Hermitage Amsterdam

History of the Building

When Barent Helleman, a wealthy merchant, died on 18 October 1680 he left his entire fortune to the Deanery. The Deanery decided to devote the 90,000 guilders to a home for old women. Until then, elderly women generally had to rely on private institutions: expensive and inefficient. The city donated a plot of land and construction started. Architect Hans Jansz van Petersom probably provided the design.

Sixteen months later, Amstelhof was ready. The home provided shelter for 400 women. To be eligible for a place a person had to be at least 50, a member of the church for no less than ten years and a resident of the city of 15 years’ standing.

Architecture

The building’s characteristic classical facade extends along the River Amstel for 102 metres: the city’s longest facade in 1683. Its proportions are exquisite; its design is simple and symmetrical. The central grand entrance is fake. A raised door with stairs leading to it was considered essential for a building with standing. Immediately behind this is the church hall, which would hardly have made an appropriate entrance.

Inscribed above the door is the original dedication: Diaconie Oude Vrouwen Huys anno 1681 (Deanery Home for Old Women AD 1681). The name Amstelhof was first given in 1953.

Plan

At the centre of the home’s symmetrical lay-out lies a huge courtyard. The two wings each contain their own courtyards onto which the women’s rooms opened: the chambrettes. At the front was the church hall, which doubled as a refectory. At the corners on the Amstel side were the boardrooms where the governors and governesses met.

Ossenpoort

Beneath the huge faux door on the Amstel side lies Ossenpoort: ox gate. This was the tradesman’s entrance. It was through this door that food used to be delivered in pots and barrels, as well as livestock. Animals - including oxen - would be brought into the courtyard to be slaughtered there. Today, this is the Hermitage Amsterdam entrance.

Church hall

The church hall was the main room of the complex. This is where religious services were held and also where residents ate their meals. The women would sit here at long tables on designated seats three times a day.

In fact, until the twentieth century this room was one of largest in the city, second only to the Burgher Hall at the Town Hall on Dam Square. Many civic functions were therefore held here, including receptions for dignitaries. Members of the Dutch royal family were received at Amstelhof and Sir Winston Churchill lunched here in 1946.

Chambrettes

Most of the women shared rooms: four to each chambrette. The regulations of 1681 state that everyone should be satisfied with their room and that the rooms should be clean and tidy. Late in the eighteenth century a separate ward was added for sick women.

Men

In 1817 the home began admitting needy men. A new men’s wing was built, and the institute’s name was changed to Diaconie Oude Vrouwen- en Mannenhuis (Deanery Home for Old Men and Women).

Kitchen

The kitchen beside the church hall/refectory soon proved too small when the home opened. Around 1725 a new kitchen was set up in a vacated cellar. This continued to be used until 1862. Meals were cooked here for the hundreds of residents each day in huge brick-lined pots. To stir, the cooks had to stand on wooden steps!

Now that the kitchen has been restored, visitors can imagine what it was like in the eighteenth century.

Governesses’ room

Boardrooms were situated at both ends of the facade on the Amstel side. This was where the home was run. Governors and governesses were responsible for the day-to-day management and acted on behalf of the deanery.

Rebuilding

Over the centuries considerable construction work was carried out in and around Amstelhof. Originally only intended for women, when it eventually began to admit men new accommodation was needed for them. Later accommodation was also provided for couples. Sick and ailing residents were given their own wards. Technical advances were also introduced at Amstelhof, such as central heating in 1860. The demolition and renovation continued until in the 1920s it was suggested that the time had come to move. This did not happen.

Years later, a major rebuilding project followed, lasting from 1970 to 1979. Amstelhof was turned into a modern nursing home. The courtyards were built up and crammed full. Space was at a premium. Nevertheless, the large central courtyard remained open.

The back wing was demolished - including the auxiliary buildings - to make way for a new entrance. On the site of the former hospital wards and patients cellar an entrance was built fit for a modern facility.

Opening hours

Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed on April 26 and December 25

© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located on Amstel 51, Amsterdam

Photo Janiek Dam

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