Just like the Artis Zoo, Amsterdam’s Historical Museum is one of the places that we had missed on previous visits. Originally the site at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 359 was a convent then in 1580 the building became an orphanage. Rebuilt in 1664 by Jacob van Campen, the orphans were evicted in 1960 and in 1975 the museum moved in. However the room the orphanage governors used to meet in (the Regent’s Chamber) has been preserved complete with period furniture, chequerboard flagstones and Flemish paintings, opposite the cash desk.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and with its benefit, it might have been useful to my understanding of Amsterdam to have visited this place some time ago, as it does present a pretty comprehensive history of the city and it’s institutions from its early days under Spanish rule through independence, empire, Napoleonic and Nazi occupation to the liberal city of decriminalised prostitution and cannabis cafes of today, that in my opinion most other European cities could learn a lot from.
One of my favourite exhibits is The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.
I believe this is a copy of the 1632 Rembrandt original, which is in the Hague’s Mauritshuis. Now the reason I think this is an important work is because it shows how Amsterdam was a centre of scientific learning at a time when such knowledge was frowned upon by many religious factions. Even so city anatomist Nicolaes Tulp was only allowed one public dissection a year and it had to be the corpse of a convicted criminal, because obviously he was going to Hell and would not need a fully functioning body come the resurrection. In this case it was Aris Kindt who had been hanged for armed robbery on the morning of January 16 1632. It was a similar absurd attitude to the scientific use of bodies that led to the murdering spree of Burke and Hare in 19th century Edinburgh.
Other highlights of the historical Museum for me were the 16th century Civic Guard’s Italian Armour and the reconstruction of lesbian biker Bet van Beeren’s Cafe ‘t Mandje, the first openly gay bar in Amsterdam and possibly the world, when it opened in 1927.
My only bitch about the museum is that I think the entry price of €10 is a bit steep.