Book

Roelof van Gelder and Renée Kistemaker

Amsterdam in the Golden Age

De ontwikkelingen van een handelsmetropool

‘Anyone approaching the city of Amsterdam from the Zuider Zee in the seventeenth century, was faced by a forest of masts. Those, on the other hand, who approached from inland beheld a typical Dutch town skyline: embankments with windmills and behind them a multitude of church roofs and slender spires. Once in the city one saw an astonishing variety of house, and warehouse fronts and, suddenly beside a canal, caught a glimpse of a church steeple.’

This is how the authors describe Amsterdam in its heyday. During the Golden Age, it was the undisputed centre of Dutch culture and economic life. Its trade links extended from South America to Japan. The most prominent artists worked there. Books were printed in every conceivable language, and science and technology presided over the city’s development. Its tolerant spirit created a haven for such philosophers as Descartes and Locke.

Van Gelder and Kistemaker show us how Amsterdam grew from an unsightly thirteenth-century village into the third city of Europe, and how her brilliant star gradually dimmed again. They pay particular attention to the unique aspects that turned Amsterdam into the famous city she was: the Exchange Bank in which the modern exchange of capital originated, water management which facilitated land reclamation and early sewerage work, the criminal law and the charitable institutions in which a humanist wind began to blow.

In the turbulent history of the Dutch Republic, Amsterdam always steered her own course. The tensions this caused and the links between the history of Amsterdam and that of Europe are dealt with at length in this book. The city owed an important part of its hegemony to technical skills, ranging from revolutionary ship-building techniques to the ingenuity of her artists, craftsmen, engineers and architects, who gave the city the look that still enchants the visitor.

The book not only conveys a compelling picture of life in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, but also shows how the city was organised and run politically and economically. It lays bare, soberly and convincingly, the miracle Amsterdam once was - and partly continues to be.

In the living rooms of the well-to-do, wooden panelling rose to about two thirds of the height of the room. […] Many people put up paintings or maps on their walls. The pale green or yellowish glass of leaded windows admitted highly tempered light, which was the more appealing when the lower part of the tall cruciform window was shuttered off.

Sometimes the light was reflected in a copper chandelier, suspended from a heavy oak beam, or in a peculiar dried fish or some other exotic object that had been brought home from distant lands and hung up in the room.

Roelof van Gelder

Roelof van Gelder is an historian who worked as an editor for the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad for many years. His books include Amsterdam from 1275 to 1795 (1983) and several titles on the Dutch East India Company: Traces of the Company (1988), The Dutch East Indian Adventure (1997), In the

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Renée Kistemaker

Renée Kistemaker is a historian at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. She is particularly interested in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Dutch history, in which the city of Amsterdam often played a central role. In addition, she has specialised in the early modern history of collections and has…

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Details

Amsterdam 1275-1795. De ontwikkelingen van een handelsmetropool (1983). Non-fiction, 278 pages.

Publisher

c/o Roelof van Gelder

Weesperzijde 133-II
NL - 1091 ES Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 694 86 78

E-mail:
rgelder@nrc.nl

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