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The Herengracht is the first of the new canals that were built. It was also called “The Gentlemen’s’ Canal”, in honour of one of the three powers of the Golden Century (the others were the Emperor and the Prince).
This new, majestic canal was intended to attract the city’s rich merchants, who settled in the zone and built fabulous palaces and mansions, something which, over time, it unquestionably did. A good example is the Theatre Museum in the beautiful White and Bartolotti Houses.
The White House, at number 168 Herengracht, was thus named because of the sandstone colour of the facade. It was commissioned by one of the founders of the West India Company, an institution created by a large group of Dutch traders to look after their interests on the other side of the ocean.
The White House, which was designed by the architect Philip Vingboons in 1638, has a characteristic bottleneck-shaped gable and plentiful decoration and spirals. The most striking feature of the house is unquestionably the monumental and very rare spiral stairway that runs from the basement to the attic.
The corridor joins this house to the splendid Bartolotti House, at numbers 170-172 of Herengracht.
This is a brilliant example of the architecture of Hendrick de Keyser. This splendid building, built in 1618, features the elements of Dutch Renaissance in its true splendour. The two side wings also have two inscriptions in Latin. The first reads “Through ingenuity and constant hard work” and the second “Religion and Righteousness”. These two maxims sum up the period’s Calvinist ethics very well.
The name of the house was adopted by Van de Heuvel, an administrator for the West India Company. His father-in-law, a Calvinist of Dutch origin whose surname was Bartolotti. The wealthy merchant decided to continue with this name. At the time, the early seventeenth century, he is said to have had the second largest fortune in the city, a circumstance that had to be reflected in the mansion.
The red brick and white stone assembly, the embossed jibs decorated with columns, the volutes, the windows framed by pilasters and the obelisks stand out in all their splendour on the facade of the Bartolotti House, the beauty of which virtually irradiates light over the canal and attracts the gaze of passers-by.
This is not all, however. If you have been fascinated with the luxury and beauty of these two houses, do not forget that the reason for mentioning them is because of what is inside; the Theatre Museum, which features costumes, frescos, decoration, documents and some photographs of artists and stars from the nineteen thirties.
Why not accompany such luxury, detail and ornament, with a mid-afternoon coffee on the curve of Herengracht, enjoy a good illustrated book on the history of costume, or a good lecture on humour in dramatic texts? You can do all this at the Bartolotti House, and experience an intellectual and luxurious Amsterdam not to be found in the regular tourist guides.
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