History of the Performing Arts

From masks and costumes to puppets, posters, models and miniature theatres. 

The performing arts include dance, theatre and music. This field contains abundant collections providing a colourful picture of the history of the podium arts. Music, the stage, dance and the circus in particular are well represented. A smaller section is devoted to cabaret, opera, operetta, mime and puppetry.

Owing to the interest in Dutch literature, librarians at an early stage included plays in the Amsterdam City Library, the precursor of the University Library. The collection was supplemented in the 19th century with major donations and purchases of old plays and programmes. The collection of the Theater Instituut Nederland (Theatrical Institute of the Netherlands) was transferred to the University Library in 2012. This meant that material from all theatre and dance genres from the 17th century onwards fell under Allard Pierson control. More than half a million items are involved, from masks and costumes to puppets, posters, models and miniature theatres.

Circus heritage, sheet music and digital streams

The circus collection, made up of items from private collections and from institutions that have stored circus heritage through the centuries, was added in 1963. It is a ‘living’ collection that is unlocked digitally on the website circusmuseum.nl. The collection comprises posters, programmes, photographs, slides, flyers, cuttings and other documentation relating to circus acts.

The music collection ranges from 17th century sheet music to digital streams from the 21st. Composed music – ancient, classical and contemporary – is to be found alongside pop, jazz and improvised. It derives from the historical collection of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst (Society for the Promotion of Music) and from collections with contemporary composed music from Gaudeamus (Music Week) and Donemus and the collections of the Jazz Archive of the Netherlands and the former Pop Institute of the Netherlands.  For viewing and listening.

Miles Davis in The Concertgebouw, 9 april 1960. Photo Wouter van Gool, Jazz Archive of the Netherlands


Collectie Specialists

Theatre, dance, circus:

mr. Hans van Keulen MA
Phone number: 020 525 49 98
Email: j.h.k.vankeulen@uva.nl
UvA staff page: Hans van Keulen


drs. Ditmer Weertman
Phone number: 020 525 21 05
Email: d.weertman@uva.nl
UvA staff page: Ditmer Weertman