Felix Meritis, Amsterdam

Felix Meritis (Keizersgracht 324)

Felix Meritis (Happy through Merit) is a building at Keizers­gracht 324, named after an intellectual society of the same name, established in 1776. In line with the period of the Enlightement, they aimed to promote arts and sciences (music, drawing, physics, commerce and literature). The society existed until 1889. The restored interior of the building has some beautiful 18th century features, like the central staircase, the oval concert hall and a domed roof, under which there used to be an astronomical observatory during its glory days. The building is a national monument.

Façade of Felix Meritis at Keizersgracht 324, Amsterdam

Façade of Felix Meritis at Keizers­gracht 324 (June 2020).

The Enlightenment — an intel­lectual and philo­sophical movement that dominated Europe in the 17th and 18th century — centered on human happiness and the pursuit of knowledge by means of reason and empirical observation. The movement promoted liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, and constitutional government, as opposed to the historic authority of the monarchy and the Catholic Church.

Drawing room inside Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, drawing from 1797

Drawing room inside Felix Meritis, drawing from 1797 by J. Kuijper (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Society Felix Meritis

The intiative for the society came from watch maker and engraver Willem Writs (1732-1786). There were around 40 well-to-do founders of the society in 1776, initially housed at Leliegracht. They were motivated by a desire for societal changes as well as by economic motives — the meetings were great for establishing business contacts. Members had to be screened and pay substantial membership fees.

In 1782 they moved to the Velvet Rampart (now Oudezijds Voorburgwal). When their memberhip numbers grew, they decided to build their own place at Keizersgracht, for which they first bought two lots (a third adjacent lot was bought later). Shares were sold to finance the project. Original founder Willem Writs died in 1786, so he never got to see their new society building finished.

Physics Hall inside Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, etching from 1801

Physics Hall inside Felix Meritis, etching from 1801 by Reinier Vinkeles (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

In the sculpture gallery of the Felix Meritis Society, plaster casts of sculptures from Roman museums and the Musée Napoléon in Paris were exhibited. French King Louis Napoleon (who ruled Holland from 1806 to 1810) wanted to become the society’s patron and donated 41 boxes with casts of antique sculptures, but he was only allowed to become an honorary member. Felix Meritis membership was open to many, as long as they were Christian males (women and Jews were excluded until late in the 19th century). Women could only visit as companions to male members at concerts. The society was disbanded in 1889.

The Building

Felix Meritis opened in 1788, with a rectangular front and a cylindrical back. It was designed by architect Jacob Otten Husly (1738-1796) in Louis XVI style. Husly also designed the Weesp city hall (the city of Weesp became part of the municipality of Amsterdam in March 2022). On the front, above the windows on the first floor, are five bas-reliefs by sculptor Jan Swart (1754-1794), symbolizing the five departments of the society. The pediment shows a beehive.

Side view of Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, etching from between 1789 and 1799

Side view of Felix Meritis from between 1789 and 1799, etching by Noach van der Meer (Rijks­museum).

Halfway up the stairs which connect the front and back building is a large relief in stucco which shows the five departments of the society. The cylindrical back building holds the high oval concert hall. This was Amsterdam’s main music hall until late 19th century — it boasted an inter­national repu­tation, famed for its marvel­lous acoustics. Many famous musicians performed there and their orchestra was highly praised. The small hall of the Concert­gebouw (from 1885 at Van Baerle­straat) is a replica of this oval concert hall. Above the music hall is the current Shaffy hall, once the hall for the physics department.

Side view cross section of Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, drawing from around 1790

Side view cross section of Felix Meritis, drawing from around 1790 (Rijks­museum).

In October 1811 Emperor Napoleon and his wife Marie Louise attended a ball here, organized by the city council. The couple stayed in Amsterdam for two weeks as part of their trip through Holland (Napoleon wanted to show himself off as the new boss, after his annexation of the Dutch Republic into the French Empire). They arrived at Felix Meritis with an impressive parade of horses, guards with torches and many coaches. The Keizers­gracht had been adorned with paper lanterns. Napoleon attended, but, unlike his young second wife, he was not a dance enthusiast.

Bavelaar Music Hall in Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, paper cut-out from 1781-1801

Bavelaar Music Hall in Felix Meritis, paper cut-out from 1781-1801 by J.S. d’ Arnaud (Amsterdam Museum).


After the Felix Meritis society dissolved, the building then housed a printing company until 1948, infamous for its bad working conditions. In 1932 a fire in a lamp­shade factory destroyed a good part of the complex. After the Second World War the building was the headquarters of the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN), their newspaper (De Waarheid) was printed here from 1947 until 1981. In 1969 the Shaffy Theater opened (named after Amsterdam performer Ramses Shaffy), which soon became a center for the Dutch avant-garde.

The city then became the new owner of the building in 1982. In 1988 the Felix Meritis foundation was re-established in the building — it aimed to be a center for European cultural dialogue and cultural-political issues, but they went bankrupt in 2014. The building was then purchased by the Amerborgh company in 2014, who renovated it from 2017 to 2020.

Keizersgracht, Amsterdam, with Felix Meritis façade

Keizersgracht with Felix Meritis façade (June 2020).

Website Felix Meritis (NL only): https://felixmeritis.nl/

Travelers' Map is loading...
If you see this after your page is loaded completely, leafletJS files are missing.