PORTRAIT OF GERARD MEERMAN
Gerard Meerman (1722-1771), a rich Rotterdam syndicus, had his finest hour in 1764 when he bought an almost complete collection of manuscripts from the suppressed Jesuit college in Paris. The famous collection comprised hundreds of medieval Greek and Latin manuscripts. After the sale had been concluded the French Crown rose up in arms and the whole collection was seized. Subsequently a settlement was arranged and permission was granted to transport the manuscripts to Rotterdam. It was agreed that Meerman would present 37 manuscripts to the French king; in return the king would bestow the Order of St. Michel on Meerman.
By the age of twenty Gerard Meerman had already started collecting books, particularly in the field of Roman law; later he extended his collecting interests. In particular he applied himself to the acquisition of medieval manuscripts and objects from the earliest years of printing. He made use of diplomatic missions to England to carry out research in a variety of libraries and he acquired innumerable rare works at auctions and from antiquarian booksellers at home and abroad. In 1755, for instance, he bought the manuscript of Jacob van Maerlant’s Rijmbijbel [Rhymed Bible] (which had been completed in 1332) from the estate of the Enkhuizen minister, Thade Muil. This is now one of the treasures of the Museum Meermanno.
In this portrait, painted circa 1761 by Jean Baptist Perronneau, we do not only encounter a grey-beard collector, but also someone who thoroughly studied the books he purchased. For example, in 1765 Gerard Meerman published a major study on the invention and early history of printing, the Origines typographicae. The portrait of Meerman reproduced here served as a model for the engraving that was included as frontispiece to this study.
Meerman died at the age of 49, during a course of treatment at the Spa of Aix-la-Chapelle.