'Koopmansrenaissance'. Het Amsterdamse woonhuisinterieur in de zestiende eeuw
In the build-up to the Golden Age Amsterdam already experienced great flourishing and prosperity during the sixteenth century. Within the boundaries of the late-medieval centre many houses were renovated or enlarged and the greater part of the grounds at the rear were built up with smaller dwellings for the many immigrants. Among them were a lot of merchants from the north of Germany and Flanders, who were apparently influenced by their country of origin in the interiors and finishing of their houses.
The relatively scarce remains of sixteenth-century interior finishings in Amsterdam are the subject of this article. Wall paintings have rarely been preserved in Amsterdam: on the other hand, painted ceilings but also carved decorations in the timber frame are still found regularly. It has become clear that from the middle of the sixteenth century new forms inspired by classical architecture were emerging in Amsterdam on a large scale.
It is highly likely that the rise of Renaissance forms kept pace with the rapid economic growth of the town during that period.
Commercial relations and travelling merchants, but definitely also the arrival of a lot of immigrants and refugees influenced the spread of these forms. Wealthy merchants’ urge to express their wealth in the interiors of their houses contributed to the development of the new forms to a considerable extent.
In this light the influence of the southern Netherlands - notably Antwerp - but also of the north of Germany and the Baltic area on the Amsterdam form development should not be underestimated. As regards the design it is striking that a lot of classical architecture forms were introduced in woodcarving.
For instance, ogee corbels and timber corbels were decorated with acanthuses with scrollwork, ironwork, cartouches, diamond heads etcetera, while for profiles the cornices of the classical entablature were revived. In a painted form we also see a lot of classical motifs again, such as ironwork, medallions, mascarons, cartouches, banderols, diamond heads, arabesques and chain motifs. Without exception the figurative decoration of the corbels has an allegorical background.
The classical themes are designed with figures in classical clothing and poses, often representing virtues and often provided with classical attributes such as cornucopia. The merchants’ newly accumulated wealth, but perhaps also their origin or cultural ‘baggage’ and the fact that they had travelled widely were shown off. This was partly expressed in the interiors of their houses. In the course of time much of it was lost, but because of the almost indestructible timber frames a great deal has also been preserved.