Predecessors of Bredius: Nicolaas de Roever and Adriaan de Vries


At the start of this year, the RKD successfully launched the Bredius notes crowdsourcing project. The aim of this project is to enlist the help of volunteers to provide the tens of thousands of excerpts made by Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) during his archival research with meta data. Once this process has been completed, the entire collection of Bredius notes will be digitally searchable in RKDexcerpts with unprecedented efficiency. That it should have been Bredius who gained fame through his archival notes was chiefly a matter of chance.

Two Amsterdam college friends

Even before Bredius made a name for himself as an archival researcher, Amsterdam college friends Nicolaas de Roever (1850-1893) and Adrianus Daniël de Vries (1851-1884) had already begun systematically going through archival material which was not accessible to the general public. De Roever and De Vries had met as law students in Amsterdam, but both opted to pursue a career in art history. In 1877, De Roever was appointed deputy archivist of the city of Amsterdam, and De Vries had been appointed deputy director of the Rijksprentenkabinet the year before. Because of the many archival finds, in 1883 they decided to found a journal dedicated to 'Old Dutch art, letters and arts industry, […], based on thorough research of source material', as Bredius later recorded. And so the Oud-Holland journal came into being.

1. Hendrik Johannes Haverman, Portrait of Abraham Bredius, signed and dated 1899, drawing in pencil and crayon on paper, RKD collection
2. Jan Veth, Portrait of Nicolaas de Roever, drawing in ink and pencil on paper, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
3. Petrus Johannes Arendzen, Portrait of Adriaan de Vries, etching and engraving printed on chine collé, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A worthy successor

Less than a year later, tragedy struck. De Vries, who was only 33, died after becoming unwell only days earlier. De Roever did not merely lose a dear friend, but also an esteemed colleague with whose help the painstaking research had become nothing short of a mission. De Roever was compelled to go in search of a successor – for the archival research as well as the editing of Oud-Holland – and he found one in Abraham Bredius. During the eight years that followed, De Roever and Bredius spent a lot of time in each other's company, and Bredius must have learned a great deal during the countless hours working alongside De Roever in the archives. Unfortunately, fate did not spare De Roever either. In 1893, he suffered a brain haemorrhage, from which he died at an early age. The 'In Memoriam' Bredius wrote in Oud-Holland in his honour, offers an interesting insight into their cooperation:

'And so we went to work, and I can honestly say: nothing, not even the smallest disagreement or slightest difference of opinion ever hampered our joint endeavours. I got to spend thousands of hours with my friend, in oftentimes inhospitable archive rooms, rummaging through dusty papers, and those were […] the happiest hours of my life. As I would sit opposite him, and with a look of utter joy exclaimed: 'Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Ryn, artful painter', when yet another new find presented itself to grace our collection [ …]. Yes, they were wonderful, unforgettable hours which I got to pass with De Roever in the archival attics of Amsterdam.'

With the tens of thousands of excerpts that flowed from Bredius' pen in the course of subsequent years, he proved himself a worthy successor of the Amsterdam college friends De Roever en De Vries. All of the data Bredius so meticulously recorded, often including location references, has given a huge boost to the research into seventeenth-century Dutch art. Enabling digital access to this remarkable material will once more greatly benefit future generations of art historians.


Anyone currently wishing to consult the archives can go to the online database RKDarchives, where the inventory of the entire Abraham Bredius Archive can be found. Besides clear descriptions of the different archival numbers, the inventory contains scans of all files from the series Aantekeningen schilders (Notes on painters) and Aantekeningen steden (Notes on cities). Until recently, these notes were only available as photocopies in the RKD reading room. In future the RKD hopes to add scans of estate inventories, which formed the basis of Bredius' Künstler-Inventare, to the archive inventory.

Green boxes and folders with photocopies of the Bredius notes in the reading room of the RKD