Passion and Control

Hendrik, Keun, Keizersgracht 524-526, 1771, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Hendrik, Keun, Keizersgracht 524-526, 1771, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Yesterday evening, our colleague Freek Schmidt presented his brandnew book entitled “Passion and Control” to us, dealing with what he calls the architectural culture of the 18th century. As opposed to contributing to a history of styles or a line-up of famous architects, this book claims to present Dutch 18th century architecture as a complex and highly fascinating network of rich patrons, city employees, amateurs, artists, designers and builders. As Freek holds in his introduction “scholarship can still learn from the new methods of research that have proved so rewarding for the study of eigteenth century architecture outside the Netherlands.”

Buitenplaats Frankendael, photo Freek Schmidt
Buitenplaats Frankendael, photo Freek Schmidt

Taking such methods into account, he does arrive at fascinating chapter titles such as “Domenstic Pleasures”, “Arcadian Territory”, “Amateur Passion”, or “Reforming Correction”. They herald no less fascinating case studies on (amongst others) the private canal house, the “buitenplaatsen” (countryside villas) such as house Frankendael, which today actually is situated inmidst of Amsterdam Oost, and the Amsterdam workhouse (beterhuis) at the Roeterstraat. Concerning the latter, we learn that there was even a space for people who wanted to be closed in on their own request (!?), and that it provided a larger space for women, since, as a contemporary source explains, “men have more solutions to earn a living”. To be able to reconstruct such cultural context and meanings of 18th century architecture, Freek relies not only on contemporary textual sources, but also on prints and drawings. As an example, for the workhouse at Roeterstraat, both plans for the distribution of rooms and for the complex water supply system have come down to us (with the latter being aesthetically nearly as pleasing as Marcel Duchamps Large Glass. Due to copyright reasons, I cannot include the latter, but you find them in the book as plate 5.14 and 5.16…).

The workhouse as depicted in John Howard's State of the Prisons (1777)
The workhouse at Roeterstraat as depicted in John Howard’s The State of the Prisons (1777)

Personally,  I am especially looking forward to read his chapter on the oval room at Teylers Museum, as the Teylers is a key example in my class on exhibition machines. So future 2nd year MKDA students can expect some Freek Schmidt quotations in that class.

As it is a richly illustrated book, it has its price, but luckily, you can already now find a copy in the VU library…

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