For a major exhibition on the portrait painter Wybrand de Geest (1592-1661), the Fries Museum and Tresoar (the Frisian History and Literature Center) are looking for missing drawings from the artist’s friendship book or album amicorum. During his trip through Europe, the young Frisian artist collected texts and illustrations from fellow artists and acquaintances. However, 22 drawings are missing from the album, having been torn out or cut. If you have any information about these drawings, please contact curator Marlies Stoter. See below for more information.
Wybrand de Geest’s album amicorum dates back to 1611. At first sight, the little book is nothing special. Yet this is no ordinary friendship book. As an album amicorum compiled by an artist, it is far rarer than the friendship books popular among students at the time. Only a few of the friendship books in the Netherlands were compiled by artists. This makes it all the more unfortunate that so many drawings in the Wybrand de Geest album are missing. The remaining pages of the album contain passages in different handwriting and the occasional pen-and-paint drawing. Severed edges among the pages suggest that some twenty-two drawings are missing. Drawings by Wybrand’s brother Gilles de Geest and others are thought to have been cut from the album because they were worth money. Stripped of their context, they may have found their way into private and museum collections.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, friendship books were especially popular among students who pursued their studies at several universities. In each university city, they asked their tutors, fellow students and other interesting individuals to contribute something to their album, such as a motto, a poem or a quote. Students of noble descent typically drew their coat of arms and signed their name. Examples remain in what is left of Wybrand de Geest’s album, presumably because these heraldic drawings would be of little interest to the public. In their albums, the students inadvertently documented their tour of European universities and encounters along the way. Back home, the entries inscribed by their acquaintances made the album a status symbol that raised the prestige of its owner.
Journey to Rome
Born in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland, in the early seventeenth century, Wybrand Simonsz. de Geest moved to Utrecht to complete his training as a painter. Once there, he must have decided to act on his desire to continue on to Rome. In those days, artists with any ambition had to have seen the ancient world with their own eyes. It was years before he actually arrived in Rome. He made his way there via Paris and Aix-en-Provence. Thanks to his album amicorum, we know which students and fellow artists he spent time with along the way. The Dutch stained-glass artist Gerrit Vredeman penned a French verse and a drawing of his coat of arms. Henrick Jans illustrated the words he wrote with a recumbent lion, perhaps in the hope that Wybrand would not forget where he came from (Leeuwarden has a lion in its coat of arms). The Frisian portrait painter, Mathijs Harings, mentions in his entry that he depicted a rider on horseback, but the drawing is missing – it is one of the twenty-two drawings that disappeared. In around 1620, Wybrand finally returned to Leeuwarden, where he became the most sought-after portrait painter of his day. His clients included Frisian members of the powerful Orange-Nassau family.
Help us search!
Will we manage to find at least one of the missing drawings in a collection or print cabinet in the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world in time for the exhibition? We know the names of the artists and their handwriting. It is difficult to assess the size of the missing sheets. The pages measure approximately 148 x 192 mm and some are watermarked with a jester’s cap. Will you help us search? All tips are welcome! Please email them to email@example.com.