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Statue of Erasmus

“What greater folly than standing in the market place in bronze?”

Wooden Start

Erasmus became the first non-royal person in the Low Countries to be honored with a statue in the market place. Quite ironic, since he of all people disliked any form of outward display. Over time five different versions of Erasmus’s statue have drawn many visitors to Rotterdam. It is unclear when the first statue was made. Matthijs Bastiaensz, bookseller and publisher of translations of Erasmus’s works in Rotterdam, mentions 1536. According to him, the regents of Basle shipped to Rotterdam a statue that had been made by their orders four years before Erasmus died. This statement is uncorroborated. It is certain, however, that Rotterdam had a wooden image of Erasmus made in 1549 on the occasion of the visit of Prince Philip, son of Emperor Charles V. It showed Erasmus with a Latin poem in his hand. A young boy hidden inside the figure recited the poem to Philip.

Erasmus in Bronze

The wooden figure was not meant to last long. Yet it appears to have appealed to the citizens of Rotterdam, for in 1557 a stone version was made. When it, too, caved in to time, the final statue in bronze was made in 1620. Made by the renowned artist Hendrick de Keyser it was publicly revealed in the Grote Markt (Great Market Place) on April 22, 1622. It set back the town some 10,000 Dutch guilders. Orthodox Calvinists had tried to prevent the whole thing, but to no avail. The statue was well maintained — quite in line with the Dutch zeal for polishing highlighted by Erasmus in his adage Auris Batava (Dutch Ear). Over the ages both Erasmus and his statue repeatedly were at the center of fervent praise as well as criticism. From quite early on, myth had it that the bronze Erasmus turned a page every hour at the stroke of the clock.

The Trouble with Desi

In 1996 the statue was removed after it had fallen over. Not for the first time, however. This had already happened three times before. On April 18, 1674, the statue was brought in for repairs because it was on the verge of falling over. Readjusting it apparently took quite some time, for it was not reinstated until April 22, 1677. On another occasion the town magistrate felt compelled to remove the statue in order to protect it from rebellious town folk. He had it stored in a warehouse until things calmed down. Legend has it that the city of Basle at one time tried to purchase the statue and the transaction was only just voted down. Before the statue was reinstated in 1677, a text was cut into its pedestal that is still present today. It has been adapted once regarding Erasmus’s year of birth. Modern scholars mostly agree on 1466, but from 1557 the different statues all stated 1467. In 1964 the year was changed into 1469. In 1984 the year 1467 was re-adopted.

During World War II (1940–1945) the statue was buried in the garden of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in order to protect it from the German occupiers. After the war it was placed first on the Coolsingel — with Erasmus and his pedestal in opposite directions! In 1964 the statue was moved to its final resting place (until now), the Grotekerkplein opposite St. Lawrence’s Church. In the 1990s the statue was removed for restoration purposes. It was reinstated on January 29, 1998.