Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired a splendid portrait of the famous scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) on long-term loan from the Erasmusstichting (Erasmus Foundation). The little panel-about A5 size-was painted around 1530-36 by Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the great masters of the German Renaissance. It is the first portrait of Erasmus of such high quality to be owned in the Netherlands.
Rotterdam, Erasmus’s birthplace, is the ideal place to exhibit the panel. The city has countless landmarks named after its most famous son, among them the bridge, the university and the hospital. The panel could be seen in a small Erasmus exhibition, accompanied by a letter in the scholar’s own hand and other associated objects, on loan from the Erasmus Collection of De Bibliotheek Rotterdam (Library). Afterwards it will be part of the permanent collection on long-term loan.
The painting shows Erasmus in his sixties. He is seen three-quarter length and three-quarter face. His characteristic fur-trimmed cloak and black cap stand out against a bright blue background. We may assume that Cranach painted the work during Erasmus’s lifetime, since the panel comes from a beech tree that was cut down around 1523. He never met Erasmus, however, and used a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger as his model. Cranach painted other versions of the Erasmus portrait, but the work now granted to the museum by the Erasmusstichting is by far the best.
Erasmus was one of the most authoritative thinkers of his day. His publications on education, war, peace, the church and faith were read by sovereigns and scholars. His views – thanks in part to the development of the printing press – were widely disseminated throughout Europe. His best-known book, the Praise of Folly, was published in 1511. Erasmus is part of the official Netherlandish canon. On Sunday 27 October 2013 the museum staged a family day with workshops, guided tours and music for anyone who wanted to learn about Erasmus and his ideas.