From the Fine Art Connoisseur May/June 2023 Editor’s Note:
One never knows what’s next with COVID-19 or public health generally, but it feels like things are really getting back to normal. We are delighted that Fine Art Connoisseur’s beloved travel program — paused in 2020 due to you-know-what — will restart this October when our merry art lovers explore Stockholm and then Madrid with us. (Yes, you read that right — two great art capitals linked by one speedy nonstop flight. For details, e-mail [email protected].)
Now, as we turn our calendars to May, I realize that my first trip to Europe after COVID occurred last May, when I visited Italy and the Netherlands. I have lots of jolly memories from that trip, but one that sprang to mind yesterday was a walk through an extraordinary museum in Amsterdam, kindly led by Jozef Ritman, son of its founder and now its chairman and general director.
Located in an impressive historic house on one of the city’s loveliest canals, the Embassy of the Free Mind got its start in 1957 as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH). That collection of what is now 30,000 rare volumes covers a huge range of topics, from alchemy and theosophy to Sufism, Kabbalah, Freemasonry, and the Holy Grail. In 2017, founder Joost Ritman was joined by the author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) and other benefactors to open EFM’s newly renovated home, which is well equipped not only with library shelving, but also with handsome exhibition spaces, seminar rooms, and a research institute.
EFM is by no means all books and texts; there’s a lot for art lovers to enjoy, whether or not you know what a tarot card is. Frankly, I did not know much about this field when I arrived. But during the tour, I recalled that many of the artists I have studied — 19th-century British masters like J.W. Waterhouse and Edward Burne-Jones — were deeply engaged with alternative belief systems. Often they consulted magnificently illuminated volumes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance for inspiration, similar to those now available for study at EFM. A key priority for them was the search for wisdom, for reassurance in a confusing world where mainstream institutions don’t have all the answers. Of course, that’s still important for many artists and other creatives, so if you’re heading to Amsterdam this year (hurry, the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeer blockbuster closes June 4), do stop by the Embassy of the Free Mind.
“Discovering” it was one more reason I loved that European trip last spring, and why I’m eager to get back on a plane soon. Art and travel have always been linked, and now it’s time to get moving again, if we have not already.
See you at the airport.
What are your thoughts? Share your letter to the Editor below in the comments.