American novelist Dan Brown has donated €300,000 to a little-known Dutch library of hermetic books and manuscripts where he researched many of his worldwide bestsellers – including The Lost Symbol and Inferno – to help digitise its priceless collection.
It turns out that Brown has been a low-key visitor over the years to the Ritman Library, also known as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, in the centre of Amsterdam, which houses a remarkable collection of texts on mysticism dating back to the 15th century.
In a message posted on YouTube, the author describes the library as “one of the greatest repositories on Earth” of works related to the Renaissance hermetic and magical tradition, as well as the Jewish Kabala, Sufism, and seventeenth-century Rosicrucianism.
It was “a great honour”, he said, to be able to contribute to the digitisation project, which means 4,600 of the library’s treasures that were printed prior to 1900, and some even dating to before 1800, will be digitised and available to the public online by spring 2017.
In total, the library has a collection of some 25,000 books covering "5,000 years of Western spirituality", including rare volumes by the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who laid the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment.
Among its irreplaceable jewels are the first illustrated edition of Dante’s La Divina Commedia, dating to 1481, and a copy of Cicero’s De Oficiis printed in 1465.
The library – regarded as one of the finest collections of rare books in the world – was opened in 1984 by businessman Joost Ritman, who began collecting as a child when his mother gave him a 17th-century edition of The Aurora by German Christian mystic Jacob Böhme.
His daughter, Esther Ritman, director of the library, said Brown's donation was his way of saying "thank you" for the privacy the institution had given him and the inspiration he had found there.
“Dan Brown is a friend of the library”, she said. “We all know him well because he often does research here. Even so, this was a wonderful surprise.
“Our library is a treasure house of the human mind. It is a home to anyone seeking inspiration from the power of thought. It’s where Dan Brown found that inspiration.”
The digitisation will be part-funded by the Prince Claus Culture Fund to the tune of €15,000, and marks the transition from a once-private library to a Dutch public institution whose treasures are known around the world.
Part of that will be a move from the library’s current home to the Huis met de Hoofden or “House with Heads”, one of the best-known canal houses in Amsterdam, which dates to 1622 and features carved stone images of Apollo, Diana, Ceres, Bacchus, Minerva and Mercury.
Given Brown’s prominence as an alumnus of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World”, credited with “keeping the publishing industry afloat”, it’s certain that the Ritman Library’s days as “little-known” are now over.