- de Meij
- de Molijn
- van den Berch
- Hogenhouck family
- Civic career
- Scientific career
- Delft in Holland
the life and accomplishments
of Antony van Leeuwenhoek
|Overview: The Curious Observer||
Meet Antony van Leeuwenhoek, cloth merchant and haberdasher, citizen of Delft, member of a growing, prosperous family.
|Overview: Leeuwenhoek's Education and Training||
Leeuwenhoek is sometimes portrayed as uneducated and thus self-taught. He did not go to school as a child to learn to read and write Latin. He did not go to a university. He did not travel or learn other languages. For what he ended up doing with his life, however, fresh eyes unclouded by the academic dogma of the time were very helpful.
|How did Leeuwenhoek support himself?||
As an active, respected citizen of Delft who outlived almost all of his contemporaries, Leeuwenhoek was deeply involved in the life of the city. According to documents available in the Delft archives, he:
|How prominent was Leeuwenhoek's family?||
Leeuwenhoek is often portrayed as an uneducated merchant whose curiosity and diligence let him rise from obscurity to find an honored and secure place in the history of science.
The question then becomes, where did he find the time?
|How prosperous was Leeuwenhoek's family?||
They lived comfortable lives in a prosperous country. They did not live in a post-Industrial Revolution consumer society, so comparisons to today's Dutch society are deceiving.
|How prosperous was Leeuwenhoek?||
Leeuwenhoek lived a comfortable life. By the time he was in his fifties, the most famous person in Delft, he lived what we might now call upper middle-class lifestyle.
In the final year of his long life, Leeuwenhoek wrote five letters and had them all translated into Latin before he sent them. Other than the 1679 letter about human sperm and the letter of January 15, 1721, these were the only letters published in Latin in Philosophical Transactions. However, for the thirty years he self-published his collected letters, they were all translated into Latin, so he certainly had access to translators.
|Leeuwenhoek's neighborhood: Hippolytusbuurt||
Where Leeuwenhoek lived, worked, shopped, worshipped, and socialized. As he walked the streets of Delft, he continually passed houses and business owned by people in his family.
|Leeuwenhoek's neighborhood: Oosteinde||
Antony was born and raised to age 8 on the gracht called Oosteinde ("east end"). In 1928, the house (below; click to enlarge) was replaced by the school building that is there now. The house was next to the Leeuwenpoort (Lion's Gate), also long gone, the gate that Antony's father's generation began using as a family name. In the picture on the far right, the poort had become what looks like a shed with a slanted roof.
Leeuwenhoek's first wife, Barbara de Meij, died in 1666, and his second wife, Cornelia Swalmius, in 1694, so he lived the last thirty years of his life as a widower. All the wills (testamenten) that we know he made are listed on the timeline of wills and estates. He made a will with Barbara in 1662 and another after her death in 1667. He made a pre-nuptial agreement with Cornelia in 1671 (Roelandus van Edenburgh notary). He outlived both wives.
|The Leeuwenhoek name: How to pronounce it||
In Dutch, leeuw is lion and hoek is corner. When Antony's grandfather Thonis became a member of the Dutch Reformed Church in February 1601, he put his name down as a basketmaker living on the Oosteinde at the Leeuwenpoortge, literally, the Little Lion's Gate, the "Little" referring to the gate, not the lion.
|The Leeuwenhoek name: How to spell it||
In the 1600's, spelling was not standardized. Many of the names in the documents discussed on this web have at least two spellings, sometimes in the same document. The Delft baptism, marriage, and burial records have half-a-dozen different combinations of Leeuwenhoek's name, three variants of his first name and three of the family name.
|The Leeuwenhoek name: What about the "van"?||
Modern biographers point out that Antony began using the van after he achieved international fame in the 1680's. Some imply that the lowly, self-taught shopkeeper felt the need to tart up his name, a bit of social climbing revealing of his character. Like the Vermeer connection, that makes a good story, but it's a little more complicated.
|The Vermeer Connection||
A lot of circumstantial, even common sense evidence links Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek. However, no direct documentary evidence connects them.
|Their home: Het Gulden Hoofd||
According to his biographers, from the age of 22, Leeuwenhoek lived along the Hippolytusbuurt gracht, a tree-lined, gently flowing canal in the center of quiet little Delft. He is buried beside it, too.
Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck
Through van Leeuwenhoek’s Eyes: Microbiology in a Nutshell by Leslie Robertson
Lens on Leeuwenhoek by Douglas Anderson
|Where Leeuwenhoek's biographers say he lived||
Leeuwenhoek's biographers agree: He lived for almost seventy years on the Hippolytusbuurt, second house in from the corner of the Nieuwstraat, directly across the gracht from the Vismarkt. On the 1832 kadaster map, the property was labeled C0154 but was later combined with C1053, as shown on the map below.