Album amicorum Petronella Moens

A book of friends used to be called an album amicorum. Petronella Moens' album is very special: it contains contributions from famous writers from her time. Think for instance of Aagje Deken, Betje Wolff, Willem Bilderdijk and Hendrik Tollens.

What is an album amicorum?

An album amicorum is a friendship booklet, with handwritten texts from friends and acquaintances. Sometimes they were even famous contemporaries. Alba amicorum have been around since the 16th century. They were first used at universities in Germany. Dutch students adopted the habit of keeping an album. They mainly used such an album during the tour through Europe that many of them made during their studies. In the album they collected contributions from professors and fellow students. Keeping such an album soon became a popular activity. More and more often, not only students, but also men of letters, statesmen and artists were asked to make their contributions in an album. Keeping an album amicorum remained very popular until the 19th century.

Margaretha Cornelia Boellaard, Portret van Petronella Moens (1762-1843). Collection Centraal Museum Utrecht.

Who was Petronella Moens?

Petronella Moens (1762-1843) was a famous writer in her time. She wrote a total of 153 books and occasional poems for young and old. That was extra special because she went blind at the age of 4 due to childpox.

Pietje, as friends called her, was very loved. This is evident from her album amicorum. In this book of friends she collected 170 contributions from family members, acquaintances and other writers between 1786 and 1840. All those pieces show that they appreciated and admired her. In no other album from this period do we find contributions from so many famous writers.

Moens thought her album amicorum was very important. In a letter from 1829 she wrote to a certain F.W. Selle: 'Also see here my friend roll [friend album], in which I would really like to have your name; this is a property that I rarely entrust to anyone else.'

How did Petronella Moens' album amicorum end up at the KB?

The album amicorum was missing for a long time. It emerged in England in 1988. It is now in the possession of the Petronella Moens Foundation. In 2001 it was loaned to the Literature Museum, now the Literature Museum. However, it fits much better in the collection alba amicorum of the KB. That is why the KB keeps the album.

  • Contribution by the Frisian civil servant and writer Jacobus Scheltema, written on September 22, 1809 in Amsterdam. To praise Moens' blindness, he quotes the closing words of Huygens' poem Oogenbroos: 'I speak a holy word. Show us the highest destiny. Blind and unblind are one. The pious will see God." In the rest of his contribution he praises Moens' virtues, success and Frisian origins.

How to view Petronella Moens' album

You can view Petronella Moens' album amicorum in the reading room of the Special Collections. You can request the work via the catalogue, via request number 79 L 5. You can also view it on the site as a digital masterpiece. The images can be found at Wikimedia Commons.



Want to know more?

Jeroen Vandommele
Conservator post-medieval and modern manuscripts