Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Overwhelming Architecture in Amsterdam in the Seventeenth-Century

The hypothesis of this research is that the municipality used the impressive the Town Hall to enforce its rule and represent its political ideas and make use of sources such as biographies, poems, pamphlets, sermons and governmental documents.

Duration
2013  -   2017
Contact
Laura Plezier
Funding
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant

The Town Hall in Amsterdam, built between 1648 and 1665 and standing as one of the largest buildings of his time, is enriched with art works. The most important room at the ground floor is the ‘Vierschaar’. This room was only used to declare the death penalty; a ritual that was attended by a huge audience standing outside on Dam Square, looking inside at the tribunal through huge windows. The convicts, the judges and the audience were confronted with the sight of marble reliefs depicting death, grief and justice as lively as possible. This confrontation was supposed to inspire feelings of fear and horror in them.   

The second floor was dominated by the impressive ‘Burgerzaal’ (Citizen’s Hall). When entering the Hall the citizens were overwhelmed by the marble sculptures referring to peace, commerce and the universe. This Hall and its surrounding corridors and offices showed Amsterdam as the centre of the world. The viewer was supposed to be overcome with wonder by the idea that a city was able to create peace, wealth and a marvelous building. 

What were the sources that inspire the municipality to use these concepts of the sublime in the Town Hall? There was a revival in seventeenth-century Amsterdam of the treatise On the sublime by ps.-Longinus (c. 1 AD) amongst people with political influence and interests in arts. Poems about the Town Hall by writers like Jan Vos (c. 1610-1667) and Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) indicate that concepts of the sublime were indeed applied. 

The hypothesis of this research is that the municipality used the impressive the Town Hall to enforce its rule and represent its political ideas. Which strategies were used in the art and architecture of the Town Hall to overwhelm the citizens? Although the Town Hall is the main building of this research, I will investigate other buildings in Amsterdam where the builders may have applied the concept of the sublime. I will use sources such as biographies, poems, pamphlets, sermons and governmental documents. This research should contribute to the understanding of the sublime in the arts in the seventeenth century.

Connection with other research