A Spectral Spectacle: Dutch Mannerist Portals at Amsterdam’s New Philanthropic Sites, 1581-1645
(2021) Early Modern Low Countries, 5 (2), pp. 332-365.
After Amsterdam’s late medieval Catholic monasteries were surrendered to the Protestant government in 1578, four of these properties were converted into an orphanage, a mental asylum, and two gender-specific reformatories respectively before the turn of the century. Portals with Dutch Mannerist expressions were installed at the principal entrances as a publicly visible feature of modernisation for the repurposed complexes. This essay is a study of these architectural objects and their socio-political value for the city’s philanthropic campaign that affirmed middle-class power. It argues that the portals, completed with narrative relief panels and didactic inscriptions, were a means for Amsterdam’s authorities to redefine the spectacle of social marginality. Underclass visibility to the general population, once a concrete sight of panhandlers and vagrants occupying the urban landscape, became an abstract image of civic discipline. Such an image enabled sequestered and disappeared lives to reappear, with a spectral quality integral to Foucault’s analysis of modern society’s compulsion to stow away indigent bodies. Considering the seventeenth-century Dutch moral geography of moderating wealth through philanthropy, such a ‘spectral spectacle’ paralleled the Baroque theatricality of Counter-Reformation Rome as a spatial experience that advanced a more secular mode of devotion to the community. © 2021 Utrecht University Library Open Access Journals. All rights reserved.
Classical architecture; Disciplinary power; Poor relief; Portals; Public art; Urban spectacle