letter you can read very well how Erasmus thought and what he thought about things. He criticised Luther and his fight against the Catholic Church, he thinks it is going in the wrong direction. Erasmus would much rather reform the church from within rather than the reformation Luther called for.  In many of his letters, he also writes how he is doing. It is cold and windy and that is bad for my condition, for example. The letter fits well with the theme of 'the man': who he was."

Cover of Nico van Suchtelen's 1936 book 'Oorlog' (in English: War).

'War' by Nico van Suchtelen from 1936

"The second theme of the exhibition is 'the myth' which is about how Erasmus was framed through time. This is closely related to the subject of my doctoral research. What themes from his work were considered important over the years?

The year 1936 was a commemorative year for Erasmus, there were publications coming out then in which you very much see the zeitgeist in prelude to World War II. Nico van Suchtelen's book 'War', which contains Erasmus' ideas about war, fits well in the time of the rise of totalitarian regimes. War is an important theme in Erasmus' oeuvre that returns at certain times when it is relevant. In the children's biography The Wink of Erasmus, for example, he says of his own books: 'they are about allowing all men to be free again and to make no more war'."

Print from 1750 by Jan Punt in the book De Rottestroom by Dirk Maas.

Print from 1750 by Jan Punt in the book De Rottestroom by Dirk Smits

"Erasmus was born in Rotterdam but three years later he left, never to return. Yet Erasmus is from Rotterdam, and Rotterdam is the city of Erasmus. That started quite soon after his death and has grown throughout history.

This book is an ode to Rotterdam with all its poems, and on this print you can see the personification of Rotterdam, with the city maiden on the right with the city on her head. Behind her you see the statue of Erasmus. The poem is not about Erasmus at all, but he was already so typical of Rotterdam that he was depicted on this print in 1750. The connection was apparently already so strong that nothing is said about him in the explanation of the print in the book, he just belongs there."

Comic book about Erasmus from 2009.

Comic book about Erasmus from 2009

"Since 1973 the university is named after Erasmus and since then there have been many visual references to Erasmus here. Take the sculpture 'Praise of Folly' that was donated by university to the city during its 75th anniversary in 1988. But also this comic book 'Erasmus in Europe'. I personally like it because it tells in a very accessible way who Erasmus was. There are now copies to take away in the library and I see that this also happens a lot."

About the exhibition

The exhibition is composed of various objects from the collections of the University Library, the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet and the Erasmus Collection in the Rotterdam Library. The Erasmus Collection has recently been registered as a UNESCO Memory of the World because of its unique collection of books by and about Erasmus.

In terms of content, the exhibition was designed by Drs. Sanne Steen (PhD student Erasmus Imaging in Rotterdam at the Faculty of ESPhil), Dr. John Tholen (curator Heritage Collections Library Rotterdam) and Drs. Roman Koot (curator Special Collections University Library). The exhibition is (partly) made possible by the Erasmus Committee and the EUR Lustrum.

The exhibition can be visited until 24 January 2024, on the 1st floor (next to the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet) during the opening hours of the library.

PhD student
More information

Would you like to see or hear more about Erasmus? This is possible:

  • In the Erasmus Gallery, Erasmus Building on Campus Woudestein, with an exhibition of medals with the image of Erasmus, curated by Dr. Herman Gerritsen of the NEPK (Nederlands Economisch PenningKabinet).
  • Online with other interesting objects.
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