Our Lord in the Attic: A Case Study

The building

I am Thijs Boers and I am the curator for the building. I spend a lot of time researching the history of the building and its occupants. Let me tell you something about this building and its importance to the city of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The building is an important monument – it has a protected State Monument status. Few 17th century interiors in the Netherlands have survived undamaged and unaltered. In Amsterdam, most of the 18th and 19th century dwellings open to the public have undergone large scale reconstruction. By contrast, this building is remarkably intact.

Location of the house in the historic center of Amsterdam

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Location of the building

Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 from the outside (photo: P. Ryan)The building is located on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 in Amsterdam, on the corner of the alley ‘Heintje Hoekssteeg’.

From the outside the building looks like any other 17th century canal house, but its attic holds a unique treasure: a Catholic church built in 1662 and still in use. The well-preserved attic church is highly unusual, but the private residence housing is just as remarkable.

The building's location is actually in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam, a neighborhood better known as the Red Light District.

Directly next to it (on the left) is a Thai restaurant.


The three houses on the site (museum Our Lord in the Attic)enlarge

The main house with the two houses (in different shade of gray) at the back.

Cross section of the buildings (museum Our Lord in the Attic)enlarge

Cross section of the main house and the house at the back.

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History of the building (during Hartman)

Time line

The house on this site dates back to the 16th century, and was extended around 1629 to include a larger house at the front (Oudezijds Voorburgwal) and two houses at the rear (with entrances in the adjacent alley ‘Heintje Hoeksteeg’).

Historic drawing of the houseThe house on the front was built on a narrow plot resulting in a deep and elongated ground plan, with the roof consequently at a right angle to the facade. It is a typical Amsterdam merchants' house, characterized by top floors designed to serve as storage space for commodities. In fact, the floors of the three houses from the third level and up connect and extend across the entire building.

In 1661, the property was bought by Jan Hartman for 16,000 Dutch Florins. Jan Hartman (1619-1668), born a catholic in Coesfelt (Westphalia, Germany), moved to Amsterdam and made there his fortune in trade. After purchase he immediately upgraded the house to match his position as a wealthy tradesman.  From 1661-1663 the most extensive building work was carried out: a ‘Great Parlor’ (Sael) was installed in the then fashionable classicist style. A clandestine Roman Catholic Church was built in the attics of the front house and the two houses at the back. Jan Hartman died in 1668 and his widow Lysbeth Jansdr. (meaning Jan's daughter) had to leave the house at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal in 1671 when it was sold to a new owner.

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Lady chapel

Pulpit and communion bench as seen from the 1st gallery.

History of the building (after Hartman)

From our archives we know a little about the owners or tenants of the building and the most significant building activities they embarked upon. After Jan Hartman’s death in 1668, the house was auctioned and bought by the Protestant investor Joan Reynst (1636-1695) for 24,350 Dutch Florins on 23 April 1671.

Church with view to the altar (photo: P. Ryan)In the beginning of the 18th Century, the layout of the church was enlarged, and a new altar was installed. The work can be dated by the altarpiece, which was painted by Jacob de Wit in 1716.

Ludovicus Josephus Reijniers (?-1775) became priest in 1724. He bought the property on 14 May 1739 for 31,500 Dutch Florins, after which, most likely, more alterations were made. Around 1740-1750 fixed benches for dignitaries (on either side of the altar) were installed, as well as the plastered ceiling. The Lady chapel was created, as well as a confessional. A second staircase was built in the two houses at the rear in the Heintje Hoekssteeg to create easier access to the church. These are still used by visitors to descend from the church.

We know that Priest Michael van Wijngaarden (1732-1783) bought the property on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal on 30 October 1776. It is likely that he made a few alterations to the house too. His older brother, Dr. Hendricus van Wijngaarden (1727-1795), owned the property from 1783 until 1795. In 1794, the organ by Hendrik Meyer was placed in the church, and it is possible that also the mahogany communion bench and the pulpit were installed.

More recent building work has been documented, but unfortunately is quite rudimentary.

Routing in 3Denlarge

The routing in 3-D.

Special building features

Entrance to the first gallery in the church (photo: P. Ryan)The visitors walk from room to room via narrow hallways, corridors and steep stairs. Actually, walking through this building over the original wooden floors and stone floors, climbing and descending the steep stairs and hearing the creaking of the wood is considered essential to the visitors' experience. It is indeed a unique experience as one of the visitors describes in the museum's guest book:

"I went to Amsterdam for a music trip but this was very different, peaceful and a very pleasant change. I spent at least an hour and I enjoyed all the rooms and steep narrow stairs in the house."

© J. Paul Getty Trust / Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage / Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder