The shoemaker who did not stick to his trade

Jacob Böhme was a shoemaker by profession, but a writer by vocation. In 1600 he had an intuition that granted him an all-encompassing insight into the secrets of nature and the cosmos. It took him more than ten years to express this vision in his first work, Aurora. When this manuscript began circulating and became immediately popular, it was confiscated by the local authorities in 1613 and its author placed under a writing ban. Yet, this did not stop him from writing over thirty works during his lifetime. Böhme was a champion of toleration: he was an outspoken opponent of war, violence and the persecution of minorities.

International collaboration

This international project was launched by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) in 2017 when it presented in the Palace Chapel in Dresden the exhibition ‘ALL IN ALL. The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme’. The Embassy of the Free Mind (EFM) contributed to the Dresden exhibition by loaning historical books and manuscripts. For this Amsterdam edition the EFM draws even more extensively on its own collection.

What’s there to see?

The exhibition draws visitors inside Böhme’s conceptual world by posing some of the evocative questions he asked in his books, such as ‘Do you think God is only the God of Christians?’ and ‘What do you think the earth and stars are made of?’ The answers Böhme himself found are developed in the themes Nature, Opposition, Fall, Creation, Rebirth and Freedom.

The exhibition also invites visitors to explore Böhme’s ideas by immersing themselves in the beautiful and complex imagery in his books, made by artists who sought to visualise his abstract ideas. Last but not least, it offers interactive touchscreens, including a symbolic portrait of Jacob Böhme, his own manuscript of Aurora, the amazing pop-up illustrations in the 18th-century English edition of his works and a map of Amsterdam charting all the printers and booksellers who can be associated with Böhme.

Which stories are told?

The exhibition EYE FOR THE WORLD tells adventurous stories. One of them is about how Böhme’s manuscripts found their way to Amsterdam in a chest of books and a convoy that was robbed. Another one deals with how Abraham Willemszoon van Beyerland, who translated Böhme’s manuscripts, had them printed at his own expense and distributed them himself, thus making Böhme’s works available after the latter’s death.

Then there is the story of the remarkable coincidence that Aurora was not only the first book Böhme wrote, but also the first book (in Dutch translation) of the rich collection of the Embassy of the Free Mind. Amsterdam became Böhme’s gateway to the world