On Nov. 16 the Library launched an exhibition appropriate for the day.
Opening on Dutch-American Heritage Day, "Leo Belgicus: The Dutch & Flemish World, 1500-1800" is an exhibition of approximately 70 early maps and other items primarily from the Library's Geography and Map Division. The exhibition, which was curated by Andrew Cosentino of the Interpretive Programs Office, recognizes the important contributions the Dutch and Flemish have made to world culture, as mapmakers and early explorers of the globe.
The exhibition was made possible with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands, the Netherland-America Foundation, Netherlands-American Amity Trust, Julian Redele, Harold Henriquez, minister plenipotentiary of the Netherlands Antilles, and the Flemish Community.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington opened the reception, held in the Geography and Map Division, by noting that the exhibition "illustrates the pivotal role of the Dutch and Flemish in the cartographic renaissance of the 16th and 17th centuries."
The Library's Dutch-language collections comprise nearly 200,000 items, making them the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere. "Through the conscientious efforts of our German/Dutch area specialist, Margrit B. Krewson, they are increasing annually by some 3,000 titles," he said.
Dr. Billington next introduced Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, the Netherlands ambassador to the United States. Mr. Jacobovits called "Leo Belgicus" the fruition of "a wonderful idea to dedicate an exhibition to two countries which through the centuries have been so closely linked.
"The exhibition shows Leo Belgicus roaring like never before," he joked.
Next to speak was Juan Cassiers, Belgian ambassador to the United States, who said, "All of us who care about the preservation of Western culture are grateful we have an institution like the Library of Congress, and that it displays its collections for our enjoyment."
The speeches were brought to a close by Ralph Ehrenberg, chief of the Geography and Map Division. He related how LC came to acquire such a rich collection of early Dutch and Flemish maps: Philip Lee Phillips, the first chief of the Map Division, began to collect 16th century Dutch and Flemish maps and atlases during three visits to Europe beginning in 1906, "which he made, as he noted in his annual reports, 'at no expense to government.' Since that time, the division has continued to collect actively in this area.
"Today," Mr. Ehrenberg continued, "the products of the Renaissance map-making trade that was centered in Antwerp and Amsterdam form the core of the Geography and Map Division's collection of 4.5 million maps and atlases and provided the materials for the exhibition that we open this evening."
"These maps are some of the 'jewels' of the Geography and Map Division's collections," said Ronald Grim, head of the Reference and Bibliography Section, during an interview after the opening. "These were some of the first examples of maps being printed. Before 1482, maps existed in manuscript form and thus were not available to a very wide audience. With the advent of the printing press, they became more widely available, although only to the wealthiest people. By the 1560s the Dutch and Flemish became very prolific mapmakers, and these maps were also works of art."
Philip Lee Philips, the first chief of the division, traveled to Europe in the 1910s and purchased many of the atlases. "Now they have become collectors' items," that would be too expensive for the Library to acquire today, said Dr. Grim. "Outside of Europe, we probably have the best collection of cartographic material from this time period."
"I think it is interesting that this exhibition followed the one we had on Landsat images," he added. In that exhibition, "we were dealing with one of the newest technologies in cartography. Here we are going back to another revolution, the beginnings of the printed atlas. These collections encompass the range of the division's collections."
Then the guests, many of whom were from Washington's Dutch and Flemish communities, were free to enjoy the beautifully drawn and colored maps and atlases on display that their ancestors had made centuries ago.