Esaias Boursse’s ‘Tijkenboeck’

A Pictorial Catalogue of People Working and Living in and around Colombo, 1662


  • Lodewijk Wagenaar
  • Mieke Beumer



We do not know who trained Esaias Boursse (1631-1672) to be a painter, but we do know that he became a member of the Amsterdam Guild of St Luke around 1651. He certainly did not have a successful career because he joined the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1661. He travelled to Colombo, the capital of the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka since 1972), captured six years earlier by the Portuguese, by way of Batavia (now Jakarta). In 1663 he was back in Amsterdam – remarkable, as the standard contract with the VOC was for five years. In financial straits again, he re-joined the VOC in 1671 and left for Asia. Shortly after leaving he died at sea. In 1996 an album containing 116 drawings came to light, most of them made by Boursse during his time in Ceylon; he made only a small number during his outward or return journeys to the Cape of Good Hope. The drawings are completely different from his earlier known oeuvre of genre paintings and prints with religious themes. The pages in his ‘Tijkenboeck’ provide a unique picture of what Boursse saw in and around Colombo. They are important evidence of the early days of the VOC in its conquered colony of Ceylon.


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Author Biographies

  • Lodewijk Wagenaar

    Lodewijk Wagenaar has been involved in a number of museological and scientific projects in and about Sri Lanka in his role as a researcher and lecturer in the History Department (UvA). In 2016 he published Cinnamon and Elephants: Sri Lanka and the Netherlands from 1600 in the Rijksmuseum’s country series

  • Mieke Beumer

    Mieke Beumer worked as an art historian at the University of Amsterdam, lastly as Deputy Curator of the Artis Library (Special Collections). Her interest in the image of Asia in book illustrations, travel reports, drawings and paintings resulted in her co-authoring Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon, 1602-1796, published in 1988.







How to Cite

Wagenaar, Lodewijk, and Mieke Beumer. 2019. “Esaias Boursse’s ‘Tijkenboeck’: A Pictorial Catalogue of People Working and Living in and Around Colombo, 1662”. The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 67 (4): 312-31.