A virgin or maiden (in the sense of an unmarried independent woman) as a representation of a town has been a theme since ancient times — the Greeks started venerating town patronesses like goddesses, see Minerva and Pallas Athene. During the Renaissance the symbol became quite popular again, especially in republics. The former Amsterdam town hall on Dam square (built between 1648 and 1665) — now Royal Palace — has held a town patroness statue since 1655.
The best known statue is the town patroness at the entrance of the Vondelpark, 2.53 m (8.3 ft) high, on the Stadhouderskade, made by Friedrich Schierholz in 1883. In 2010 the heavily corroded original was replaced by a replica made by Ton Mooy, this time made of more resilient Bentheim sandstone. The original has not been lost, it was placed on the Koenenkade in the Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) in Amstelveen after a thorough restoration and cleanup in 2014.
Tympana of the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace (former city hall) on Dam square has a tympanum on both the front side at Dam square and at the back on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. Both were made by Artus Quellinus (1609-1668) and the team of sculptors that he supervised. On the Dam side the tympanum depicts the world’s oceans giving tribute to Amsterdam’s crowned town patroness.
On the back of the palace at the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal the tympanum shows the city virgin with her arms stretched out to receive the treasures of the world from the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Australia is not included yet, as it had only just been discovered. At her feet are the river gods of Amstel and IJ.
Amsterdam Central Station
Rasphuispoortje on Heiligeweg
The Rasphuis (Grating House) was a correctional facility for young male criminals — female criminals were sent to the Spinhuis (Spinning House). The men in the Rasphuis were made to grate Brazilwood — the powder was used to create red pigment, used as a textile dye. The Rasphuis soon went from an institute for rehabilitation to being exploited as a source of cheap labour.
The Sarphatihuis (House Sarphati) from 1782 on the Roeterstraat 2 was originally meant to replace the Spinhuis and the Rasphuis, where beggars, vagabonds and thieves were put to work, a function the building held until 1870, after which it became a nursing home. The tympanum shows the town patroness, with order, diligence and industriousness to her right. To her left Hercules and her shield protecting against sloth, vagrancy, drunkenness and debauchery. The sculptures were made by city sculptor Anthonie Ziesenis (1731- 1801).
The city virgin or town patroness was depicted many times on buildings and in paintings and drawings: a tile tableau on the Rijksmuseum, sculptures on the front of the Amsterdam Central Station, a tympanum on the Scheepvaartmuseum, a wooden statue inside the Prinsenhof (now Hotel The Grand), a stained glass window in Berlage’s Exchange (Beurs van Berlage) on the Damrak, the list goes on and on. If you look closely enough you will find her image throughout Amsterdam.
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