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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, c. 1530-36, oil on panel. 19 x 14.6 cm. Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Loan, the Erasmus Foundation, 2013.

ROTTERDAM.- Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has received a splendid portrait of the famous scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) on long-term loan from the Erasmusstichting (Erasmus Foundation). The exquisite little panel was painted around 1530-36 by Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the great masters of the German Renaissance. Until now the Dutch National Collection lacked a portrait of Erasmus of this quality. Rotterdam, as Erasmus’s birthplace, is the perfect setting for the panel. Erasmus’s ‘homecoming’ will be celebrated with a programme of lessons for primary schools, a family day and an exhibit opening on 12 October. 

Director Sjarel Ex, ‘The generosity of the Erasmus Stichting means the museum is now the only one in the Netherlands to have an outstanding portrait of an iconic figure in our national history. No other city is more fitting for this work of art than Rotterdam.’ 

A Rotterdam Collaboration

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen discovered the sixteenth-century portrait at Derek Johns Ltd, a London gallery. Extensive research revealed that it was indeed an authentic work by the painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. The Erasmusstichting is presenting the City of Rotterdam with a superb portrait of its most important citizen. 

Characteristic Portrait

The beautifully executed little panel shows Erasmus in his sixties. He is seen three quarter length and three-quarter face. His characteristic fur-trimmed cloak and black cap stand out against a bright blue background. Dendrochronological research reveals that Cranach probably painted the work during Erasmus’s lifetime. The panel comes from a beech tree that was cut down around 1523. There is a portrait of Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther, painted on a panel from the same tree. Cranach is famous for his portraits of Luther. He never met Erasmus, however, and used a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger as his model. Cranach painted other versions of the Erasmus portrait, but the work now granted to the museum by the Erasmusstichting is by far the best. 

Erasmus for Everyone

Erasmus was one of the most authoritative thinkers of his day. His publications on education, war, peace, the church and faith were read by sovereigns and scholars. His views - thanks in part to the development of the printing press - were widely disseminated throughout Europe. His best-known book, the Praise of Folly, was published in 1511. Erasmus belongs to the official Netherlandish canon. The Erasmusstichting is offering primary schools in the region an education pack to encourage children to find out about him. The foundation wants everyone in Rotterdam to learn about their world-famous fellow citizen and his ideas. 

Exhibit

The newly-acquired portrait can be seen from 12 October in a small display, accompanied by a selection of portrait prints of Erasmus in the museum’s collection by such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Anthony van Dyck and Hieronymus Hopfer. A number of early publications of key works and a handwritten letter by the Humanist will be on view. An animated film will show how surprisingly topical Erasmus’s views still are today. When the exhibit closes, the Erasmus portrait will become part of the museum’s permanent display.