Het Zwigt

In 1758 Jan Wagenaar was appointed as the official historian of Amsterdam, giving him access to the city’s archives and records. He spent the next decade writing a great history of Amsterdam. The first of three volumes was published in 1760 and the last in 1767. They are wonderful books with many large plates like the one below. They also contain dozens of detailed street maps and plans of buildings. They show Amsterdam’s growth, from it’s humble beginnings as a fishing village to the magnificence of one of the most important cities in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, when this book was published.

 

Het Zwigt

 

This print, in the second volume, shows one of the entry roads into Amsterdam, from the direction of Utrecht. ‘Zwigt’ or ‘zwygt’ actually means ‘be silent’ and was the name given to the tower in the picture, as an insult or command to the neighbouring city of Utrecht. In 1522 the ‘Kloveniers Schutterij’ was established. They were a group of men charged with the defense of the city. They used a primitive type of musket called a ‘klover,’ hence the name. They were given the tower as a base and from it grew a complex of buildings that they used for meetings and target practice. By the time Wagenaar wrote his history, the military significance of the Kloveniers had all but disappeared and it had changed into a sort of society for the great and good of the city. The complex of buildings was now being used for social gatherings and to accommodate important visitors to Amsterdam. On the walls could be admired many group portraits of the different ‘compagieën,’ one of which was the famous Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn. The name of the street is the ‘Nieuwe Doelenstraat’ (new targets street) and the tower was located on the site of the current Hotel Doelen, which was built in 1883 after the demolition of the Kloveniers building complex.

The etching shows the tower and the guarded entrance to the city, with some soldiers having a chinwag in the front. To the right of the tower we can see the busy river Amstel. On of the quirky things is the crapping dog in the bottom right. In fact this dog, or one of his relatives, appears in many paintings and etchings from this time. Some are even depicted inside churches. The problem of dog poo on the street apparently started a long time ago.

 


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