Curator Sanne Steen created this exhibition as part of her doctoral research at the Erasmus School of Philosophy, focusing on historical appropriation. “My interest isn’t necessarily in Erasmus himself, but rather in the use of history to shape identity”, she explains. For her dissertation, she is conducting research into how Erasmus is being appropriated, both within and outside Rotterdam. “I’m investigating the alterations made in the portrayal of Erasmus, the aspects that are accentuated or omitted to harness Erasmus for various purposes.”

Four versions of Erasmus

She is researching how Erasmus became intertwined with the city of Rotterdam and the university. For instance, she highlights a 1936 edition of De Groene Amsterdammer featuring Erasmus on the cover, surrounded by people protesting the increasing threat of war in Europe. “This historical artefact illustrates how Erasmus was utilised to critique society.” Erasmus, renowned as a pacifist partly due to his essay 1517 The Complaint of Peace, in which he advocated for a peaceful society, symbolises the opposition to war on the magazine cover.

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Curator Sanne Steen with an edition of De Groene Amsterdammer<./em> displaying Erasmus. Image credit: Daan Stam

The exhibition consists of four main sections. The Man explores who Desiderius Erasmus was, The Myth delves into how Erasmus has been interpreted over the years, The Legend discusses his role as an icon of Rotterdam and The University delves into his connection to Erasmus University. “I wanted to convey the relationship between Erasmus and the university, but that couldn’t be achieved without providing insights into who Erasmus was. It’s essentially a chronological journey from Erasmus, the man, to his association with the university”, Sanne explains. While the exhibition doesn’t present her own research, it will be included as a part of her dissertation. “I’m offering an overview of the items on display, serving as an interlude, providing some lighter content amidst the research.”

World Heritage

For the exhibition, Steen collaborated with John Tholen, curator at the Rotterdam Library. “I had a concept, but lacked the objects”, Sanne says. She had collaborated with Tholen before and secured various books, letters and documents from the Erasmus collection at the Rotterdam Library, which recently earned UNESCO World Heritage status. The exhibition was further enriched with books from the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet and the University Library, along with medals from the Nederlands Economisch Penning Kabinet (Netherlands Economic Medal Cabinet). For example, one exhibit from the Rotterdam Library’s collection is a ‘comedy with singing’, a theatrical piece recounting Erasmus’ life.

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After a brief introduction in the Senate Chamber, attendees walk to the university library. Image credit: Daan Stam

The exhibition opened on Thursday in the university’s Senaatszaal. After brief remarks from the curator and her colleagues, attendees moved to the University Library, where the exhibition was opened with the proper celebrations. The event was attended mainly by staff members from the Erasmus School of Philosophy, the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet and the organisers of Erasmus Week.

The exhibition will be open on the first floor of the University Library until 24 January. The medals from the Nederlands Economisch Penning Kabinet are available for separate viewing in the Erasmus Gallery. Additionally, an online exhibition is accessible through this link.