home   :    index    :    miscellaneous    :    article by Jona Lendering ©

Cornelis de Bruijn

Cornelis de Bruijn, after a painting by Godfrey Kneller.
Cornelis de Bruijn
painting by Godfrey Kneller (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
Cornelis de Bruijn (c.1652-1727) was a Dutch artist and traveler. He is best known for his drawings of the ruins of Persepolis, the first reliable pictures of this palace to be accessible for western scholars, but his visits also included the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Jerusalem, Russia and the East Indies. (The first part of this article can be found here.)

The East Indies

On 25 October 1705, Cornelis de Bruijn, having regained his health, boarded a vessel named Mydregt, which brought him from Gamron to the Dutch trading station Cochin in the southwest of India, where he stayed with officials of the VOC, the Dutch East-Indian Company. De Bruijn was surprised by the dolphins and flying fish. From Cochin, he reached the island of Ceylon or Sri Lanka, where the Dutch had several trading posts, like Galle on the isle's south cape. De Bruijn stayed here long enough to observe a crocodile hunt, and includes a long description of the natural wealth of the island in his Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies. After the celebration of Christmas and New Year he left Ceylon on 6 January 1706.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

The Aegean Sea
The Holy Land
Syria, Turkey, Italy
Home again
The East Indies
Last years



Gate of the Dutch settlement at Galle. Photo Jan van Vliet.
Gate of the Dutch settlement at Galle (Jan van Vliet; ©*)

Seven weeks later, the Mydregt had reached the port of Batavia, the Dutch capital in the East Indies (modern Jakarta). The trip had not been entirely without danger. In Europe, France was still fighting against the other countries in the War of Spanish Succession, and privateers were a risk.

Nor was Java, the main island in the Indonesian archipelago, peaceful. The VOC occupied Batavia and surroundings in the west, but the larger part of Java belonged to the kingdom of Mataram. Its king Amangkurat II had died, and his his brother Pangeran Puger and his son Amangkurat III contested the throne. Shortly before De Bruijn's arrival, Dutch troops had installed Puger, but his rival fled to eastern Java and launched a war against his uncle.

Copy of De Bruijn's portrait of Joan van Hoorn. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Holland).
Copy of De Bruijn's portrait of Joan van Hoorn (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

The new king still needed Dutch support and was forced to do many concessions; in fact, he had to give up all of western Java and allow the Dutch the right to go wherever they wanted in Mataram. The VOC was reorganizing its gains during De Bruijn's stay, and the war was still going on, so a visit to Mataram was impossible. In fact, De Bruijn's visit to Java was a bit of a disappointment.

The artist could stay on Struiswijk, the country estate of Joan van Hoorn, who was between 1704 and 1709 the Dutch governor-general. ("Struiswijk" was to become notorious as a prison and a Japanese POW-camp during the Second World War.) In return for the hospitality, De Bruijn painted his host's portrait, which has survived but is a bit damaged.

Cornelis de Bruijn's drawing of the Dusky Pademelon (Thylogale Brunii). From Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (1711).
De Bruijn's picture of the
"philander" (Dusky pademelon)

Van Hoorn was responsible for a major decision in the VOC's economic policy. Until then, Batavia had been a production center of pepper, sugar, and rice, and a trade center for silk, porcelain, muscat, and tea. Van Hoorn ordered that in addition, coffee was to be produced on western Java, which would break the monopoly of the Arabian traders of Mocca. A description of the way coffee is produced is included in the Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies.

One of the nicest aspects of De Bruijn's stay was a visit to the little zoo that a VOC-official named Cornelis Kastelein owned at a country estate in a village called Weltevreden. De Bruijn liked a little animal that had already been baptized philander ("friend of man"), a small, kangaroo-like marsupial that is now called Dusky pademelon or -if you prefer its official name- Thylogale Brunii, which means "De Bruijn's pademelon". His account is not without importance, because this little animal is now a threatened species; the only relict population is probably on New Guinea, east of Port Moresby.

Dusky pademelon
Dusky pademelon (©!!!)

Another aspect of De Bruijn's account of the East Indies is a description of the castles of coral and tropical fish near the island Edam, which was close to Batavia. He also describes the Chinese who had been settled in Batavia by the VOC and produced sugar cane, which was used for the production of sugar and arak (brandy). In July 1706, after the rain season, De Bruijn spent some time with the Sultan of Bantam, a still independent state in the far west of Java. He greatly admired the ballerina's.

Yet, De Bruijn's book offered little that was not already known to the officials of the VOC, and they must have been disappointed with these parts of Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies. Only for a general audience, it offered much entertaining information.

Cornelis de Bruijn's drawing of the isle of Hormuz. From Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (1711).

It seems that De Bruijn was not happy either, because he had plans to visit Coromandel in southeast India, but he was by now suffering from a skin affliction, painful legs, and troubles with his eyes, and decided that it was better to return home. Because the War of Spanish Succession was not yet over, the easiest route -circumnavigating Africa and continuing over the Atlantic- was impossible, so De Bruijn had to visit Persia and Russia again. He boarded the recently built Prins Eugenius (named after one of the commanders in the War of Spanish Succession), and on 25 August 1706, after a stay of a half year, De Bruijn started the return voyage. His luggage was sent by another ship.

The return

Because in the eighteenth century, longitude was still impossible to measure, navigation was difficult, and when the sailors of De Bruijn's ship spotted land in September, it turned out to be southern Arabia. However, on 12 October, they reached Gamron. De Bruijn visited Shiraz again, saw the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae (without realizing what it was), and returned to Isfahan, where he celebrated Christmas and New Year. On the first of March 1707, he continued to the north.

During the early summer, he crossed the Caspian Sea, reached Astrakhan, and moved upstream along the Volga to Saratov - suffering from shipwreck once. Over land, he continued to Vladimir, and arrived in Moscow, where met czar Peter again. Winter prevented De Bruijn from continuing his voyage, but on 10 February 1708, he left Moscow, taking the land route to Smolensk.

The East India House, Amsterdam. Photo Jona Lendering.
The East India House, Amsterdam

This turned out to be a mistake. The Great Northern war was still continuing and De Bruijn traveled straight into the vortex. The Swedish king Charles XII had already defeated the Danish and Polish armies, and in 1708, he invaded Russia. The retreating Russian army, employing the tactic of the scorched earth, destroyed everything it could. De Bruijn and his four English fellow travelers saw an utterly desolated country, and were in constant fear of Russian cavalry on pillaging missions and Swedish cavalry that had to prevent the destruction of everything.

Still, the travelers reached Smolensk and Minsk (in Poland), but before they could reach Vilnius, a group of Russian horsemen, believing the westerners to be spies, arrested them. Fortunately, an English officer in Russian service saved their lives. De Bruijn's old acquaintance Alexander Menshikov (above) suggested the travelers to return to Moscow.

The Hartenstraat in Amsterdam. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Hartenstraat in Amsterdam. De Bruijn's house cannot be identified

In the summer, De Bruijn returned to Archangelsk, and a ship called Hoogepriester Ašron brought him back to Holland. From 9 to 23 October, he stayed in Amsterdam, where he could pick up the luggage he had sent forward from Batavia. It had been stored in the headquarters of the VOC, the Oostindisch Huis (the East India House), for more than a year. This was not the least of Witsen's favors. On the twenty-fourth, De Bruijn arrived in The Hague, where his friends welcomed him.

Last years

During the next years, De Bruijn lived on several places in Holland. In 1709-1710, he had a cabinet in a house in the Hartenstraat in Amsterdam, where he received his benefactor Nicolaes Witsen and Gisbert Cuper, the man who had allowed him to copy a painting of Palmyra. Cuper and De Bruijn later exchanged letters about the cuneiform script from Persepolis. The artist is also known to have lived on the Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam's famous canals, in 1711; in 1712, he lived just outside Haarlem. 

The Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. De Bruijn lived in one of these houses. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. De Bruijn lived in the second, third or fourth house from the left.

De Bruijn was now preparing his second book and masterpiece: Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies; 1711). The book is dedicated a German nobleman from Frankfurt named Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734), which is a bit surprising: Nicolaes Witsen had done a lot for De Bruijn, and was known to appreciate book dedications.

The Travels are a splendid book, and a lot more ambitious than De Bruijn's first publication. It has 482 pages and 300 illustrations, including several fold-outs. The drawings were excellent: in fact, until the first photographers visited Persepolis in the twentieth century, De Bruijn's pictures were among the best that were available. Confident that this book would be an even bigger success than his first publication, the artist ordered 1000 copies to be printed. 

Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (1711).
Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies (rebound first edition)

The book should have been a success, but it wasn't. Although the reviews in the Acta eruditorum and Journal des SÁavans were again favorable, only 240 copies were sold in three years. One reason was the war. The Dutch had not been able to interfere in the Great Northern war and were unable to maintain their monopoly on cheap Prussian grain. The "Golden Age" of Holland was over, and the people knew. There was not much enthusiasm for an expensive book.

Besides, De Bruijn had competitors. Between 1664 and 1667, the French travelers Jean de Thťvenot (1633-1667) and Jean Chardin (1643-1713) had done some serious research at Persepolis too. Thťvenot's careless remarks had already been published in 1664 (without illustrations), but Chardin's Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l' OriŽnt, which was based on the same observations as Thťvenot's book, appeared at the same time as De Bruijn's Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie. One year later, in 1712, a German physicist named Engelbert Kšmpfer (1651-1716) published another account of Persepolis in his Amoenitates exoticarum. He had been in Persia in 1684-1685, and had also visited southern India, the East Indies and Japan. The three books were aimed at the same audience, and as a result, none of them sold really well. De Bruijn did not believe a French translation was possible.

Page from Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (1711).
Page from the Travels: the history of Achaemenid Empire

In 1713, Gisbert Cuper wrote to De Bruijn, asking him to explain why there were differences between his pictures of Persepolis and the illustrations by Chardin and Kšmpfer. For De Bruijn, this was an opportunity to publish a third book, a small one this time, Aenmerkingen Over de Printverbeeldingen van de Overblijfzelen van het Oude Persepolis (Remarks about the Illustrations of the Ruins of Ancient Persepolis; 1714). De Bruijn convincingly showed how his rivals, who were not professional artists and had only briefly visited in Persepolis, had made mistakes.

From this moment on, Cornelis de Bruijn's life is hard to reconstruct, but it appears that the lack of success of his second book caused financial problems. When Nicolaes Witsen died in 1717, he owned several oriental drawings by De Bruijn, which suggests that the mayor had found a way to slip some money to the artist without the resemblance of charity. It is known that in 1714, De Bruijn left all unsold copies to a bookseller named Hendrik Wetstein, who was able to sell 468 French Travels in the Principal Parts of Asia Minor by auction. 760 copies of the Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies were bound again and sold as a second edition; there was also a "real" second edition of lesser quality, which was soon sold out. In 1718, the book was translated into French. One wonders what would have happened if De Bruijn had been able to postpone the transfer of the unsold copy to Wetstein a few more years.

Posthumous portait of De Bruijn, based on the painting by Godfrey Kneller. From Johan van Gool, Nieuwe Schouburg (1750).
Posthumous portrait of De  Bruijn, based on the painting  by Godfrey Kneller. From Johan van Gool, Nieuwe Schouburg (1750)

In 1719-1720, De Bruijn seems to have lived in The Hague again, because he is mentioned in the archives of the painters' academy. Unfortunately, old age was not kind to the artist. Jacob Campo Weyerman (1677-1747), one of the spokesmen of the Dutch Enlightenment, tells in a collection of biographies that the "the famous Cornelis de Bruijn lived in a small house" in a village named Vianen and "was forced to continue to spin out the thread of his life", but unfortunately "with less comfort than his age demanded". De Bruijn's final years were even worse than these words suggest. Although Vianen was in the heart of the Dutch Republic, it belonged to the German county of Lippe and was outside the jurisdiction of the Estates General. The town, therefore, became a notorious asylum for criminals and creditors. Nobody was happy with this situation, and in 1725 count Simon Heinrich Adolf zu Lippe-Detmold sold the town to Holland.

Etching of Zijdebalen by DaniŽl Stoopendaal (1719). Photo by C. de Jonge for Museum Maarssen.
Etching of "Zijdebalen" by DaniŽl Stoopendaal (1719). Photo by  C. de Jonge for Museum Maarssen (©!!!)

The last voyage of the 73 years old bankrupt was from Vianen to the country house of his friend David van Mollem, Zijdebalen, just north of the city of Utrecht. Here, De Bruijn spent his days until he died in 1726 or 1727. Weyerman says that Van Mollem gave the "the tired and completely exhausted traveler" the things he needed, but "charity is insufficient to give a man serenity, which is a blessing that only Heaven can give". Another biographer, Johan van Gool, tells that "at the end of his life, De Bruijn behaved so strange and intractable that his company became unpleasant".

Van Mollem's mansion was internationally famous for its garden, and it is to be hoped that the poor artist could still appreciate nature's beauty and find some comfort.



  • Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn door de vermaardste Deelen van Klein Asia (1698)
    • Corneille le Brun, Voyage au Levant (1700)
    • Corneille le Brun, A Voyage to the Levant: or Travels in the Principal Parts of Asia Minor (1702)
  • Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie (1711)
    • Voyages de Corneille le Brun par la Moscovie, en Perse, et aux Indes Occidentales (1718)
    • Corneille le Brun, Voyage to the Levant and Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies (1720)
    • C. le Brun, An Abstract of M.C. Le Brun's Travels through Russia (1722)
    • Puteshestvie cerez Moskouviju Kornelija de Brujna (1873)
  • Aenmerkingen Over de Printverbeeldingen van de Overblijfzelen van het Oude Persepolis (1714)
Other English translations appeared in 1737, 1759, and 1873.


  • J.W. Drijvers, J. de Hond, H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg (eds.): "Ik hadde de nieusgierigheid". De reizen door het Nabije Oosten van Cornelis de Bruijn (ca.1652-1727) (1997 Leiden and Leuven)
  • Jan de Hond, "Cornelis de Bruijn (1652-1726/27). A Dutch Painter in the East", in: G.J. van Gelder, E. de Moor (eds.), Eastward Bound. Dutch Ventures and Adventures in the Middle East, Orientations 2 (London/Atlanta 1994), pp. 51-81
  • G. Jurriaans-Helle (ed.), Cornelis de Bruijn. Voyages from Rome to Jerusalem and from Moscow to Batavia (Catalogue of an exposition in the Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam, 1998)
The author of this article likes to express his gratitude to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Historisch Museum of Deventer, Wouter Visser, Dick van Zoonen, and the late Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg. 

 home   :    index    :    miscellaneous