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On 6 July 1652 Amsterdam’s old town hall in Dam Square was devastated by fire, which spread so rapidly that little could be saved. All that remained was a smouldering ruin. Three days later Rembrandt made a drawing of it before the remains of the medieval town hall were demolished. He stood in the middle of Dam Square and wrote on his drawing ‘vand waech afte sien stats huis van Amsterdam/ doent afgebrandt was/ den 9 Julij 1652/ Rembrandt van rijn’ (the old town hall of Amsterdam, when it had burnt down, seen from the Waag, 9 July 1652, Rembrandt van Rijn). The new town hall was already under construction behind him.

Rembrandt’s memories of this prestigious new town hall, which was sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, would not all have been fond ones. When he was declared bankrupt he had to present himself at the Insolvent Estates Office, the body that dealt with bankruptcies. Soon afterwards he was awarded a major commission for the town hall, which did not go as Rembrandt had hoped and ended in an unpleasant dispute.


The first stone of the town hall was laid in 1648, the year a peace treaty with Spain was signed. The best people were hired for this ambitious project. The architect was the renowned Jacob van Campen and the sculpture was by the celebrated Antwerp master Artus Quellinus. Only Govaert Flinck was chosen for the decoration of the interior, but when he unexpectedly died while the work was in progress, the decorations were divided between a number of famous painters, Rembrandt among them. He was asked to make one of the total of twelve paintings depicting the uprising of the Batavians against the Spanish. To us The Conspiracy of Julius Civilis (1661-1662), a painting 5.5 metres square, looks entirely modern. It is very crudely set up, with a protagonist who has clearly lost an eye. The painting hung in the town hall for only a short time; after a disagreement between Rembrandt and his clients the work was cut into pieces and removed. Only the main scene survived. It is now one of the highlights of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.

Nowadays, The Royal Palace is one of three Palaces used by the Dutch Royal House, notably for State Visits, New Year’s Receptions and other official functions. The building plays a role in royal marriages and in the abdication of the Dutch Monarch. Since 1979, the Palace is also open for the the public, when it is not use by the Royal House. You can visit the famous Citizens’ Hall, or see one of the temporary exhibitions that are held a couple of times a year. You can read more about the Royal Palace here.

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