Images of Erasmus

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, 1523, oil on panel, 42 x 32 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris
Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, 1523, oil on panel, 42 x 32 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris

8 November 2008 – 8 February 2009

Five hundred years after Erasmus wrote The Praise of Folly—one of the most influential books of all time—the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents a major Erasmus exhibition. The Louvre has agreed, exceptionally, to loan the superb portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. Works of art never seen before in the Netherlands are coming from around the world, from cities like New York, London and Madrid. The paintings, drawings, prints and objects throw light on Erasmus’s ideas and illustrate his influence on the arts and on society.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536) was a celebrity throughout Europe in his lifetime. This exhibition brings together portraits of Erasmus by the greatest artists of his day: Quinten Massys, Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer. Letters and writings reveal that Erasmus kept very strict control of the way he was portrayed. The exhibition also focuses on subjects that were close to his heart: scholarship and education, war and peace, church and art.

The Praise of Folly
images of Erasmus marks the five hundredth anniversary of The Praise of Folly. Erasmus wrote the book in 1509 to mock every conceivable kind of human folly, and it has remained a bestseller throughout the centuries. The work had an immense influence, particularly on artists who began to explore new subjects: misers, swindlers and fools in all sorts of guises. This groundbreaking genre is extensively represented in the exhibition; works include Quinten Massys’s painting The Moneychanger and his Wife, which is being shown in the Netherlands for the first time.

Erasmus lived in a turbulent age marked by uprisings and wars. He spoke out frankly on social ills and corresponded with rulers all over Europe. As his counsellor, Erasmus had close ties with Charles V, who is portrayed in a strikingly restrained manifestation in a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Erasmus deplored the prevailing warmongering and constantly called for peace, although his pacifism applied first and foremost to Christians fighting among themselves—he believed that Europe should defend itself staunchly against the advancing Islamic Ottoman Empire.

Erasmus was a balanced and thoughtful critic of the Catholic Church, who fought against decadence, superstition and ostentation. He felt, for instance, that artists should portray the Virgin soberly and not as an erotic classical goddess like Jan Gossaert’s Madonna and Child, the showpiece of the Prado. Erasmus paved the way for the Reformation, but the iconoclasm of the sixteenth century went much too far for him. As a humanist he believed in education and he wrote on a wide range of subjects, from table manners to the upbringing of children. Jan van Scorel drew his inspiration for his famous Portrait of a Young Scholar from Erasmus and even adorned the panel with a motto from one of his books.

Erasmus today
Erasmus is one of the pioneers of modern thinking. In the exhibition a multimedia tour applies his views and ideas to topical social and cultural issues. A comprehensive, lavishly-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
The design of the exhibition is a result of a unique collaboration between artist Krijn de Koning and graphic designer Tessa van der Waals.

The exhibition has been made possible by the support of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus University Medical Centre (Rotterdam), the Trustfund EUR, the City of Rotterdam, Sikkens and the Erasmus Foundation, and the assistance of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation and Rotterdam Festivals.
The exhibition is the central event of the official programme of Holland Art Cities 2009-2010 and of Erasmus in Rotterdam in the autumn of 2008.

Press Lunch
You are warmly invited to attend a lunch at the museum on Friday November 7th at 12.30 PM (following the award ceremony of the Erasmus Prize in the Laurens church). Dr. Peter van der Coelen, curator of Images of Erasmus, will speak on the exhibition, followed by a preview. We have a limited number of seats, please RSVP at