Alba amicorum of Gerard van Hacfort and Poppe van Feytsma

Acquired from Antiquariaat Forum, Utrecht; Purchased from antiquarian bookshop Gijsbers & Van Loon, Arnhem
Acquisition: 1992; 1996
Date: 1570-1575; 1573-1576
Size: 15 x 10 cm.; 14 x 9 cm.
Call number: 77 L 41; 79 L 20

In 1562, the Spanish King Philip II (1527-1598) founded a Catholic university in Douai, in the North of France. One of the aims was to offer students a place to learn French, which was vitally important in high society and diplomatic circles, without having to travel on to a French university - particularly in Paris and Orleans - where Protestantism had gained a firm foothold. Unfortunately, the registration records for Douai were not saved, but a number of alba amicorum provide evidence that the university quickly became popular amongst Dutch students. The album amicorum - a book in which students collected contributions from their fellow students and professors to commemorate their college days - was first conceived at Wittenberg. The Dutch adopted this custom from 1564 onward from German students with whom they were traditionally grouped at universities outside of Germany - the so-called Natio Germanica.

Both Gerard van Hacfort and Poppe van Feytsma started their albums in Douai, where Gerard collected 35 and Poppe 22 contributions from Dutch and German fellow students who virtually without exception belonged to the nobility like themselves. Consequently, the contributions were decorated - at the expense of the inscribers - with beautifully painted family crests. What makes the alba so special is that during those years in Douai a clever coat of arms illustrator discovered a niche in the market: in his studio you could have your portrait painted in addition to your coat of arms. Gerard's album contains three of these portraits and Poppe's features seven, some of which even show scars from duels on their faces! Poppe could not resist and finished his study trip in perfidious Paris, but Gerard was 'really' Catholic, and after leaving Douai headed to Italy, where - judging by the series of portraits of Italian beauties, Venetian gondolas and the like - he largely indulged in worldly pleasures. (KT)