Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection
Scope and Contents
The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection comprises 4,004 early printed books, 25 medieval manuscripts and 376 post-medieval manuscripts belonging to the Hermetic tradition. These include a variety of traditions such as Gnosis, Mysticism, Alchemy, Rosicrucians, Kabbalah, Sufism, Anthroposophy, Freemasonry, Theosophy and works concerning the Holy Grail. The term Hermetism alludes to the legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, the reputed author of the Corpus Hermeticum. In the Renaissance this collection of texts was viewed as a divine revelation, far antedating Christ and Plato or contemporary with Moses. In 1614 the classical scholar and philologist Isaac Casaubon published as part of his polemic with the Catholic Baronius research findings to demonstrate that the texts actually originated in the first centuries AD.
Some important authors in the collection are Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Johann Valentin Andreae, Jacob Boehme, Antoinette Bourignon, Jan Amos Comenius, Marsilio Ficino, Nicolas Flamel, Robert Fludd, Sebastian Franck, Hermes Trismegistus, Christian Hoburg, Iamblichus, David Joris, Heinrich Khunrath, Jane Lead, Ramón Lull, Michael Maier, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, and Caspar Schwenckfeld. The State collection also contains works by classical authors who are indirectly related to the hermetic tradition, such as Plato, Dante Alighieri, Thomas More and Benedictus de Spinoza. The richly decorated medieval books of hours form an important part of the collection.
- ca. 1400-ca. 1900
- Ritman, Joost R. (1941) (Person)
Language of Materials
Several languages, including German, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is available for research.
Digitized books and manuscripts can be consulted online via the Image Bank of the Allard Pierson. In principle the original manuscripts are not made available for consultation.
Conditions Governing Use
When consulting the material the Regulations for users of the Library of the University of Amsterdam applies. Reproductions and fees for reproduction rights in accordance with the Pricelist for services rendered by the Library of the University of Amsterdam.
The material in this collection is only available for perusal.
If - in exceptional cases - permission is given to consult the original documents of digitized manuscripts, they are only available for perusal.
Biographical / Historical
Joost R. Ritman (1941) is an Amsterdam businessman with a profound interest in spirituality who began collecting rare books at the age of sixteen. His collection started in 1964, when he received a seventeenth-century copy of Jacob Böhme's Aurora as a birthday present from his mother. The German mystic Böhme is one of the authors who is a permanent source of inspiration for Ritman.
In 1984 Joost Ritman decided to transform his private collection into a library that was open to the public. His vision was to bring manuscripts and printed books in the field of the hermetic tradition under one roof and show the interplay between the several collecting areas.
His merits for the book world have been acknowledged with a number of awards. In addition to his love for his library, he has a wider commitment to the art and culture of his native city of Amsterdam. He has supported several cultural institutions, including the Jewish Historical Museum, De Nieuwe Kerk, the Hortus Botanicus, the Westerkerk, the Concertgebouw library and Ets Haim-Livraria Montezinos.
Abstract in Dutch
Het Rijksdeel Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) is een unieke verzameling van circa 4400 zeldzame manuscripten en gedrukte werken over de hermetische traditie. Dit is een verzamelnaam voor filosofisch-religieuze en praktisch-esoterische teksten die zijn ontstaan in het hellenistische Egypte, en die hun ingang vonden in zowel de joodse, christelijke als Arabische cultuur. De bibliotheek is ontstaan uit de privécollectie van de Amsterdamse ondernemer Joost Ritman.
Abstract in English
The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection is a unique collection of c. 4,400 rare manuscripts and printed works relating to the hermetic tradition. This is an umbrella term for a number of philosophical and religious and esoteric and practical texts that originated in Hellenistic Egypt and were assimilated into Jewish, Christian and Arabic traditions. The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica grew out of the private collection of Amsterdam businessman Joost Ritman.
Allard Pierson, Universiteit van Amsterdam
Other Finding Aids
- Catalogue of the University of Amsterdam.
- Margaret Lane Ford, Christ, Plato, Hermes Trismegistus : the dawn of printing. Amsterdam, 1990.
- Helen C. Wüstefeld and Anne S. Korteweg, Sleutel tot licht. Getijdenboeken in de Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. Amsterdam, 2009.
- Many exhibition catalogues published by the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.
The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica began in 1957 as the private library of Amsterdam businessman Joost R. Ritman. The library was opened to the public in 1984. Headed by curator, later director, Frans A. Janssen (1983 to 2002) the collection expanded exponentially, with the library becoming an important scholarly research institute.
In 2005 the Dutch state acquired a major part of the library. In 2010 the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection was transferred to the National Library of the Netherlands. The other part remained the property of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, since 2017 located in the Embassy of the Free Mind in the House with the Heads (Huis met de Hoofden) on 123, Keizersgracht.
In 2020 the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science decided to give the State Collection of the BPH on long-term loan to the Allard Pierson, close to the Embassy of the Free Mind and the University of Amsterdam’s History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents teaching and research group.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
In 2020 the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection was given on long-term loan to the Allard Pierson by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed).
There are no expected additions.
The other part of the original, and since expanding Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, is located in the Embassy of the Free Mind in the House with the Heads (Huis met de Hoofden) on 123, Keizersgracht in Amsterdam.
- Wouter Hanegraaff, Het einde van de hermetische traditie. Amsterdam, 1999.
- F.A. Janssen, ‘Ad fontes. On the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica’, in: Quaerendo (1997) vol. 27, afl. 4, p. 251-279.
- F.A. Janssen et al., Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. J.R. Ritman Library, Amsterdam. Amsterdam, 1997.
In 2021 and 2022 the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State collection has been catalogued in the online Catalogue of the University of Amsterdam, restored where necessary and partly digitized.
- Netherlands. Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Owner, Organization)
- Description of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica State Collection (ca. 1400-ca. 1900)
- Stijn van Rossem, Gwendolyn Verbraak, translated by Cis van Heertum
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- The collection was made accessible with support from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed).