The feast of the gods, by Claes Jansz Visscher after David Vinckboons.

Terra incognita: the Beudeker Collection

An introduction to the Beudeker Collection of maps and views of the Netherlands and Belgium in the British Library by the late Anna E. C. Simoni.

Few scholars apart from a small circle of mainly Dutch initiates are as yet acquainted with this outstanding collection, the riches of which deserve to be more widely known.

The name ‘Beudeker Collection’ or ‘Beudeker Atlas’ commemorates the 18th-century Dutchman who compiled these 24 large folio volumes, bound in gold-tooled white vellum, placed at Maps C.9.d.1–11, e.1–13. Each volume contains an average of 100 to 150 leaves, on to and between which, large single or several smaller prints have been mounted, and into which some complete books and extracts from others have been inserted in a carefully designed sequence. The whole forms a comprehensive display of the Low Countries, comprising the United Provinces (roughly equivalent to the modern Netherlands), the Spanish/Austrian Netherlands (roughly equivalent to modern Belgium plus French Flanders), and Luxembourg, from their earliest beginnings up to the compiler’s own time, with additions by later owners right into the 19th century. Both topographical and historical material is used, whether factual, allegorical, heraldic, or in any combination of these, enlivened with portraits of important inhabitants of individual localities, pictures of archaeological finds, scientific instruments and typical or unusual industry. A long series of Dutch political and religious dignitaries concludes the set.

A village dance

A village dance, by Jan Saenredam.

This rare and puzzling print by Jan Saenredam probably relates to an old German tale of a group of villagers cursed to dance for a year without stopping.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

Twenty of the volumes have their own title-pages, specially printed to define their contents, and many also have a preface explaining the purpose and principles underlying the compilation, again printed just this once. The title-pages are mostly dated 1718, though those of the volumes dealing with the province of Zeeland are dated 1717 (Maps C.9.d.11 and C.9.e.1). One volume (Maps C.9.d.10), intended as a supplement to the three volumes devoted to Amsterdam (Maps C.9.d.5–7) and so described on their title-pages, contains the famous book by Jacob van Campen on the Town Hall of that city, now the Dutch royal palace; two books of engravings by Hubertus Quellinus of sculptures made by his brother Artus for the Town Hall, in the edition by Frederick de Witt of 1665; and Joost van den Vondel’s long poem on the inauguration of the same building. This volume makes do with the title-page of the first of its constituents, dated 1648.

Another (Maps C.9.e.11), which begins with the sumptuous work De Zegepralende Vecht … La Triomphante Riviere de Vecht by Andries de Leth, sports that book’s title-page, dated 1719. The volume on the towns in those areas which were directly administered by the States General rather than by an assembly of their own (Maps C.9.e.10), and the volume of portraits of the Counts of Holland, the Dukes of Brabant, and the Regents of the Netherlands (Maps C.9.e.12), have title-pages without a date; that of portraits of other persons of importance to the political and religious life of Amsterdam (Maps C.9.e.13) has no title-page at all. The dates are, however, misleading, in that the contents extend further, with prints dated throughout the 1730s and 1740s. There are frequent instances of additions made after a volume had been bound, where maps or genealogical tables or other matter can be seen to have been inserted between leaves, or pasted on to the blank sides of items previously bound in. The portrait collection in the final volume includes a group of four all bearing the date 1758, and someone has added the Dutch official report of the battle of Waterloo, published on 23 June 1815 as Buitengewone Nederlandsche Staats-Courant A° 1815 No 6, to the volume of maps of the Seventeen Provinces (Maps C.9.d.1(12)).

The feast of the gods

The feast of the gods, by Claes Jansz Visscher after David Vinckboons.

This print celebrates the first anniversary of the laying of a commemorative stone at Amsterdam's first permanent theatre in 1617.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

The basis of the collection is the justly renowned Blaeu Stedeboek or Town Book of the Netherlands,[1] dismembered, and its sections rearranged to suit the collector’s aims. Besides maps, plans, views, and other prints with or without additional letterpress, there are a small number of original drawings of great interest. Several of these have recently been used for research into Dutch architectural history.[2] Many prints are known to be very rare or are here represented in specially early or otherwise unusual states. With very few exceptions the prints are of the highest quality. Many of them are hand-coloured, often exquisitely so, and because they have been little used, are still in an excellent state of preservation, the colours being remarkably fresh and brilliant.

Templum Christianum Amsterdami

Templum Christianum Amsterdami, engraved by Franz Brun.

A controversial print showing the church of the Remonstrants, an officially persecuted Calvinist sect, in Amsterdam, where they were largely tolerated.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

The earliest items in the collection are town plans from the 1572 edition of Civitates orbis terrarum by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, with their charming pictures of inhabitants in local costume. These and the majority of the later prints from the last quarter of the 16th to the middle of the 18th centuries are of course individually well known, but here they are found in a rich context, unlikely to occur so frequently outside the Netherlands themselves, and their study is enhanced by their physical proximity to the British Library’s other resources. Nor should the aesthetic interest and sheer pleasure provided by the material be ignored. As an example of the enchantment to be had, refer to the volumes devoted to palaces and country houses with their intricate gardens (Maps C.9.e.7–9).

Dutch Baroque gardens

Jan vande Avelen, 'General view of the beautiful park of Zorgvliet' (Amsterdam: N. Visscher, ca. 1695)

Three volumes from the Beudeker Collection are filled with enchanting and vibrant views of Dutch country houses and gardens.

View images from this item  (3)

Usage terms Public Domain

This was not quite how the collector saw them. His intention was didactic, as he makes this abundantly clear in his prefaces. In several of them he begins by saying that his beloved country, and in it especially his native city of Amsterdam, has been brought to its present state of importance and civilisation from humble and difficult origins, requiring hard labour and constant vigilance in winning the land from the water and protecting it ever after from this natural enemy and from foreign tyranny. His curiosity as to how this was achieved, and achieved in so relatively short a time, was the inspiration behind the collection. In enlarging, even doubling and trebling Blaeu’s Town Book, he wanted to accomplish and then surpass Blaeu’s own aim, thwarted only by death, of eventually publishing a supplement. In this way his work should now be able to assist in the instruction of others. He regularly ends a preface with the wish that a future beholder might view it with as much profit and pleasure as it had cost him exertion and expense in bringing it together. But on all his own title-pages he declares disarmingly, in only slightly varying phraseology, that the items in this volume were ‘uyt liefhebbery by malkander gebracht’: brought together as a hobby.

The Chapel of Our Lady at Runxputte

The Chapel of Our Lady at Runxputte, engraved revised copy of an original engraving by Æ.

The ruined chapel shown in this print was said to the site of miracle and became a place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics in North Holland.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

Who was this amateur in the true sense of the word? Christoffel Beudeker was born in Amsterdam in 1675 and died there in 1756. In 1748 he published at his own expense a long poem on his ‘museum’ and library, entitled De sprekende konstkamer. Vertoonende het regte gebruik der boeken, konsten en natuurkundige wetenschappen, in zedige gedachten voorgesteld (The speaking cabinet of the arts, displaying the correct use of books, arts, and natural sciences, exhibited in moral reflections). In its 188 pages the poem also deals with his collections of coins and medals and natural objects, especially shells. The ‘moral reflections’ are typical of the man: his verse translation of the Psalms, destined for Batavia, Surinam, and Woerden in Holland, appeared in 1739 and ran to a second, revised edition, published at Amsterdam in 1750.[3] It included also translations from the German of 190 Lutheran hymns. 

In both the Sprekende konstkamer and his translation of the Psalms, laudatory verses by his friends and relations describe him as a lovable and cheerful old man whose rosy cheeks and bustling enthusiasm belie his grey locks. He had already left his mark in prose as early as 1723, though only the name of Claas Bruin appears on the title-page of a book in celebration of the country seat of Soelen outside Amsterdam, which Beudeker had acquired a couple of years earlier.[4] Beudeker commissioned this poem which, not content with a description of the site, the house, or the garden, discourses on practically the whole history of man, and Beudeker himself supplied the historical and philosophical annotations he considered necessary for the right understanding of the poetry, an opportunity to display all his learning. 

These notes show him indeed as a man of wide reading, but they remain chiefly anecdotal snippets, interspersed with quotations in prose and verse (some of which may be his own) and all in a high moral tone. He also left an as yet unpublished, beautifully written, and richly illustrated manuscript, entitled Oudheden van Amstelredam (Antiquities of Amsterdam), now preserved in the Municipal Archive there together with various other writings which have been drawn on and praised by historians.[5]

A peace pageant

A peace pageant, engraved by Pieter Nolpe after stage scenes designed by Samuel Coster.

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was celebrated in Amsterdam with street pageants and theatre tableaux, shown and explained in this print.

View images from this item  (2)

Usage terms Public Domain

In his poem on Soelen, Claas Bruin mentions the owner’s particular joy in his great gate which was to be opened only to his friends. This has been seen by some as a sign of misanthropy in Beudeker, surely wrongly: a country retreat should be just that, freeing its occupants from the strain of city life and the demands of all and sundry, while admitting their friends. Beudeker seems to have had plenty of these, among them poets and historians like Daniel Willink and Gerard van Loon who acknowledge his encouragement, advice, and the freely given access to his numismatic and print collections. To sum up then: a man with an uncomplicated mind, a little pedantic, but lively, communicative, rejoicing in what he has and knows, and eager to let others share in his treasures.

Little was known about his life until the middle of this century when the Amsterdam archivist W F H Oldewelt drew attention to him[6] and at last corrected the erroneous date of 1723 given for his death by A. J. van der Aa in his biographical dictionary, the only general reference book to mention him so far.[7] Now Dr I H van Eeghen, whose knowledge of Amsterdam’s history is unrivalled, has published a biographical sketch of Beudeker.[8] She traces his descent from the Lutheran branch of a mainly Roman Catholic family of German origin, traditionally engaged in the sugar trade. 

Like his father before him Christoffel eventually became manager of a refinery, and later owned his own very successful business. Marrying an heiress in 1707 must have helped to put him financially at his ease. It is not certain when he began collecting for his atlas; but he states in his prefaces of 1718 that it had already taken him many years. 

By 1718 (when he also signed the preface to the volumes with title-pages dated 1717) he must also have spent a considerable amount of money. In De sprekende konstkamer of 1748 he declared that he was completing his vastly enlarged set of Blaeu’s great work in memory of its original compilation a hundred years earlier. But he had not finished even then: it was surely Beudeker himself who added, inter alia, the set of maps by the Hattingas dated 1753 to his volume of Zeeland. When Beudeker’s daughter Maria Geertruy, the only one of five children to survive beyond infancy, married Jacob Brandt in 1727, the wedding poems not only called the bride ‘as sweet as if made of sugar’, but expressed great admiration for her father’s collections, and especially his atlas of the Netherlands.[9] This daughter, and after her, her son (also called Christoffel), became owners of the atlas which originally consisted of 27 volumes. It was sold at auction in Amsterdam in 1778.[10]

Dykeburst at Amsterdam

Dykeburst at Amsterdam, by Pieter Nolpe after Willem Schellinks.

The Dutch capital has always been vulnerable to flooding, as this dramatic print of 1651 shows.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

With the assistance of Professor H de la Fontaine Verwey, Dr van Eeghen has also succeeded in establishing an outline of the subsequent history of the atlas. It passed, apparently directly from the family, into the ownership of Everard de Burlett, and it is described on page 9 of the auction catalogue of his estate, dated 17 April 1807.[11] The purchaser was a certain Ruyghrock who paid 335 guilders for his prize. It next occurs in an Amsterdam auction catalogue of 1811, most of the items in which had been the property of Baron Diederik van Leyden.[12] However, from a manuscript note in a copy of this catalogue preserved at Leiden University Library, Dr van Eeghen infers that the atlas had come from another owner.[13] Perhaps it had been Ruyghrock’s property until then. The Dutch map historian Cornelis Koeman asserts that finance minister Isaäc Jan Alexander Gogel (1765–1821) then owned the atlas, although without providing a source for this statement.[14] If correct, it could mean that the atlas remained in the possession of Gogel’s widow until her death in 1849; certainly her husband’s numismatic collection only came up for sale at the auction of her effects in 1850.

Views of ships

Views of ships, by Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman.

Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman (Seaman), the engraver of these prints was a celebrated Dutch maritime painter.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

These facts and hypotheses still leave the next 10 years unaccounted for, nor is there any information on the date of, still less the reason for, the separation of the three volumes no longer present from the main body of the atlas. At a guess, they probably contained further portraits, including those of scholars and artists referred to in the description in the De Burlett auction catalogue.[15] One at least of the three lost volumes may also have had a title-page, and perhaps a preface, to all the portraits. But portraits can be collected by someone not interested in maps, still less in preliminary matter no longer applicable, and it may now be impossible or very difficult to trace Beudeker’s lost volumes. They had become separated by 1860 and so, alas, had the printed catalogue of the collection, mentioned in the same auction catalogue.[16]

Portrait of Jechiel Michel ben Nathan

Portrait of a Jew, by Pieter van den Berge

A striking portrait of the controversial precentor Jechiel Michel ben Nathan of the Ashkenazi Synagogue, Amsterdam.

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

On 20 July 1860 the London booksellers T & W Boone of Bond Street offered ‘a most interesting and extensive Collection of Portraits, Views, Prints, Maps and Drawings relating to the History and topography of Holland, arranged and mounted in 24 Atlas folio Volumes, bound in Vellum’ to the Trustees of the British Museum for the sum of £200.[17] This was a great deal of money and it took the Trustees, to whom five volumes were submitted on approval at their meeting in January 1861, nearly a year to decide on the purchase. The volumes now bear the acquisition stamp of 2 July 1861. Their present arrangement and numeration no longer correspond to their original logical sequence which has been reconstructed by B van’t Hoff.[18] Within each volume the leaves have been numbered in pencil in a system which tries to distinguish the Blaeu material from Beudeker’s additions. This was not always successful, and there are also occasional errors in actual foliation. The individual prints have not been numbered.

This text was originally published as 'Terra Incognita: the Beudeker Collection in the Map Library of the British Library', in the British Library Journal, 11 (1985), pp. 14375.


[1] Novum ac magnum Theatrum Vrbium Belgicæ Regiæ and Novum ac magnum Theatrum Vrbium Belgicæ Liberæ, Ad prtæsentis temporis faciem expressum a Ioanne Blaeu, first published, probably, in 1649 and soon followed by the Dutch version which is the one used by Beudeker.

[2] W. Kuyper, ‘Vingboons Capitool’, Spiegel historiael, xi (1976), pp. 614–22. Id. ‘Wat een mooi Stadhuis’, Jaarboek van het Genootschap Amstelodamum, lxix (1977), pp. 73-88. Id., ‘Schijnvoets “nette schets” van Christoffel Beudekers lustplaats Soelen teruggevonden’, Bulletin van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond, lxxvi (1977), pp. 1–8. The same author’s Dutch classical architecture (Delft, 1980) also refers to prints ‘discovered’ in the Beudeker Collection.

[3] De CL. Psalmen … Op nieuw in’t Nederduitsch berymt; benevens honderd en negentig Lofsangen en Geestelyke Liederen door Vermaarde Godgeleerden toegedaan de Onveranderde Augsburgsche Geloofsbelydnisse, in het Hoogduitsch opgesteld … vertaald en berymt door Christoffel Beudeker. De tweede druk. Overzien en verbeetert. Te Amsterdam, by Abraham Strander. MDCCL. Information on the earlier edition, of which the author of this article has not seen a copy, is taken from the preface.

[4] Claas Bruin, De Lustplaats Soelen, in Dichtmaat uitgebreid. Met Htstorische Aantekeningen, Aanmerkingen en Printverbeeldingen (Amsterdam, Joannes Oosterwijk, 1723). The British Library only has a later edition published by Gerard Block at The Hague in 1741.

[5] e.g. Jhr. Dr J. Six, ‘Cornelis van der Voort’, Oud Holland, v (1887), pp. 1–22 and ‘De schilderijen in den Handboogsdoelen’, ibid, xv (1897), pp. 129–38.

[6] W. F. H. Oldewelt, Amsterdamsche archiefvondsten (Amsterdam, 1942), pp. 106–10. I am grateful to Mr Bert van Selm for sending me a photocopy of these pages.

[7] A. J. van der Aa, Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden, vol. ii (Haarlem, 1853), pp. 461–2.

[8] I. H. van Eeghen, ‘Christoffel Beudeker, suikerbakker en verzamelaar’, Amstelodamum. Maandblad voor de kennis van Amsterdam, lxxi (1984), pp. 97–105.

[9] Huwelijks-zangen ter Bruiloft van den Heere Jacob Brandt, en jonkvrouw Maria Geertruid Beudeker, gevierd den xxix. Junij, MDCCXXVII. Contributions by Jan Goeree, Claas Bruin, and Jan Cloppenburg are signed, others are anonymous. The only known copy is preserved in the Municipal Archive at Amsterdam. The author of this article's reference is based on quotations found chiefly in the articles by W. Kuyper (see note 2) and Dr I. H. van Eeghen (see note 8).

[10] According to an advertisement in the Amsterdamsche Courant of 25 April 1778, quoted by Dr van Eeghen, the auction was to take place on 27 April and included the 27 volume ‘Atlas of the XVII Dutch Provinces’, a cabinet of insects, and other natural curiosities. A copy of this catalogue was at one time known to be in a Berlin library, but all efforts to trace it have been in vain.

[11] I have not seen this catalogue myself, but Dr van Eeghen sent me a copy of item 8 relating to our ‘atlas’ and naming Beudeker as the compiler.

[12] Catalogus van schilderijen … alsmede … twee kapitale atlassen betreffende de Nederlandsche en Amsterdamsche geschiedenissen … nagelaten door … Diderick Baron van Leyden, etc., pt. 2, p. 341, gives a description of the atlas, without naming Beudeker, as being in 27 volumes and accompanied by a handwritten catalogue of its contents, the whole in its own case specially made of walnut lined with red velvet. A copy of this auction catalogue is in the Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum.

[13] I. H. van Eeghen, ‘Amoena Geertruyda Schley en de kunstcollecties van Diederik Baron van Leyden’, Jaarboek van het Genootschap Amstelodamum, lxv (1973), pp. 137–65.

[14] C. Koeman, Collections of maps and atlases in the Netherlands. Their history and present state. Imago mundi, suppl. 3 (Leiden, 1961), p. 83.

[15] As copied for me by Dr van Eeghen: ‘…benevens Pourtraiten van Vorsten, Geleerden, beruchte Mannen, en Kunstenaars &c.’

[16] ‘…beneevens de gedrukte Catalogus, van alle de voorwerpen.’ The Van Leyden auction catalogue calls it a ‘geschreven Catalogus’. Considering Beudeker’s penchant for printed title-pages and prefaces he may have had his ‘catalogue’ printed as well. Or did a manuscript copy also survive?

[17] With thanks to Mr P. R. Harris for this information.

[18] B. van’t Hoff, ‘Provisional description of the maps in the Beudeker Atlas in the British Museum’ (1957). This valuable description is in Dutch and in typescript and is hard to read. The dates of some of the volumes are wrongly transcribed and several further sources can without too much difficulty be added to his list. This description offers the best help so far towards finding the general subjects of the various volumes. The present writer is gradually compiling a card index of subjects, artists, and publishers to simplify search. This ‘Beudeker index’ can be consulted in the Map Library of the British Library.

  • Anna Simoni
  • Anna E. C. Simoni (1916–2007) was a Curator in the British Library's Dutch/Flemish department for over 30 years. Her publications include Publish and be free: a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (London: British Museums Publications Ltd for the British Library, 1975) and a Catalogue of books from the Low Countries 1601-1621 in the British Library (London: British Library, 1990).

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.