1660-1680 Scholarship in the Republic

In addition to the famous artists and maritime heroes, the Dutch Golden Age also produced several internationally renowned scholars. Many were not just thinkers, they were doers too.


Eminent scholar and inventor

Portrait of Christiaan Huygens. Gerard Edelinck, c. 1650-1700

Comets of 1742 and 1744. Jan de Groot, 1744

Christiaan Huygens devoted his efforts to mathematics, astronomy and physics. It was Huygens who developed the theory that light consists of waves. In 1655, he discovered Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons. Later, he made lenses for telescopes that had an unprecedented focal length. This made it possible to see objects in far greater detail, such as the rings around Saturn. Because these instruments were often cumbersome, he also devised auxiliary pieces and succeeded in setting up the objective and the eye lens without requiring a tube.

His most famous invention was a pendulum clock that improved the accuracy of timekeeping enormously. His fame led in 1666 to an invitation from Louis XIV to head the new Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris.

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Autodidact and famous scholar

Portrait of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek. Jan Verkolje I, c. 1670-1690

Plate with a portrait of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek. Delft, c. 1725-1750

Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek developed his own lenses to examine the fabrics he bought and sold as a merchant. He designed a superior microscope to study other subjects. This was how he found tiny creatures that no one had ever previously seen, such as bacteria and spermatozoids. He became well known as a result of his contact with the English Royal Society. In London, his Dutch letters were translated into English and Latin. In 1676, his credibility was questioned when he announced his discovery of single-cell organisms. A visitation committee went to see him in the Republic and confirmed his findings. Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopic discoveries led to new scientific breakthroughs and confirmed his status as one of the giants of scholarship of his day.


Cartographer and globe-maker

World map from _Atlas Maior_ by Joan Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1662

World map from Atlas Maior by Joan Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1662

Willem Jansz Blaeu was an accomplished cartographer and instrument maker whose clients included the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. In 1596, he settled in Amsterdam as a globe-maker and cartographer. He began publishing a nautical guide in 1608, and this was to dominate the European market for years. His first independent atlas appeared in 1630. When Blaeu was appointed cartographer to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1633, his firm had reached the very top. The Blaeu family published guides, globes, wind charts and atlases. They also earned considerable sums publishing prints and Bibles for the international market. His son, Joan Blaeu continued the business. He expanded the original atlas into the 11-volume, world famous Atlas Maior. He was also appointed as a justice in Amsterdam. A major fire at the print shop in the winter of 1672-1673 brought a premature end to the Blaeu firm.