Biographical data


Witsen, Nicolaas C.


(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 1: Cyclopaedia of collectors)

(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 8: Cyclopaedia of collectors, Supplement II)


Born: c. 1640, Amsterdam, Holland. Died: 1717, Amsterdam, Holland.



Took his doctorate of law in 1664 at Leiden University. Subsequently he travelled in Russia, and in East and Southeast Europe, designing excellent maps. Later burgomaster of Amsterdam (like his father before him), and benefactor of travellers in the interest of science.

At his instigation plates of Java plants, drawn from nature, were made. This collection: ‘Plantar Javanicae pictae ex Java transmissae anno MDCC. Curâ et sumtibus Nicolai Witsen consulis Amstelaedamensis’, contains 232 large folio coloured plates of Javan plants, drawn under the supervision of Witsen, and is preserved in the Library of the Teyler Museum at Haarlem (Holland). Witsen himself made an inscription in the bound volume, present in the said Museum, running as follows: ‘Planten, boomen, gewassen en kruiden voor mij doen aftekenen in Indian en van Batavia besorgt’ (signed N. Witsen 1700). According to an other inscription, the plants were identified once more in 1758; a MS. list of the names of the figured plants is bound up with the collection.

According to Lubach (Arch. Mus. Teyler 1, 1867, p. 140-143) the man who wrote the list was certainly no botanist, there being many mistakes in the spelling. Burman who made the above-mentioned inscription does give no information as to the scientist who classified the plants. The annotations on the plates are written in three different hand-writings, one of which evidently a 17th century one, and one of the remaining certainly Burman’s.

Though no collector of Malaysian plants, he is entered in this Cyclopaedia because of this important collection of plates.

He also had plants drawn in Japan, China, and Africa (cf. F. de Haan, Priangan, 1, 1910, Pers. p. 282-284).


biographical data:

Autobiography in Scheltema, Aemstels Oudheid 6, 1872; J. F. Gebhard Jr: ‘Het leven van Mr Nicolaas Cornelisz. Witsen’ (1881-82, 2 vols); Ned. Spectator 1882, nos 37-40; Alb. d. Natuur 1909, p. 125-153 + portr.; Encyclop. N.I. 4, 1921; H. Engel, Alphabetical list of Dutch zoological cabinets etc. (Bijdr. t. d. Dierk. 27, 1939), p. 333; Ned. Kruidk. Arch. 52, 1942, p. 414.