Last month I reported that the J.R. Ritman Library (aka The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica) in Amsterdam was endangered, and is currently closed to the public as Ritman and Friesland Bank negotiate a massive 15 million Euro collateral loan behind closed doors. A Dutch heritage site, and home to many rare hermetic and esoteric works, it is now in danger of crumbling apart entirely. First, Ritman’s contested sale of the The Grail of Rochefoucauld, which contains the oldest surviving account of the legends of King Arthur, and the action that sparked the current crisis, has been allowed to go through.
An illuminated 14th-century manuscript containing what is believed to be the oldest surviving account of the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table was sold for £2.39m yesterday [...] It was written in Flanders or Artois some time between 1315 and 1323 and probably produced for Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld, head of one of the leading aristocratic families of medieval France. Sotheby’s specialist Timothy Bolton said: “This is one of the principal manuscripts of the first significant medieval work of secular literature.”
That sale of one of the library’s most prized works is supposed to go towards paying off Ritman’s bank debt, for which the library was used as collateral. In the wake of these events, the Dutch government seems to have lost confidence that a workable solution will be found and is pulling all the works they own, around 40% of the total collection, out of the J.R. Ritman Library in order to protect the works and make them accessible once more.
“The Ministry of Education has told EénVandaag that the part of the collection owned by the central government is currently secure. [...] The Department announced that [this decision was made] with the utmost care and prudence and that the accessibility of the collection for science is the main reason for this [move].”
So despite the protests and petitions, the dissolution of the library seems all but certain now. The “core collection” owned by the Dutch government will most likely be integrated into one of their existing libraries, with the rest in danger of being sold in order to cover the bank debt. This is a huge blow to hermetic scholarship, with many works now in danger of falling into the hands of private collectors, out of reach to the general public.
I will keep you updated as further news surfaces. Once again, I’d like to thank my Netherlands contact Suus Oudbier for providing essential information and resources for this story.