Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

Allard Pierson Collection

Since 2019 the Allard Pierson Museum and the Special Collections of the Univer­sity of Amster­dam have joined forces and are now simply called Allard Pierson. There is a permanent exposition called “From Nile to Amstel”, which takes the visitor from ancient Egypt via the Near East, Greece, Etruria and the Roman Empire to Amster­dam at the end of 17th century, after the four big city expansions. Besides the permanent display of some 15,000 objects, there are also two big special expositions here each year.

Rokin, Amsterdam, seen from inside Allard Pierson museum

Rokin with the building of former artists’ society Arti et Amicitiae, seen from inside Allard Pierson (May 2022).

This is not only a museum, it’s also a hub for the archeo­logical knowledge gathered by the Amsterdam University (UvA). Art and artefacts from 4,000 BC until 500 AD provide a glimpse into the daily life, mythology and religion in ancient times. You can also see some medieval books and manuscripts here and a collection of beautiful Blaeu-atlases — Willem Jansz Blaeu (1571-1638) was a famous Dutch carto­grapher.

After 4 years of restructuring, from 2016 to 2020, the museum reopened to the public — I visited the renewed Allard Pierson again in May 2022. The museum is an oasis of quiet and space in the city center and highly recommended. As an additional perk it also offers a beautiful view of the Rokin from the Espressobar inside.

Allard Pierson, the man

The museum is named after Allard Pierson (1831-1896), a Dutch preacher, theologian, art historian and linguist. Born into an important Amsterdam merchant family, he first studied theology in Utrecht and Leiden, then became a preacher for 3 years in Leuven (Belgium), later in Rotterdam. In 1865 he left the church, because his modern agnostic views did not gel with his preacherhood. In 1870 he went on to teach theology at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), from 1877-1895 he was the first professor of art history, esthetics and modern languages and literature at the Amsterdam University.

Photo of Allard Pierson (1831-1896) (cropped)

Allard Pierson (1831-1896), detail from a photo (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Pierson was passionate about the Classics and Renaissance and traveled to Turkey and Italy for his collection. During his professorship in Amsterdam he created a collection of plaster casts of classical statues. He is considered to be one of the more refined minds of Dutch cultural life in the 19th century. He is buried in Zutphen, where he died in 1896.

The Building

The Neoclassicist building on Oude Turfmarkt 127, created between 1865 and 1869 and designed by Willem Anthonie Froger (1812-1883), was originally the DNB (the Dutch National Bank). The bank was located here until 1968, when they moved to the Frederiks­plein. The building was then bought by the Amsterdam University, who handed it to its own archeo­logical museum. It has been home to the Allard Pierson Museum since 1976 and is a national monument.

Oude Turfmarkt 127, Amsterdam, viewed from Rokin

Oude Turfmarkt 127 from Rokin, former Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), now Allard Pierson (June 2020).

Origin of the Collection

The UvA collection stems from the first Amsterdam city library, which in the 17th century became part of the Athenaeum Illustre, the ancestor of the current university. In 1929 Hague banker Lunsingh Scheurleer was forced to sell his private collection because of the 1929 economic crisis. His collection was bought by the Allard Pierson Foundation, who donated it to the the University of Amsterdam, on condition that it would be open to the public, which is how the Allard Pierson Museum on Sarphatistraat came to be in 1934. In 1976 the Allard Pierson Museum moved to Oude Turfmarkt.

Part of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH), a collection of manu­scripts and books of philo­sophical, religious, hermetic and esoteric material, was started as the private library of Amsterdam business­man Joost Ritman. In 2005 the Dutch state became owner of part of the library — the other part of the collection can be seen at the Embassy of the Free Mind at Keizers­gracht 123, in the Huis met de Hoofden (House with the Heads).

Marsilio Ficino’s introduction to his translation of the Corpus Hermeticum from 1471 (cropped)

Marsilio Ficino’s introduction (argumentum) to his Latin translation of the Corpus Hermeticum from 1471 (cropped).

The state-owned part of the library has been in the care of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, Royal Library) since 2010. In 2020 they decided to loan the 4,400 works to the Allard Pierson, which will catalogue them, restore them and make them (partly) available in digital format. Parts of the collection will be regularly displayed during the expositions.

Photo Gallery Allard Pierson (May 2022)

Website Allard Pierson:

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