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Carel’s Universe: Leiden museums depict Carel Stolker’s rectorship

Ten Leiden museums and heritage institutions have curated the online exhibition ‘Carel’s Universe’. They selected objects from their collections that symbolise retiring Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker and the research in Leiden. With direct references, playful associations and the odd nod and wink.

Carel’s Universe commemorates the retirement of Professor Carel Stolker, on 8 February 2021, as Rector Magnificus and President of the Executive Board of Leiden University. Stolker has supported many heritage initiative and was often to be seen at one of Leiden’s many museums. As the longest-serving Rector (2013-2021) in the history of Leiden University, he has also made his mark.

Het Donderkerkje. Model van hout, gemaakt door John Cuthbertson, 1780, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave.
Wooden model made by John Cuthbertson,1780, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave.

'Thunder church'

The exhibition includes the 18th century ‘Thunder Church’ from Museum Boerhaave, which scientists used to demonstrate the benefit of a lightning rod. In various interviews Stolker has declared that as Rector you have to be ‘a little bit in love’ with the wide range of disciplines at the University, from the study of Arabic manuscripts to zoological research. The exhibition reflects this love with objects such as a rare Arabic manuscript from the University Library and a specimen of a squid from Naturalis from the collection of former Rector Brugmans.

New Executive Board

The exhibition also looks ahead to Stolker’s successors. A unique Greek vase with the goddess Athena (Museum of Antiquities) refers to Professor Hester Bijl, who, on 8 February, will become the first female Rector in the history of Leiden University. Professor Annetje Ottow will be the new President of the Executive Board and Martijn Ridderbos will continue in his role as Vice-Chairman.

Territory Dress, Susan Stockwell, 2018, collectie Museum Volkenkunde/Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen.
Territory Dress, Susan Stockwell, 2018, collection Museum Volkenkunde/Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen.

Centre of museums and collections

Academic collections form the basis of all the Leiden museums, and this heritage is reflected in all their different collections. This exhibition, curated by Pieter ter Keurs, Professor of Museums, Collections and Society, is therefore also an ode to Leiden as city of science and city of museums and collections.

Participating museums and heritage institutions

The participating Leiden museums and heritage partners are: Erfgoed Leiden, Japanmuseum Sieboldhuis, Museum De Lakenhal, Museum Volkenkunde/the National Museum of Ethnology, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. The University’s Academic Historical Museum, Hortus botanicus Leiden and Leiden University Libraries also contributed to the exhibition.

Carel Stolker

Only online

The exhibition was initially intended for the monumental hall of Oude UB, the building in which Carel Stolker spent eight years working as Rector and President. Owing to the coronavirus measures, Carel’s Universe is now only online instead.  

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