Linnaeusstraat (Amsterdam)

ImageThe Oosterpark is the first large park laid (in 1891) out by the municipality of Amsterdam. It was designed on the principles of an English garden by Leonard Springer. The ‘Oosterparkbuurt’ in its current shape was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1926, a corner of the park was used to house a newly built museum. The Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (Royal Tropical Institute) was established in Haarlem in 1864. It was then known as the Colonial Museum, founded to house the collection of artefacts brought back from the Dutch colonies in the East. Its mission included the scientific study of plants and products derived from the colonies. Today, the collection is housed in the Tropenmuseum with its entrance on the Linnaeusstraat, one of the main streets in the district.

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‘De Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam, gezien vanaf de Middenweg’ produced by Heertje van Doornik, a painter who had settled in the capital in 1891, supplies a fine image of the street.

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Impressionist painter and photographer Willem Witsen lived in the area. His house at no. 82 Oosterpark is now a museum (Witsenhuis) – it was here that Paul Verlaine stayed during his brief visit to the Netherlands.
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There is one Dutch author whose work is closely associated with the East of Amsterdam. Nescio (Latin for ‘I don’t know’) is a pseudonym for Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh who made a professional career for himself at the Holland-Bombay Trade Company in Amsterdam and was a talented author at the same time. He hated his job, but felt unable to fully commit himself to his creative endeavours. The Nescio corpus includes stories, unfinished compositions, a nature diary and correspondence, but the works for which he is remembered consist essentially of three extensive prose-poems: De uitvreter (The Freeloader, 1911), Titaantjes (Young Titans, 1915) and Dichtertje (Little Poet, 1918). The translation of a collection of stories by Damion Searles was published in the New York Review Books Classics series under the appropriate title of Amsterdam Stories. Aptness of title, and quality of the first sentence, are crucial aspects of any novel.

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In his 2011 study How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One, Stanley Fish devoted an entire chapter to memorable English opening sentences. If his approach had been multi-lingual, he would certainly have included the start of De uitvreter which announces the author’s unique style and idiosyncratic manner of storytelling. As a story this is an evocative mix in which dreams and youthful rebelliousness are beaten down by an indifferent world. Although set in the city, there are lyrical descriptions of the Dutch landscape, often triggered by author’s fascination with water (a Dutch theme if ever there was one). Nescio stresses the Dutch dichotomy of money-mindedness with the visionary wealth of Jeroen Bosch, Multatuli, or Vincent van Gogh. The dominating tone is one of an aching melancholy. Grönloh himself was careful to keep his business and creative identities separate. He only revealed true name in 1933, over twenty years after the publication of De uitvreter.

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Samuel Sarphati was a physician and city planner. He descended from Portuguese Sephardi Jews who had settled in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century. Having qualified in medicine at the University of Leiden, he became a practitioner in the capital where he initiated projects to improve the quality of hygiene in the poorer parts of the city. The Sarphatistraat is named after him and runs between Frederiksplein and Oostenburgergracht. To many locals the name Sarphati means little nowadays. It is just an ordinary Amsterdam street. However, to those familiar with Dutch literature, the Sarphatistraat has made an indelible impression. Why? Because of Nescio first sentence in De uitvreter: ‘Behalve den man die de Sarphatistraat de mooiste plek van Europa vond, heb ik nooit een wonderlijker kerel gekend dan den uitvreter’ (Except for the man who thought Sarphatistraat was the most beautiful place in Europe, I’ve never met anyone more peculiar than the freeloader). To me, as an utterly biased reader, this remains a classic opening.

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Tramline no. 7 connects the short distance between Sarphatistraat and Linnaeusstraat. From 1735 to 1739, young Carl Linnaeus lived in the Netherlands. This was an important period in his life. He defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Harderwijk in 1735 and met with many Dutch scientists during his visits to the Amsterdam botanical gardens. Among them was one figure who took a central place in the development of the young Swedish botanist. George Clifford III was a wealthy Amsterdam banker and one of the directors of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was known for his interest in plants and gardens.

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His estate the Hartekamp had a rich variety of plants and he engaged Linnaeus to write the Hortus Cliffortianus, a masterpiece of early botanical literature. Many specimens from Clifford’s garden were also studied by Linnaeus for his two-volume study Species plantarum (1753), a work that laid the foundation for plant nomenclature as we know it today. The Clifford dynasty originated from East Anglia. The first recorded member of the family was Richard Clifford who studied at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, which at the time was an important training-institution for Anglican clergy. In 1569 he was appointed rector of Landbeach, a fen-edge village near Ely, just north of Cambridge (beach most likely means ‘shore’ here: both Landbeach and nearby Waterbeach were at one time situated at the edge of the estuary named The Wash).

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Henry Clifford was born in Landbeach. Like his father, he studied at Corpus Christi. He named his son George. Somewhere between 1634 and 1640 George Clifford I moved to Amsterdam and lived the rest of his life on the Zeedijk. Six of his children were baptized in Amsterdam’s historical Presbyterian Church at the Begijnhof, and two in the Oude Kerk. He established the family business in the city and, in 1664, is recorded as owning a sugar plantation in Barbados.

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George Clifford II was born in 1657. He continued in the trade his father had started. Business prospered and, in 1709, he was able to buy the Hartekamp (for the substantial amount of 22,000 guilders), an estate with a formal garden and conservatory in Heemstede, just outside Bennebroek, near to the coastal dunes and close the famous Dutch bulb fields. The original house had been built by Johan Hinlopen in 1693. The latter had been in charge of running the lucrative postal route between Amsterdam and Antwerp. Hinlopen designed the basic garden and built the orangery. His grandfather had been of Flemish origin, one of the countless cosmopolitan merchants who left Antwerp after the Spanish suppression of the city. A trader in cloth and Indian ware he was a co-founder of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. His son Jan Jacobszoon expanded the business and became an important art collector and supporter of Rembrandt, Gabriel Metsu, and others.

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George Clifford III was born in 1685 into by what at that time had become an extremely wealthy Anglo-Dutch merchant dynasty. The family business entered banking at the start of the eighteenth century and established an international reputation lending money to royalty, the Vatican, and to the English and Danish governments. George III also was a Governor of the Dutch East India Company (but not, as is often stated, at any time Burgomaster of Amsterdam) and a keen botanist. On the Hartekamp he accumulated a famous living- and dried plant collection. He gave the garden its international reputation, acquiring specimens of new species from all over the world. He acted as patron of the young Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus whom he employed in the double capacity of ‘hortulanus’ (supervisor) of his collection and of physician (the master of the house was somewhat of a hypochondriac).

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Linnaeus had been introduced to Clifford by Johannes Burman, Director of the Amsterdam Botanic Garden and Professor of Botany, who was a supplier of tropical plants to the Clifford collection through his close connections with the East India Company. Linnaeus named after him the Burmannia, a family of chiefly tropical herbs with basal leaves and small flowers. The meeting between the two men turned out well for both of them. Linnaeus was overwhelmed by the botanical riches of the gardens and in particular by the ‘houses of Adonis’ (hothouses) where he encountered a bewildering variety of plants from Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Clifford on the other hand was impressed by Linnaeus’s effortless ability to classify plants that were new to him. Clifford offered Linnaeus free board and lodging, and a financial allowance of one ducat a day, or 1,000 florins per annum. The young scientist was overjoyed. By the time he took up his employment in 1735 the estate contained in addition to the garden, a large collection of animals, an orangery and four heated greenhouses. Through the activities of eminent botanists such as Herman Boerhaave, Adriaan van Royen and others, many exotic plants were added to Clifford’s collection and dried plants were exchanged as herbarium sheets. International cooperation between collectors and scientists contributed to the rapid development of plant systematic, both in terms of taxonomy and of practical knowledge of the world’s botanical wealth and variety.

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The herbarium played an important role in the development of scientific botany. The preparation of herbarium specimens goes far back to the Egyptians, but the systematic technique for keeping plants as dried reference specimens began in Tuscany during the sixteenth century. Luca Ghini, founder of the first botanical garden in the world at Pisa, introduced this method to his students at the University of Bologna. Initially herbaria were bound together to form books, such as that of the apothecary Petrus Cadé, the oldest herbarium known in the Low Countries.

In the eighteenth century botanists started to keep the individual herbarium sheets separate which allowed systematic ordering rearrangement according to developing systematic ideas. Thus it became possible to lend individual herbarium sheets and exchange duplicates. Because of such exchanges it was no longer immediately clear who the owner of a particular specimen actually was. This is perhaps the reason – apart from mere aesthetics – why ornamentations such as pots, medallions, pennants, or cartouches were printed onto the sheets and thus acted as a kind of ex libris for the owner. The tradition of using ornamentations in herbaria is of Dutch origin. It dates back to the 1720s and had gone out of fashion by the end of the century. Clifford’s herbarium consists of 3,461 sheets. Many of the specimens are mounted in such a manner that they appear to be growing out of engraved paper urns, and are held down by ribbons and their names inscribed on ornate labels. In 1791, Clifford’s herbarium was acquired by botanist Joseph Banks, Director of Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and President of the Royal Society of London, at the sale of the collections. It is now part of the collections of the Natural History Museum.

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At the time of Linnaeus’s inventory, the garden at Hartekamp had 1,251 living plant species in the greenhouses, gardens and woods. Linnaeus catalogued the family’s complete collection of plants, herbarium and library. The result was his book Hortus Cliffortianus, whose publication was paid for by George Clifford III. Linnaeus compiled his study with astonishing speed. It took him nine months to prepare the manuscript. Until this time the individual herbarium sheets owned by Clifford were arranged according to the system applied by Boerhaave in his Index alter plantarum. Linnaeus ranked the plant species according to a sexual system which he himself had designed. The system is based on the number and shape of both male and female reproductive parts which determine the class into which the plant species is placed. Within this system every species is placed in a genus and given its own unique Latin adjective. The Hortus Cliffortianus formed the basis for all of Linnaeus’s subsequent work. Many of his plant descriptions are repeated in the Species plantarum which appeared some fifteen year later. In this book Linnaeus introduced the consistent use of the binomial nomenclatural system with a genus name and a species epithet. The many samples taken from the Clifford collection were type specimens for Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering.

The Hortus Cliffortianus came into existence through the collaboration of a brilliant scientist and an outstanding botanical artist. In 1735 German painter and draughtsman George Ehret had travelled to England with glowing letters of introduction to patrons including Hans Sloane and Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In the spring of 1736 Ehret spent three months in the Netherlands and stayed for several weeks at the Hartekamp where he made the majority of the illustrations. He then returned to England to settle in Chelsea from where he sent the remainder of the illustrations. His efforts proved indispensable for the rapid dissemination of the underlying concepts of Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering. Through his famous illustrations, Ehret made Linnaeus’s new system more intelligible. Ehretia, a genus of flowering plants in the borage family (Boraginaceae – containing some fifty species) was named in his honour. Ehret’s plates served as the basis for the etchings of Jan Wandelaar who made the final prints for the book. The latter also produced the outstanding baroque cover, the symbolism of which includes a young Apollo with Linnaeus’s features who brings light into the darkness (of ignorance). Jan Wandelaar – literally: Johnny Walker – is perhaps best remembered for his cooperation with the surgeon and anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus. Teaching anatomy at Leiden University, Albinus was famous for his studies of bones and muscles, and for his attempts at improving the accuracy of anatomical illustration. He used Wandelaar’s considerable artistic talent to achieve that aim. The artist’s earlier involvement with Clifford and Ehret had established his reputation. Clifford used the Hortus as a splendid gift for his contacts within the plant-exchange network. Boerhaave and Van Royen were the first to receive a copy.

In 1760 Pieter Clifford, the oldest son of George, inherited the Hartekamp, but he lacked his father’s passion for plants and the importance of the garden declined. After his death the estate was auctioned on 2 June 1788, probably due to financial problems relating to the bankruptcy of the Clifford Bank in 1772. It was the final chapter in what had been a grand Anglo-Dutch-Swedish undertaking in which natural beauty, science and art had been harmoniously merged. Linnaeus in the meantime became a legendary figure in the Netherlands. In 1853, Hendrik Hollander painted the scientist in Laponian costume. The painting is part of the Hartekamp Estate, but a replica is in possession of the University of Amsterdam.

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