Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


Amsterdam Renaissance in the manner of Hendrick de Keyser

OZ Voorburgwal 57 (1615)

The stepped gable in straightforward Harlem Renaissance style is a relatively rare phenomenon in Amsterdam. Very soon (around 1600) Amsterdam architects started to develop their own local version. Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) is the architect whose name is commonly associated with this style. In 1595 he was appointed city stone mason and sculptor. In actual fact his duties included all the tasks of a municipal architect. At first De Keyser applied the features of the early Renaissance style (e.g. strap work decoration), but soon he went his own way. The period 1615-1625 was to be the hey-day of the Amsterdam Renaissance style in the manner of Hendrick de Keyser, but early examples date back to circa 1600. Hendrick de Keyser’s flamboyant Renaissance style (also called ‘baroque’ Amsterdam Renaissance) is often regarded as a transitional stage between the Renaissance (circa 1550-circa 1640) and Dutch Classicism (circa 1625-circa 1665). De Keyser’s most important designs are justly famous and belong to the core of Amsterdam historic buildings: Zuiderkerk (1603-1611); Noorderkerk (1620-1623) and Westerkerk (1620-1631). All three churches are attributed to De Keyser.

The houses built in this style are characterised by:

  • stepped gables with only a few large and unevenly divided steps
  • sandstone sculptural elements (the so-called crolls) crowning each of the steps
  • window piers consisting of two fully-fledged pilasters (complete with bases and capitals) interconnected by an ornamental cartouche
  • S-shaped relieving arches (so-called arculated arches).

The decorative repertoire includes many other fanciful elements such as masks of men and women, pilasters and pillars, frontons and spherical shapes. The Dutch word for croll (klauwstuk) still reminds us of the origin of this type of decoration. Dutch ‘klauwen’ refers to the talons and paws of predators. The steps of the very earliest Renaissance facades were commonly decorated with lions’ paws and eagles’ talons, e.g. the facade of the first Orphanage, Kalverstraat 71 (1568). The stepped gable of this building consisted of two sets of steps. The lower steps were crowned by closed balustrades, while the upper steps were adorned with large claws in stead of the more common S or C-shaped volutes.

  Singel 140-142 (±1600)
  Keizersgracht 123 (1622)

Only the happy few could afford a rich mansion in the costly baroque Amsterdam Renaissance style. Few of these houses were built in the first place and even fewer survive today. Nevertheless the remaining representatives of this style are unique in the history of Dutch architecture: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 57 (Crowned Turnip/Gecroonde Raep, 1615) and Oudezijds Voorburgwal 18 (Int Slodt Egmondt/Egmond Castle, circa 1615). The former is a Hendrick de Keyser original, whereas the latter - of which only the middle section of the facade survives today - was probably built by an anonymous imitator. Further examples attributed to Hendrick de Keyser are: Herengracht 170-172 (Bartolotti House, circa 1617) and Keizersgracht 123 (House with the Heads, 1622). The Renaissance top gable became so popular that it even became an additional feature of large double mansions (which have the ridge of the roof running parallel with the facade). In these instances a special dormer-like structure was built to adjust the shape of the traditional saddle roof in such a way that a stepped top gable could be realised.

  sketch of
Singel 140-142
and OZ Voorburgwal 57


An early and deviating example is Singel 140-142 (The Dolphin, circa 1600), designed by Hendrick de Keyser (the patrons had the original design partly modified). Some less imposing examples by anonymous architects include: Herengracht 38 (1614); Herengracht 100 (circa 1620); Herengracht 120 (1615) and Herengracht 196-198 (the Blue House, 1620). The original top gable of the Blue House, a forerunner of the neck-gable, is now lost.

A more austere version of the Amsterdam Renaissance, the Plain Amsterdam Renaissance, started to make headway from 1615 onwards. In actual practice it is not always easy to distinguish exactly between the baroque and plain versions of the popular Renaissance style, since transitional types were built on a large scale. Two types of transitional Renaissance gables are commonly distinguished:

  1. gables with large steps and crolls, double pilasters in the window piers and/or ornamented relieving arches, otherwise resembling the plain Renaissance style
  2. gables with large steps and crolls, otherwise resembling the plain Renaissance style

Examples of the first category are: Herengracht 203 (1618) and 100 Oudezijds Voorburgwal (1634), both with double pilasters in the window piers and Dam 11 (formerly Warmoesstraat 201, Huis 's-Hertogenbosch, 1632) with decorative shells in the relieving arches. The second category includes e.g.: Herengracht 120 (the King of Denmark, 1615); Herengracht 218-220 (circa 1616); Oudezijds Voorburgwal 111 (1620); Herengracht 100 (circa 1620); Keizersgracht 141 (The Double Eagle, circa 1620); Keizersgracht 133 (Benscop Arms, circa 1625); Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 75 (Broker’s Office, 1633) and Oudezijds Achterburgwal 93 (date unknown).


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