Lotte and Wytze Hellinga


As a student at the university of Amsterdam after the Second World War. Lotte found herself stimulated first by the teaching of Herman de la Fontaine Verwey and they by that of the forceful personality of Wytze Hellinga, at that time professor of  Dutch philology at the University. Wytze Hellinga’s teaching was grounded in the idea of situating what he taught in its context. Obliged to teach Gothic, for example, he tried to convey a sense of the language rooted in its own time and environment.Study of the book was becoming increasingly at the University of Amsterdam at this period as the work of de la Fontaine Verwey and Gerrit Willem Ovink testifies. Wytze Hellinga’s interests, formerly largely in a socio-linguistic direction, were now leaning more towards texts and to the book as the medium that carried written texts.Much of Wytze’s teaching followed his own  research interests, as he developed his areas around the sense that texts should properly be understood in the context of their method of production and dissemination. He was at this time increasingly turning to codicology and to the classic Anglo-Saxon model of bibliography in the realization that the plan to produce a proper critical edition of the works of Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, the seventeenth-century poet, dramatist and historian, depended on the application of the skill of analytical bibliography.

Encourage by his work, Lotte produced an undergraduate thesis on the printer’s copy of the Otia of Constantijn Huygens (The Hague, 1625). This work, incidentally, has never been published , although an aeticle ws regularly announced as forthcoming  in Quaerendo during the early 1970s.

On graduation in 1958, event took a turn that was to prove fateful. Lotte was awarded a postgraduate fellowship by the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Zuiver-Watenschappelijk Onderzoek (oe Z.W.O) to go to England to study fifteenth-century printing, and Marie Kronenberg, the doyenne of Dutch bibliographers, arranged for her to be “taught incunabulizing” (as she put it) by Victor Scholderer at the British Museum.

As an honorary Assistant Keeper at the museum then she came to England in 1959, assisting among other things with the preparation of BMC volume IX (concerning the production of Holland and Belgium) while studying the texts of the Gouda printer Gerard Leeu to see if the sources(and hopefully printer’s copy) for his editions could be identified. Although the subject proved difficult to define immediately so as to lead in a productive direction, most of this work was nonetheless to find its way into print in such collaborative publications as the Helling’s fifteenth century printing types, the edition of the Bradshaw correspondence and the 1973 Brussels catalogue, to each to which we shall return. But during her time at the Museum, Lotte’s attention was also attracted by such things as England provenances on early printed continental books, an interest which has stayed with her throughout her career.

Wytze’s attention too was turning towards incunabula at this time, as witnessed by the fifteenth-century examples used in his copy and print in the Netherlands (1962), and there began a fruitful period of collaborative work which was issued in a stream of short bibliographical articles on low countries incunabula and culminated triumphantly in the ground-breaking fifteenth-century printing types of the low countries, commissioned by Menno Hertzberger in 1961 and published in 1966. These years saw periods of intensive study in the libraries strongest in the incunabula of the low countries, with whole summers passed in Cambridge and Copenhagen as well as shorter visits to libraries from Oxford to Vienna.

The partnership between Lotte and Wytze was also to lead to marriage and to the birth of their son. Between 1961 and 1975, the Hellings were in Amsterdam. In 1965, Lotte had obtained a research assistantship for Dutch prototypography from the Z.W.O., and from 1967 she was teaching at the Institute of Dutch studies at the University of Amsterdam. She continued to develop her interest in analytical bibliography in a number of directions, perhaps most strikingly in important work on early Dutch printing and an examination of the Coster question. She also contributed to the catalogue which accompanied the exhibition held in Brussels in1973 to commemorate the quincentenary of the introduction of printing to the Netherlands, a collaborative work that still provides the best presentation of the work of the early printers of the Low countries.

The year 1974 saw the award of a doctorate by the university of Amsterdam for her thesis on the relationship between copy and print in a fifteenth-century printing-house, Methode en praktijk bij het zetten van boeken in de vijftiende eeuw. This seminal work, remaining as a Dutch dissertation of limited diffusion, has perhaps not been as wodely read as it deserves. There followed a year’s respite from teaching in1975 with the commission from Ensched, to edit Harry Carter’s translation of Charles Ensched’s Type foundries in the Netherlands, at length published in 1978.

Leave a Reply