Berckheyde's earliest views of Amsterdam date from the mid-1660s, by which time the city had established itself as the greatest trading centre of the Netherlands. The size and wealth of the city's population provided Berckheyde with obvious commercial opportunities, but in addition to its commercial potential, Amsterdam was considered a town of great beauty and clearly provided a recurrent source of inspiration for the artst. In particular, the Dam and the Town Hall marked its wealth and importance, whilst the view of the Dam square also suited Berckheyde's taste for open spaces; it is unsurprising, therefore, that the prominent architectural features of the Town Hall and the Waag appear in many of his paintings, the Dam being his most frequent Amsterdam subject.
The Town Hall is built on the site of an earlier, Gothic building (recorded by Pieter Saenredam in a picture in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). By the mid-seventeenth-century, there were several good reasons to replace the old building: the administration of the rapidly growing city had outgrown its accommodation; moreover, the condition of the medieval building had deteriorated to the point where it became dangerous to enter the premises. A new, larger town hall was badly needed. While the construction of the new town hall was still in progress, the old one burned down.
Apart from the practical reasons for embarking on the project of building a new town hall, the growing self-confidence of the city, which mainly resulted from the successful negotiations of the Münster Peace Treaty in 1648, needed an outlet. A project which comprised the planning and construction of the largest government building in seventeenth-century Europe proved the ideal public relations effort for the rich and powerful and above all republican city of Amsterdam. The general euphoria induced the city administrators to choose the most prestigious design from several plans submitted by the leading architects of the day.
Brick was considered too pedestrian a construction material. A yellowish sandstone from Bentheim in Germany was used for the entire building (the stone has darkened considerably in the course of time), while only marble was considered good enough for the interior. Jacob van Campen drew inspiration from the public buildings of Rome. A new Capitol was built for the Amsterdam burgomasters who thought of themselves as the consuls of the new Rome of the North.
Until 1808 the building was used as a town hall. Subsequently, King Louis Napoleon turned it into a royal palace. The galleries were provided with wooden partitionings to create additional rooms. A balcony was added to the facade to meet royal public relations requirements. Splendid Empire furniture - still part of the collection of the palace today - served to modernise the interior decoration. Louis Napoleon's modifications have since been reversed and the palace restored to its original state of a government building based on classical models.
The Waag, or weigh-house, on the Dam, was the first and oldest weigh-house of Amsterdam. Constructed between 1560-65, it was built of blue freestone. Seven scales hanging inside the outer doors were in use with a smaller one inside the building for fine and expensive merchandise. It was demolished in 1808 on the instructions of King Louis, who wished to clear the view from the Town Hall (see A.J. van der Aa,Aardrijkskundig woordenboek der Nederlanden , Gorinchem, 1839, I, p. 182).
The vertical headdress of the woman on the far right, is a type known as a fontage, a towering bonnet named after Mme. De Fontage, who added increasing amounts of lace to the front of her bonnet until it reached a dramatic height. The effect was supposedly admired by King Louis XIV, leading to its becoming a fashion at the French court from 1685-1710. Through this detail, therefore, the present lot might be dated to the 1690s.
We are grateful to Professor Cynthia Lawrence for her help in cataloguing this lot.