Biographical data:

Born in Jakarta, I studied at the University of Amsterdam, Dutch Language and Literature, Art History, and Science of Literature. 

In 2008 I received my PhD after writing a monography on Nicolaes Witsen, the true Mercator Sapiens. Besides burgomaster of Amsterdam and boardmember of the EIC, he was a geographer, cartographer, author, a passionate collector and a worldwide researcher. It was published as (translated) Mercator Sapiens. The worldwide research of Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), burgomaster and EIC-boardmember of Amsterdam (Amsterdam 2010; De wijze koopman. Het wereldwijde onderzoek van Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), burgemeester en VOC-bewindhebber van Amsterdam)

In the last decades of the past century my partner, the photographer Ferry André de la Porte, and I made long voyages through Asia. In India, near Mahabalipuram, we were rewarded with a very interesting discovery. On the walls of a little rock cave Shiva-temple we found hundreds of names inscribed, names of Dutch VOC-officers and their families, with the dates of their visits attached. Between 1662 and 1818 the temple seems to have been used as a kind of guestbook. For us this guestbook in stone meant the starting point of years of research to find out who these people were. One of the names engraved belonged to the noteworthy figure Daniel Havart. He wrote a historiography of the VOC on the Coast of Coromandel. In his book Rise and Fall of Coromandel (Amsterdam 1694; Op- en Ondergang van Cormandel) he describes the country and its rulers, the factories and their merchandise, the careers of the officers, their social life and living with wives, slaves and kids, how the Dutch dealt with tropical diseases and death, and his aversion of  the frugal management of the VOC (United East Indian Company). Besides all this, Daniel Havart was also an enthousiastic funeral-poet. All along the east (and west-) coast Dutch cemeteries can be found, of which eight (of  formerly 20) graves bear a funerary poem by Havart. Our investigation also included the Dutch remains. All the existing fortifications, graffiti, grave-yards and graves that we could find have been charted and photographed. In 2002 this resulted in an exhibition of a selection of these pictures in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. This exhibition was accompanied by the book Written in stone. Life and death of VOC-officers and their families at the Coast of Coromandel in India (In steen geschreven. Leven en sterven van VOC-dienaren op de Kust van Coromandel in India). In 2003 the book was  awarded with the Jan Huygen van Linschoten prize (named after the famous Dutch discoverer of the route to East India). 

Research interests:

East India Company, particularly the personnel and their way of life, use of leisure, net-works, diseases and death, female emigrants, adventurers; 

History of collections, history of science, cartography, geography, natural science, history of colonization, pioneers of ethnology, etcetera.



IN STEEN GESCHREVEN (Written in stone)

In steen geschreven. Leven en sterven van VOC-dienaren op de Kust van Coromandel in India (Amsterdam 2002)
(Written in Stone. Life and death of VOC-officers and their families at the Coast of Coromandel in India)

List of Names: Click here

Find a Grave: Click here

Related article: 'Het Portugese - of Buitenkerkhof in Pulicat op de oostkust van India. Een oude VOC-begraafplaats in ere hersteld' (i.s.m. ir. H. Schiebroek) Bulletin KNOB 104/6 (2005) 229-239. ('The Portugese cemetery or Buitenkerkhof (outer churchyard) in Pulicat on the east coast of India. An old VOC cemetery restored to its original state'; in co-operation with engineer Hans Schiebroek)

Summary Portugese cemetery: Click here

DE WIJZE KOOPMAN (Mercator Sapiens)

Het wereldwijde onderzoek van Nicolaes Witsen, burgemeester en VOC-bewindhebber van Amsterdam (Amsterdam 2010)
(Mercator Sapiens. The worldwide research of Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), Burgomaster and EIC-boardmember of Amsterdam)

Summary of 'MERCATOR SAPIENS' ('The Wise Merchant'):
Click here

Related articles:
About Nicolaes Witsen the following English articles are published in Lias, a periodical for "Sources and documents relating to the early modern history of ideas":

'The significance of nepotism, patronage and book dedications in the life of the Amsterdam burgomaster Nicolaes Witsen'. (1641-1717).
This article was published in Lias Vol. 25/1 (1998) as: 'Nepotisme, patronage en boekdedicaties bij Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), burgemeester van Amsterdam'.
(Chapter 8 of the book was based on this article and contains alterations and amplifications)
For summary see below

'From the study of Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717). His life with books and manuscripts'. Lias 21-1 (1994).
Click here
(Chapter 9 of the book was based on this article and contains alterations and amplifications)

'Nicolaes Witsen and Gijsbert Cuper. Two Seventeenth-century Dutch Burgomasters and their Gordian Knot'. Lias 16-1 (1989).
Click here
(Chapter 7 of the book was based on this article and contains alterations and amplifications)


The significance of nepotism, patronage and book dedications in the life of the Amsterdam burgomaster Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717)

Previous to the French period Amsterdam was governed by a council of four burgomasters. Each year three new members were elected by the ones retiring or stepping down, while one remained in office for reasons of continuity. Between the four of them, they could dispose of 3200 jobs and offices. The distribution of these offices occured by rota, which implied that a burgomaster, for the three months in the chair, had all the positions at his disposal which were vacant at that moment.

Between 1682 and 1706 Nicolaes Witsen was burgomaster of Amsterdam 13 times, a position which gave him considerable power and prestige. He was also an ardent lover of science. He published a map of Siberia (‘Tartary’) and wrote voluminous studies on shipbuilding and geography. Both qualities (mayor and scholar) were in his case indissolubly connected. By handing out favours he was in a position to oblige a variety of people, who in turn helped him with his investigations. This system of patronage and the providing of services in return also had an effect on the Republic of Letters. Most clearly this can be seen in the tradition of book dedications. Usually such a dedication was addressed to the person to whom the writer felt an obligation and from whom he expected benefits. Written in the form of a letter, subject to the rhetorical rules, the writer requested consent for the dedication and protection of their book.

At least 52 persons turned to Witsen for this purpose. The authors concerned were clients, graduate students, scholars and persons who for reasons of income were dependent on the booktrade, like publishers, writers, poets and translators. In all cases they acknowledged their gratitude for services rendered. Except in the case of a business relation, the personal loyalty to the patron was unquestioned, though expressions of gratitude rendered to deceased members of the family and requests for additional favours may suggest otherwise.

The writer of a dedication had to consider a number of factors before approaching a possible patron for a book: an interest shown in the subject, the position of the gentleman, as well as the generosity to be expected of his favours. The dimension of such a choice is apparent when one considers those who handed out dedications regularly such as publishers and professional writers. Repeatedly the names of so-called friends of the leading faction are found in their dedications. The dates of the dedications addressed to Witsen give additional information of this: the first known dedication dates back to 1658, when Witsen was only a student without functions, but as the son of a burgomaster he was useful as a mediator. On the other hand, after his last mayorship, Witsen hardly reappears in dedications. The reason can be found in the changing political situation. His faction had to make way for the Corver brothers, and with the death of his nephew, the burgomaster Johannes Hudde in 1704, Witsen also had lost his influential support. For his favourites it became clear that Witsen would not return to office and that they consequently could not count on his influence any more. The reaction of the authors was immediate: as a patron for their dedications Witsen did no longer exist.  

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