The Album Amicorum of Jacob Heyblocq


In the days of Jacob Heyblocq (1623−90), friendship books (referred to by their Latin name, alba amicorum) were popular among students who traveled from university to university. Traveling scholars took the books with them on their university tours. When they met notable figures they wanted to remember, they asked these people to write a brief inscription in their book. The inscriptions usually consisted of short quotations and expressions of friendship, along with the date and a signature. Sometimes students had their portraits or their family coat of arms drawn in the book. The album amicorum accompanied the student throughout his academic career and generally disappeared into a drawer once the studies were completed. Jacob Heyblocq took a different approach. He was studying theology in Leiden when he started his book in 1645, and his statement on the first page makes it clear from the outset that he wanted it to be much more than a casual friendship book. Writing in Latin, Heyblocq addressed “the greatest, most learned and noble” people of his time and stated that his single greatest pleasure in life, aside from meeting all his obligations, was reading contributions in albums. He asked “the greatest thinkers of this century and high-ranking royalty” to write their “brilliant contributions” in this “bold book.” He promised that the words inscribed would live on after their authors were dead and gone. Heyblocq pursued his ambitions wholeheartedly. After completing his studies, he went on to teach at the Latin school on the Nieuwezijds (New Side) canal in Amsterdam. The 17th century was a golden age for Amsterdam, an era in which this world-class city saw the flourishing of science, culture, and the arts. Around 1660, Hecblocq became the headmaster of his Latin school, a position that brought him into contact with the cultural elite of Amsterdam, including poets, professors, artists, and painters. He asked all of them to contribute to his album amicorum. The index reflects the names of all those who acceded to his request. Most of the contributions are far more extensive than the customary outpourings of amity. Many poems were composed on the spot, especially for the album, generally in Dutch or in Latin. Aphorisms and Bible verses, in Latin, Greek, and in Hebrew, are also represented. These illustrious contributions make the volume the richest and most beautifully illustrated example of the album amicorum in Dutch history.

Last updated: August 19, 2015