A Luxurious Travel Journal

These days it is easy to decide which new place or country you want to visit. You can book a flight online or browse the internet for pictures of the place you want to see. Imagine how it would be for people living in the seventeenth century. In this period, there were still some parts of the world undiscovered. Because of this, there were many explorers who wanted to travel the world and map uncharted areas.

For this reason, the literary genre ‘travel journal’ or ‘travel description’ became very popular. The main element in travel journals are travel experiences of a realised journey. One of the travel journals in the collection of The Royal Netherlands Institute Rome is Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn (see the Book description for the full title) written in 1698 by Cornelis de Bruyn (The Hague 1652 – 1727). The book is divided into four parts (four books) of his journey: Asia Minor, Egypt, the Holy Land, and Syria.

De Bruyn left the Netherlands in 1674 to make his first long journey of nineteen years. Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn (fig. 1) was his first journey and he included his experiences in this book. During his travel De Bruyn made hundreds of drawings and paintings. Most of his work has survived in the form of engravings illustrating his travel accounts. De Bruyn also took accurate measurements of the monuments he visited and made notes.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Title-page of Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn

At the beginning of the book De Bruyn included a list with names of people who pre-ordered the book. This means that De Bruyn had a clear vision of his audience and how he wanted to structure the book. I am going to focus on four aspects of Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn: its appearance, engravings, decorations and guiding tools, in order to illustrate the richness of this book.


The binding of the book is made of old mottled calfskin (vellum). Along the margins are thin meanders, a decorative motive, in gilt. The spine is also tooled in gilt. The appearance of the book illustrates that it is a valuable book, especially the golden decorations. This book is printed in folio format and considered to be a big book, mainly because of the two hundred richly detailed engravings in various formats and the size. The book has 398 pages: the book is, therefore, heavy and one cannot bring it everywhere with him/her. This precious binding and size of the book indicate that it is an expensive book and is probably meant as a showpiece, in the sense that the owner could demonstrate how much money (s)he had.


The engravings have different formats. There are 11 full sheet, 25 two-paged, 103 half-paged, 21 fold-out and 40 quarter-sized engravings. The engraving of Constantinople is the biggest engraving in the book. Large illustrations have an impact on the enjoyment of the viewer, in the sense that it surprises the viewer when a large engraving is being fold-out and eventually is bigger than the size of the book itself. These illustrations increase the grandeur of the book. Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn was made for a particular market, namely rich people. The list at the beginning also gives an indication for the intended audience, because they bought the book for the illustrations.

The subjects of the engravings are very diverse and have a direct link with the format of the book. It varies from panoramic views, animals, landscapes, traditional clothing, and the interior of buildings. The size of an engraving differs according to the subject depicted on it. For example, panoramic views are fold-out or two-paged long to illustrate the grandeur of a place.

The engravings have a specific purpose, and are not merely for decoration, namely to give a visual representation of the description De Bruyn is giving. The two hundred engravings are considered highly valuable, because making an engraving is time consuming and very precise work with many details.


The book does not have many decorations. The first couple of pages have decorative initials. In the middle ages, some decorative initials were considered more important than others and they helped the reader to consider which parts of the text were important. De Bruyn perhaps got inspired by this concept to include decorative initials in his book. The book has only a few decorative initials at the beginning of the book. The most important initial in the book is the historiated initial, which is a letter surrounded by a representation with living figures. De Bruyn included a historiated initial at the beginning of the first chapter (fig. 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2 Historiated initial

The second most important initials are uninhabited initials, which are letters surrounded by none-living things as plants (fig. 3). De Bruyn included these in various sizes. The initial on fig. 4 is considered more important than the initial on fig. 5. Strikingly, the decorative initials stop after the first chapter. Undecorated capitals are now used to mark the beginning of a new text (fig. 6). This illustrates that De Bruyn did not have enough money to pay the printer for marking every chapter with a decorative initial. He and the printer maybe decided to include a few decorated initials to enrich the book, but they regarded the engravings as the most important elements.

Figure 4
Figure 3 Uninhabited initial





Guiding tools

De Bruyn also inserted some guiding tools in his book for his audience. He inserted for example subject words in the margins (fig. 7). He probably did this to guide and help the reader to find certain passages. He also included a register at the end of the book, so the reader could look up specific places (fig. 7). All these elements of the book increase the value of the book, because it became more time consuming to print the book.

Figure 7
Figure 7 Subject words in the margins and register

As you can see Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn is a large and richly illustrated book. The appearance of the book is grand, precious, and heavy. The many engravings emphasize the value of the book and indicate that it was meant for a specific audience. This was an audience that was interested in illustrations and who would use the book as a showpiece. De Bruyn also thought about using decorated initials, but the engravings became his main focus. If all the capitals would have been decorated than the book would be even more valuable. De Bruyn made sure that his book was of good quality and that people would take a closer look at the engravings based on his own observations. After all his entire journey lasted nineteen years.

Jyoti Ramsamoedj (1996) has a degree in Dutch language and culture and is currently a master student Book Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She has an interest in old books, the market of books and book history.

Book description

KNIR SIGNATURE: Pregiato Folio MR127 Reizen/Bruyn

SHORT TITLE: Cornelis de Bruyn, Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn. Delft: Henrik van Krooneveld, 1698.

SIZE: 35 x 20 cm
TITLE: Reizen Van Cornelis de Bruyn, Door de vermaardste Deelen van Klein Asia, De Eylanden Scio, Rhodus, Cyprus, Metelino, Stanchio, &c. Mitsgaders de voornaamste Steden van Ægypten, Syrien En Palestina, Verrijkt met meer als 200. kopere Konstplaaten, vertoonende de beroemdste Landschappen, Steden, &c. Alles door den Autheur selfs na het leven afgetekend. Tot Delft, Gedrukt by Henrik van Krooneveld, MDCXCVIII. Met Privilege, B: Vandekeere, deynze.

COLLATION: 2˚ : π2 *4 **4 ***1 A-Z4 Aa-Zz4 Aaa-Eee4

DESCRIPTION: Bound in vellum, blind-stamped in the centerpiece of the boards. Owner’s signature on title page: “Deze boek behoord aan mijn broeder Jan Albert VandeKeere”. Includes 200 numbered engravings in a variety of formats: 11 full sheet, 25 two-paged, 103 half-paged, 21 fold-out and 40 quarter-sized engravings. Contains an indication for the bookbinder where to insert the engravings


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