The greatest secrets of Amsterdam lie behind façades of historic buildings that are not open to the general public. These hide many original features such as wall paintings, sculptured decorations and original ceiling paintings. A prime example is the “Trippenhuis”, the grandest of the 17th century city palaces. Recently, a 17th century ceiling painting was discovered that had been hidden from view by an early 19th century plaster ceiling. An art historical and historical dilemma: since both are part of the history of the building, which ceiling should stay?
A house for two brothers
The Trip brothers Louys (1605-1684) and Hendrick (1607-1666) made their fortune in the weapons trade. In 1660, the construction of their double house on Kloveniersburgwal, designed by architect Justus Vingboons, began. The building took two years to complete. In 1662, the brothers and their families moved in. Both interior and exterior were lavishly decorated. Many paintings were commissioned from the great painters of the time, most notably Ferdinand Bol and Allard van Everdingen. Nicolaas de Heldt Stockade (1614-1669) was responsible for the ceiling paintings emphasing the wealth and status of the Trip family.
What would later become the Rijksmuseum was, during King Louis Napoleon’s brief reign, housed in the Royal Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam. When the Trip premises became available in the early 19th century, it was decided to move the museum to the Trippenhuis where it would share its premises with the Royal Institute of Sciences, Literature and Fine Arts (the precursor of the Royal Netherlandish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the current occupant of the building). A complete overhaul was necessary. This took place from 1815-1817 and was carried out by the city’s architect Abraham van der Hart (1747-1820). Thankfully, while he covered most of the ceiling paintings with plaster ceilings of his own, behind these, the original 17th century paintings were preserved.
To let it be or not to let it be – that is the question
The current restoration, begun in 2011, aims to restore the halls and stairs with their magnificent ceiling paintings to their former 17th century glory. Many beautiful ceiling paintings, among which a particularly attractive one illustrating Aesop’s fable of the crow and the raven, had already been uncovered during a previous restoration.
Recently, when peepholes were drilled in one of Van der Hart’s plaster ceilings on the first floor, the restorers caught glimpses of a 17th century ceiling painting of exceptional quality and beauty. It also looked better preserved than others. How tempting to remove van der Hart’s plaster ceiling completely to reveal de Heldt Stockade’s new birds!
In the case of the Trippenhuis, the dilemma for the restorers is whether van der Hart’s 1815-1817 architectural concept is of similar historical and architectural importance as de Heldt Stockade’s ceiling paintings. Should not at least part of that early 19th design be preserved? It is a dilemma that many restorers face. You might compare it with old master paintings: if, for example, a 14th century panel painting was restored only fifty years later and partly overpainted, have not those overpaintings also become of art historical importance and should they for that reason not be left untouched? Likewise: is not van der Hart’s design as much part of the history of the Trippenhuis as the 17th century ceiling decorations are?
It will be interesting to see what the owners of the building, the Rijksgebouwendienst (the Government Buildings Agency), in conjunction with the Academy and the restorers, will decide. We have been promised that the new discovery will remain partly visible until the next edition of the Open Monuments Days in September, when the general public can visit buildings normally not open to the public, including the Trippenhuis.