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Rijksmuseum unveils 18th-century South Africa through comprehensive digital portrait
Hippopotamus amphibius capensis (Nijlpaard), Robert Jacob Gordon, ca. 1777.


AMSTERDAM.- Today the Rijksmuseum launched www.robertjacobgordon.nl through which all of Robert Jacob Gordon’s drawings, diaries and letters are made accessible to all for the first time.

The 18th-century Dutch explorer documented South Africa’s inhabitants, flora and fauna in more than 450 detailed drawings. He meticulously noted down in his diaries and letters everything he experienced during his expeditions. The drawings, which include unique 8-metre-long panoramas, form part of the collection at the Rijksmuseum. The diaries and letters are kept in the Brendhurst Library in Johannesburg.

On the occasion of the exhibition Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600, all of Gordon’s diaries and drawings are reunited for the first time and thus present a comprehensive view of 18th-century South Africa.

Zoom in on 18th-century South Africa
Through www.robertjacobgordon.nl, visitors are given a complete portrait of what Gordon encountered, and where. The site enables visitors to zoom in on the 18th-century maps Gordon created alongside contemporary South Africa via Google Maps. The comparison revealed the uncanny accuracy of Gordon’s measurements. His diaries and letters are also made available digitally for the first time via the website. Gordon’s travel notes, discovered in 1960, are kept in the Brandhurst Library in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through the website, these documents are made accessible for the first time. The original texts have been transcribed and translated into English for the occasion, with special functions linking Gordon’s texts to his drawings.

Robert Jacob Gordon
The 18th-century Dutch scientist Robert Jacob Gordon (1743-1795) travelled through the interior of South Africa during the second half of the 18th century. As a zoologist, cartographer, geographer, linguist, meteorologist and anthropologist, he recorded his discoveries in an ‘Atlas’ – a treasure trove of 450 drawings along with spectacular panoramas, multiple metres in length, that show precisely how Gordon portrayed the land, its inhabitants and the flora and fauna. To record all of this in words and in pictures, he made four extensive expeditions deep into the interior of South Africa, where he was frequently the mediator between the local people and the colonists, resolving conflicts arisen from arson, murders and cattle thefts. As a representative of the European Enlightenment, Gordon poured his knowledge and expertise into the creation of ‘Great Map’, his compendium which remained unfinished due to his suicide in 1795 post the British invasion. A large number of Gordon’s drawings and metres-long, meticulously drawn panoramas can be seen in Rijksmuseum’s exhibition, Good Hope. South Africa & The Netherlands from 1600 (17 February to 21 May 2017).






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