Seeing Makes One Think

On 30 August 1655, Caspar Schmalkalden of Gotha (1616-1673) penned the Dutch proverb “Aensien doet gedenken” in the Liber amicorum of Johann Günther Kirchberger (1628-1674), his brother-in-law. The meaning of the proverb was clear. Experiencing the wider world provides food for thought. Schmalkalden was a German-born soldier in service to the Dutch and had spent the previous twenty years years traveling and working in South America (chiefly Brazil and Chile) and the East Indies, Taiwan, and Japan. At age thirty-nine, after his world travels, he returned to his native Gotha (Thuringia), a small city located about 20 kilometers west of Erfurt, and on 30 January 1655 married Susanna Christina Kirchberger, the sister of Johann Günther Kirchberger. Later that year, he filled a page near the end of the latter’s Liber amicorum (C0938, no. 755), a recent addition to the Manuscripts Division. In addition to the Dutch proverb and personal sentiments in Latin, Schmalkalden added a line drawing of two Chinese scholars in academic garb and a Chinese inscription phonetically spelling out the name Caspar and the word servant, as in the old English valediction, “Your obedient servant.” See image below. Schmalkalden had probably learned how to write his name in Chinese during his years on Taiwan (1648-1650), then under Dutch control. He also illustrated his travel journals, several of which have been published, with drawings and watercolors of the places he visited and people he met or observed. (Thanks to Minjie Chen, Project Cataloger, East Asian Collections, for deciphering the inscription.)

Northern European university students, especially from Germany and the Low Countries, from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, kept small bound albums in which their classmates, friends, neighbors, and people they met in their travels contributed personal sentiments, pithy sayings, brief quotations, verses, emblematic drawings, coats of arms, and other illustrations. Each volume was called a Liber amicorum or Album amicorum, meaning “album of friends.” The recently acquired Kirchberger Liber amicorum is actually a double-album, still in a contemporary dos-à-dos binding. The first half was kept by Anton Günther Kirchberger (1588-1652?), beginning around age twenty, but adding a full-page autobiographical introduction in later years; and the second half was kept by his son Johann Günther Kirchberger, including Schmalkalden’s entry. There are more than five hundred entries from people in Augsburg, Erfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Giessen, Hamburg, Jena, Tübingen, Magdeburg, and other places, 1608-1660s, with innumerable colored coats of arms, allegorical and costume illustrations, and even a landscape.

In addition to the Kirchberger double-album, the Manuscripts Division has five other Libri amicorum: Georg Brandstetter of Vienna, chiefly kept at the University of Perugia, 1595-1598 (Princeton MS. 251); Johann Stade, 1589-1614, with references to Regensburg, Eberstein, and Hallegg (C0199, no. 603); Georg Gottlob von Dobschütz, Oberlausitz (Saxony), 1651-1667 (C0199, no. 602); and the Winter family, Dresden, 1789-1795 (C0199, no. 604). Libri amicorum provide insight into academic student life, social networks, emblem books, heraldry, costume, readership, and other subjects.

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Caspar Schmalkalden, Drawing and inscriptions (C0938, no. 755).

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