Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


Louis Styles

in Louis XV
(unknown architect)

Throughout the 18th century the French court styles exterted a strong influence on Amsterdam architecture and interior design. Between 1700 and 1740, the Baroque or Louis XIV style predominated, followed by Rococo or Louis XV which was popular between 1740 and 1770 and Louis XVI or neo-Classicism (1770-1800). It is important to realise that the periodisation and classification of styles commonly used for Amsterdam canal houses does not coincide exactly with the traditional French subdivision. Foreign elements often did not make themselves felt in the north until well after they had appeared on the scene in their country of origin.

Louis XIV decoration started out as a somewhat heavy-handed, pompous and strictly symmetrical style, though at a later stage it lost some of its stiffness (more rocailles and shell motifs). In contrast, Louis XV decoration was by definition asymmetrical, light and fanciful. Louis XVI decoration looked back to the ideals of classical design, characterised by austerity, symmetry and taut outlines. Amsterdam canal houses became less exuberant, the cornice and fronton and classical apparatus were back on the scene.

Keizersgracht 446

Initially the French court styles were applied only to interior decoration. However, they soon found their way to the facades of the canal houses, articulating the central bay and the middle section of the cornice. The design of the rest of the facade is marked by a continuation of the flat style which was popular during the final decades of the preceding century. This brings us to the typical Amsterdam approach to the French style. Exuberant decorations were acceptable for the middle ressault and cornice, whereas the rest of the facade continued to be executed in a flat classical style. The same rule of thumb applies to the narrow single plot facades. Flamboyant French-style decoration was used for entrances and gable tops; the remainder of the facade was executed in an austere flat style.

Herengracht 336

Unfortunately, most of the architects active on the Amsterdam scene at this time remain unknown. Unlike 17th century architecture, 18th century architectural design is not dominated by a small group of trendsetting artists. The only big name is Daniël Marot (1661-1752), but we do not know of any Amsterdam buildings designed by him, even though he stayed in Amsterdam from 1705 to 1717. His assistant, Jean Coulon (1678-1760), however, left some traces in Amsterdam architecture.

If it is true to say that 18th century Amsterdam lacks outstanding architects, the opposite holds true for sculptors. The Amsterdam version of the Louis XIV style was entirely dominated by Ignatius van Logteren (1685-1732), his son Jan (1709-1745) and their assistants and followers. The Van Logteren clan played such an important role in Amsterdam that they exterted a strong influence on the architectural design of e.g. Coulon. One may even be tempted to rename the Louis XIV period the Van Logteren era.

The French court styles were initially applied to interior decoration only. The French style was used on a large-scale to create elegant interiors in newly built houses, while older houses were often ‘fixed up’ with the help of Louis XIV, XV or XVI elements. Staircases and halls came to be covered in stucco decoration. Many of the single plot houses were given a rich monumental appearance for which the new decorative style soon proved the answer. The narrow corridors, running parallel with the left or right side walls, were provided with exuberant stucco decorations, while fake doors painted on the side wall opposite the real doors, helped to create an illusion of space.


Special thanks to the Amsterdam Bureau of Monuments and Archeology website,