Masters of Mobility


9.2 Willem Beurs’ 'Die Grosse Welt ins klein abgemahlet' (1693)

The success of the translations of Goeree’s books was possibly the direct reason for the publication of a German translation of another Dutch art treatise. In 1693 the German translation of De groote waereld in 't kleen geschildert by Willem Beurs (Dordrecht 1656 -Zwolle 1700) [9] was published in Amsterdam by Johannes and Gilles Janssonius (or Janszoons) van Waesberge [10]. Again, the turnover was remarkable, as the editio princeps had only seen the light the previous year.

Different from Willem Goeree, whose main activity was as publisher and author, Willem Beurs worked as a painter himself. Arnold Houbraken tells us that he painted landscapes, portraits and flower pieces in Deventer, Amsterdam and Zwolle.1 In the introductory chapter of De Groote Waereld, Beurs shows a keen interest in science, most notably in Robert Boyle’s research on optics and colours.2 Although his interest in and knowledge of Boyle and the work of other scientists can occasionally be read through the lines (with the exception of a couple of rare explicit references), the rest of the treatise is very practical in nature, focusing on the characteristics and preparation of particular pigments and their application in relation to specific elements and objects in a painting. As such, the focus of Beurs’ text is close to Gerard Ter Brugghen’s Verlichtery kunst-boeck and Goeree’s Verlichtery-konst. The Dutch edition of De Groote Waereld is dedicated to four bourgeois dilettantes from the provincial city of Zwolle, who were Beurs’ pupils.3 This dedication – which is omitted in the German translation – further underlines the instructional purpose of the text.

In the case of this German translation the driving force behind the rapid translation appears to have been the publisher, rather than the translator. The brothers Johannes and Gilles Janssonius van Waesberge had recently inherited the well-established publishing house from their father. As it turns out, they were Willem Goeree’s brothers-in-law.4 Goeree’s relationship with his father-in-law had been excellent: Van Waesberge had convinced Goeree to move his publishing business from Middelburg to Amsterdam and they collaborated on several publications. However, after the death of both Johannes van Waesberge senior (in 1681) and Goeree’s spouse Elisabeth (in 1683), relations quickly turned sour. Accusations and claims (in relation to the inheritance) went back and forth – even finding their way into the forewords of some publications of both publishing houses – causing great distress on both sides.5 The success of Goeree’s publications – both the Dutch editions and the translations – must have been a source of great envy and annoyance to Johannes junior and Gilles. On a less personal level, it also revealed the willingness of the German market to buy translations of Dutch texts on art. With the publication of Willem Beurs’s book, they followed in the footsteps of their despised brother-in-law and published their first book on art. Moreover, they decided to publish a German translation the following year. In contrast to Von Zesen’s translation of Goeree, the translator of Beurs’ book is anonymous and not very present in the translation. He stayed very close to the Dutch original.6

As is frequently the case with early modern publications, it is difficult to establish the exact audience of the book and its translation. If anything, this curious case of rivalry between two publishers, demonstrates that there was money to be made in the translation of Dutch art literature. Even though Die Grosse Welt ins klein abgemahlet had only one edition, we may assume that to a certain degree its contents became part of the vocabulary of German artists and connoisseurs. In fact, the relatively practical nature of Goeree’s and Beurs’ manuals on art was unique in the German lands during this period.


Anonymous, Willem Beurs’ De groote waereld in 't kleen geschildert… (frontispiece, 1692), engraving


Willem Beurs’ Die Grosse Welt ins klein abgemahlet… (title page, 1693)


1 Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 354-365.

2 Lisa Wiersma is currently (since 2016) working on a PhD thesis on Willem Beurs’ Groote waereld at the University of Utrecht in the NICAS project 'Recipes and Realities, An analysis of texture rendering in still-life painting and the pictorial procedures of Willem Beurs', under supervision of Jeroen Stumpel. The project team will also publish an annotated English translation of the treatise: Beurs/Scholz et al. 2019 (forthcoming).

3 Sophia Holt, Cornelia van Marlen, Aleyda Greven, and Anna Cornelia Holt (De Jong 1998).

4 Kwakkelstein 1998, p. 17-18.

5 Kwakkelstein 1998, p. 18-20.

6 This in contrast to translations in which the translator introduces himself and actively shows his considerations and reflections (Prigot 2017).

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