An ‘album amicorum’, as suggested by its name, provides the reader with an idea about the friends and relations of its owner. The way in which such feelings of friendship were expressed was rigidly formalized, and the illustrations found in the alba were, in principle, also very formal: coats of arms, costumes, and emblematic representations predominate. That is why this informal anonymous picture in the album of Johannes van Amstel van Mijnden from Utrecht is so remarkable. On 6 September 1600, at the age of 22, he enrolled at the university of Leiden to read law, where he was to face a cold, but cheerful winter, as is indicated in the picture opposite. The caption reads: ‘Dear viewer, this drawing shows to you the Dutch university and depicts how the students are exerting themselves when the cold northwesterly makes it impossible to cleave Dutch waters with the ship of the goddess Venus’. A timeless picture, although the ladies' unwieldy apparel will now no longer be seen on the canals.
Little could the anonymous artist have imagined that his handiwork now has important additional documentary value. To the right of the academy gate was the shop of the official printer to the academy, then run by Lodewijk Elsevier. So far this picture has been the only known representation of his trade.
The founding of the university of Leiden is indissolubly connected with the struggle against the Spanish oppression. The university offered ‘theologically sound education’, a possibility eagerly used, not only by students from the Netherlands, but also by massive numbers of foreign students. Within the student community the album amicorum - originating in Germany - very soon became immensely popular. From the 1590-1610 period alone at least 140 alba have been preserved, of which Van Mijnden's album is fairly unique. The rare combination of contributors to his album from the Northern as well as the Southern Netherlands proves once more that after the separation of the United Provinces people from the Northern Netherlands continued to stay in the south for longer periods. Besides Leiden and Utrecht, Mechelen and Louvain in particular feature as the places where entries in the album were made.
Album amicorum van Johannes van Amstel van Mijnden (ca. 1578-), student rechten. 75 contributions, 1600-1602, from the Northern and Southern Nether-lands.Paper,323 leaves, 150 x 106 mm. - Prov.: auction of the F.A. van Rappard collection, 1910. - 74 J 37, fol.158r