Amsterdam town patroness, Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s Town Patroness

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.

Amsterdam Town Patroness in the Burgerzaal inside the Royal Palace, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Town Patroness in the Burger­zaal (Citizen’s Hall) inside the Royal Palace on Dam square. To her left Strength (with a lion skin on her head), to her right Wisdom (with the attire of Minerva). A bold statement of an overconfident growing town, since the two world hemispheres and the stars are depicted on the marble floor, literally at her feet (August 2021).


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.

Amsterdam Town Patroness at the entrance to the Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Town Patroness at the entrance to the Vondelpark at the Stadhouderskade (May 2020).

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.

Tympanum on the back of the Royal Palace, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam

Tympanum on the back of the Royal Palace, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal (December 2020).

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.

Clay model of the tympanum on the back of the Royal Palace, Amsterdam

Clay model of the tympanum on the back of the Royal Palace, the four continents paying hommage to the town patroness, symbolizing Amsterdam’s worldwide trading network. From the workshop of Artus Quellinus, 1655 (Rijksmuseum).

Amsterdam Central Station

Front of the Amsterdam Central Station

Front of the main Amsterdam railroad station, Centraal Station or CS. In the center, below the Dutch national coat of arms (two lions with a crown) is the Amsterdam town patroness, flanked by the river gods of Amstel and IJ, very similar to the main central part of the tympanum on the back of the Royal Palace. Sculpture from 1889 by Ludwig Jünger (August 2021).

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.

Rasphuispoort on Heiligeweg, Amsterdam

Gate of the Rasp­huis, a former correctional facility on the Heilige­weg, now a shopping center entrance (December 2021).


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).

Tympanum on the Sarphatihuis, Amsterdam

Tympanum of the Sarphatihuis on Roetersstraat, Amsterdam (photo by Brbbl via Wikimedia Commons).

Virgins Everywhere…

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.

Amsterdam town patroness, painting by Gerard de Lairesse from between 1665 and 1685

Amsterdam town patroness, painting by Gerard de Lairesse from between 1665 and 1685. Her hand is on the globe (symbol of power), Mercury (god of commerce) crowns her. She receives Chinese porcelain, ivory, pearls, silk and rolls of tobacco.

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