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Cornelis de Bruijn, traveller and painter


Cornelis de Bruijn was born in the The Hague c. 1652. According to his own saying he wanted, from his young days on, to visit foreign regions. He was of the opinion that nothing was more useful for travellers than being able to draw and paint. He took therefore lessons with the Hague painter Theodoor van Schuer.

In 1674 he decided to leave The Netherlands for Rome. There he became a member of the Bentveughels, a company of Dutch and Flemish painters. After two and a half years in Rome he continued his journey in 1677 to the Near East. His voyages took him to Turkey, several Greek islands, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Cyprus. In 1684 he travelled to Venice where he continued to work for eight years with the German painter Carlo Loth.

In 1693 he returned to The Hague. The numerous drawings, water-colours and paintings of (ancient) monuments, peoples, plants, animals, cities, which he had made on his travels, excited the admiration of scholars like Nicolaas Witsen and Gisbert Cuper. Thereupon De Bruijn decided to publish an itinerary of his travels, illustrated with engravings, made after his own drawings. In 1698 the book appeared under the title Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn, door de Vermaardste Deelen van Klein Asia.... In 1700 a French translation was published (Voyages au Levant) and in 1702 an English translation appeared (A Voyage to the Levant: or Travels in the Principal Parts of Asia Minor)

In 1701 De Bruijn embarked on his second journey. From The Netherlands he sailed to Archangel and after a short stay there, he travelled on to Moscow, where he stayed more than a year. In 1703 he left Moscow and continued his journey by going to Persia. After nearly a year in Isfahan, he went to Persepolis, the ancient Achaemenid palace complex, the ruins of which had his special interest. He spent three months there, carefully drawing the ruins of the palace, the remaining reliefs and cuneiform inscriptions. He left his (still visible) signature in one of the monuments. In 1705 he continued his travels to the Dutch Indies. In 1708 De Bruijn is back in The Hague.

Also of his second journey, De Bruijn published a beautifully illustrated travel book, entitled Reizen over Moskovie, door Perzie en Indie (1711). A French translation appeared in 1718 (Voyages de Corneille le Brun par la Moscovie, en Perse, et aux Indes Orientales). This itinerary was not as successful as the first one. De Bruijn is critized for the fact that his engravings, especially those of Persepolis, do not resemble those of other travel books. Against this criticism he manages to defend himself in a pamphlet-like work, entitled Aenmerkingen Over de Printverbeeldingen van de Overblijfzelen van het Oude Persepolis (Amsterdam 1714). He felt especially offended because he made it a rule to keep to the truth as closely as possible, as he himself explains:

"...I have made it an indispensable Law to my self, not to deviate in any respect from the Truth, merely to give an ornamental Air to this Work, in which there are no facts but what are revelated with the strictest veracity.... The reader may judge of my proceeding, by the number and beauty of the plates distributed through the whole work, and which are executed with all possible justice and accuracy." (C. de Bruijn, Travels into Muscovy, Persia and parts of the East-Indies, London 1737, vol. 1, 'Author's Preface')

De Bruijn's final years were frought with hardship. He was in great debt and seems to have died a poor man in 1726 or 1727.

The importance of De Bruijn's travel books lies in the fact that his descriptions and drawings are very accurate and, for that reason, added greatly to the knowledge in Europe about foreign nations, flora and fauna, and monuments from Antiquity.



Portrait of Cornelis de Bruijn. An engraving made after a painting by Godfrey Kneller. The painting belongs to the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Inv. A 1280).



Literature

All important literature on the life and travels of Cornelis de Bruijn, including a list of all editions of his travel books, can be found in:
See further:
For examples of engravings included in De Bruijn's itineraries click here.

Information in Dutch on De Bruijn is to be found in the Elektronisch Tijdschrift voor de neerlandistiek


This site is maintained by Jan Willem Drijvers. E-mail comments and suggestions are welcome (drijvers@let.rug.nl).

Homepage Jan Willem Drijvers || Faculty of Arts || University of Groningen

Last updated 21 September 2009