Embassy of the Free Mind, Keizersgracht 123, Amsterdam

Embassy of the Free Mind

At Keizersgracht 123, in the beautiful Huis met de Hoofden from 1622, you can visit the Embassy of the Free Mind, a unique museum, library and platform for free thinking, inspired by the philo­sophy of the Biblio­theca Philo­sophica Hermetica (Ritman Library) collection. The building was extensively restored and renovated between 2007 and 2014.

Main room of the Embassy of the Free Mind, Amsterdam, with statue of Cosimo de' Medici

Main room of the Embassy of the Free Mind, on the left a statue of Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), who founded the first public library in Florence and commissioned Marsilio Ficino’s Latin translation of the complete works of Plato.

Freethinker Heritage

Amsterdam played an important role during the so-called Golden Age (roughly 1602-1702) regarding freedom of printing and religion. From 1634 the affluent entre­peneurs Louis and Laurens de Geer resided in the Huis met de Hoofden. As patrons of free­thinkers and dissident writers and philo­sophers, they enabled the printing of many of their works. The De Geer family had an extensive library here of some 6,000 books (later moved to Sweden), a predecessor of the current similar Ritman Collection in this house.

The focus of the museum is on the European culture of free thinking of the past 2,000 years, with Hermetic wisdom as the source of inspi­ration: insight into the connection between God, cosmos and man. This is reflected in the Hermetic, alche­mical, astro­logical, magical, mystical, kabbalistic and Rosicrucian texts and images in the collection — 25,000 once forbidden books and images. It is now a scientific research library, with its own publisher, In de Pelikaan.

Display of the book Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Benedictus de Spinoza from 1670

Benedictus de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Published anonymously in Hamburg in 1670 (August 2022).

Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

The Biblio­theca Philo­sophica Hermetica was established in 1958 as the private library of Amsterdam business­man Joost Ritman and is now considered the absolute top regarding Western spiri­tuality. In 1984 the library moved to the Bloem­straat 15 in the Jordaan neigh­borhood and opened to the public. In 2017 the library moved to the 17th-century national monument on the Keizers­gracht, the Huis met de Hoofden (House with the Heads) and obtained museum status, resulting in the Embassy of the Free Mind.

The library has inspired writers like Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) and Umberto Eco (1932-2016, author of The Name of the Rose). The new location in the mansion at Keizers­gracht 123 was opened by Dan Brown in 2017 — who also donated $ 300,000 for the digitalization of the 4,600 rare books in the collection. In 2018 Joost Ritman was honored for his contri­butions to Amsterdam’s heritage with an honorary medal, the Frans Banninck Cocq Penning (named after the central figure in Rembrandt’s Nightwatch).

Ritman has supported many Amsterdam cultural treasures: Rembrandt­huis, Joods Museum, Nieuwe Kerk, Hortus Botanicus, Wester­kerk and the library of the Concert­gebouw Orchestra. He also received many honorary literary and academic medals for his contributions.

Alchemical illustration in the Basilica Philosophica from 1618

Alchemical illustration in the Basilica Philosophica from 1618.

Collection Troubles

Joost Ritman — who made his fortune with dispo­sable cutlery for air­lines — was interested in herme­tical matters from a young age and started a growing and extremely valuable collection, known as the Ritman Library. Because of a financial conflict in 1993, ING Bank had the private collecton of books and art seized, by then already worth millions. Despite the Dutch government recognizing the collection as national heritage in 1993, it risked being auctioned off in London.

The Dutch government inter­vened and the BPH was listed as protected Dutch heritage, with the State acquiring 40% of it, initially lending the books back to Ritman. The govern­ment would eventually acquire all of it and there were plans for further expansion, but due to a financial crisis and a change of government this took longer than expected (also due to the immense value of the collection). Ritman had already invested the expected future income and was forced to take out a € 15 million loan with Friesland Bank, with the library as a collateral. When the work “Grail of Rochefocault” (which was apparently also part of the collateral) was offered to Sotheby’s to fulfil the financial obligations, Friesland Bank had the entire collection seized.

After long proceedings matters were finally settled, with some 300 books less in the library. The state-owned part of the collection, which became part of the Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), was handed over in 2021 to the Allard Pierson Museum (part of the University of Amsterdam). The BPH is now protected by the Wet Behoud Cultuur­bezit (Law for Protection of Cultural Heritage), meaning it cannot be sold to foreign investors.

Photo Gallery of the Embassy of the Free Mind (June & August 2022)

The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00.
Website Embassy of the Free Mind: https://embassyofthefreemind.com/en/

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