What is Ars Aemula Naturae (ARS)?

Founded in 1694, Ars Aemula Naturae (ARS) is an association of professional artists. The association currently has a membership of around a hundred members.  ARS promotes and teaches the visual arts in Leiden and the surrounding area: specifically drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film and video, textile art, and graphic art.

Based in an 17th century listed building in the historic city centre of Leiden, the association organises exhibitions, lectures, and arts-related activities. Ars Aemula Naturae is best known as a celebrated training institute for the arts, with 35 courses per year and a yearly intake of around 400 students. ARS is committed to the visual arts.

The history of Ars Aemula Naturae

Enjoying a close and long-standing relationship with Leiden University, the association has been active as a drawing and painting academy since 1694. Initially known as Leiden Academy of Art, the association took the name Ars Aemula Naturae (“art, the rival of nature”) in 1799. Since 1859, ARS has been located in the same building, on the Pieterskerkgracht in Leiden.


ARS has focus on an intensive exhibition programme. The ARS gallery with its three exhibition rooms is a regional center for the presentation of contemporary art. With around 15 exhibitions produced every year, the artists of the association and others can show their latest work. In weekends the gallery is open to the public. Throughout the week students following our courses are stopping by on their way back from getting a coffee and are discussing the exhibition.


The association offers a wide range of courses in the visual arts for people of Leiden. There’s a yearly enrollment of around 400 students; amateurs and professionals, children and adults.

Please note, that all our teachers and most of the students are speaking English, so you can register for all our courses, even though they are being taught in Dutch. In the “cursusaanbod” (Course Offer) you can search for courses. Here you will find course descriptions, schedules and the opportunity for registration.

 For the full overview of ARS’s courses and registration, see here or ask for the course guide from the reception.