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Cornelis Drebbel

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Cornelis Drebbel

by Unknown artist
line engraving, published 1628
4 3/4 in. x 3 in. (122 mm x 77 mm) paper size
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Pilgrim Trust, 1966
Reference Collection
NPG D11140

Sitterback to top

  • Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633), Philosopher and scientific inventor. Sitter in 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

Events of 1628back to top

Current affairs

John Felton, a professional soldier, assassinates George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
Lawyer and politician, Sir Edward Coke, leads the demand for a Petition of Right which sets out specific civil liberties while curbing Royal power. After much debate, it is reluctantly accepted by Charles I and passed in Parliament.

Art and science

Aged ten, poet Abraham Cowley writes his epic romance, Pyramus and Thisbe; it would appear in his first publication, Poetical blossoms, 1633, a collection of five poems.
Charles I purchases a substantial art collection from the Duke of Mantua, initially overseen by diplomat, Sir Isaac Wake.


The Huguenots surrender in La Rochelle to Catholic royalist forces. Attempts are made by England to assist the city; a final, unsuccessful expedition is dispatched by Robert Bertie, Earl of Lindsey, now head of the fleet since the death of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

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Hubert van Onna

08 September 2018, 10:23

Summer 1604, Drebbel moved from The Netherlands to Londen, where he stayed, except for a two year 1610-1613- stay at the court of emperor Rudolf II in Prague, till his death in November 1633.

Hubert van Onna

23 August 2018, 08:19

Cornelis Drebbel born - probably in the year 1572 - in the city of Alkmaar (Netherlands) at Dronckenoort in the second house from the corner of the Huigh-de-brouwer steegh.

Drebbel: great innovator !
The Edison of his time; Brilliant empiric researcher and innovator, Drebbel’s constructions and innovations cover in particular measurement- and control technology, pneumatics, optics, chemistry hydraulics and pyrotechnics. With Staten General he registers several patents: writes some interesting essays about his experiments with air pressure. Makes beautiful engravings; the subject The Seven Liberal Arts en a map of the city of Alkmaar.

Measurement- and control technology & pneumatics: Famous for his Perpetuum Mobile, builds and navigates with a submarine. Builds an incubator for eggs and a portable stove/oven with an optimal use of fuel, able to keep the heat on a constant temperature by means of a regulator/thermostat. Designs a solar energy system for London (perpetual fire), demonstrates air-conditioning, let it rain, makes lightning and thunder ‘on command’, develops fountains, fresh water supply for the city of Middelburg. Involved in the draining of the moors around Cambridge (the Fens). Develops predecessors of the barometer and thermometer, the "Drebbeliaensch instrument", harpsichords that play on solar energy.
Ars Volandi was the last Invention in pursuit of which Drebbel died. Drebbel developed a paper kite that could fly when there was no wind and he had a way to let it come down softly on Sea or Land.
Optics: Develops an automatic precision lens-grinding machine, builds improved telescopes, constructs the first microscope ('lunette de Dreubells'), camera obscura, laterna magica, manufactures Dutch or Batavian tears, the predecessor of safety glass.

Chemistry: Develops an innovative way to improve and produce scarlet red dye, establishes a dye works in Stratford-at-Bow-on-Lea. Develops a methodology to regain silver ore. Makes -probably- oxygen for his submarine. Able to change salt water into potable water.

Hydraulics: Makes theater props, moving statues. Is involved in plans to build a new theater in London. A weigh-lifting engine for lifting sunken treasure-ship.

Pyrotechnics: produces torpedos and sea mines and a detonator with Batavian tears, uses fulminating mercury -aurum fulminarum- as an explosive.

Drebbel: wonderworker "The idea of Drebbel as a universal wonderworker was as widespread in the seventeenth century as the idea of Einstein as a genius is today." writes Dr. Vera Keller in her dissertation ‘Cornelis Drebbel, Fame and the Making of Modernity.’ (Princeton University, Sept. 2009)

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