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De schouwburg van Jacob van Campen

B. ALBACH
Oud Holland
Vol. 85, No. 2 (1970), pp. 85-109
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42710853
Page Count: 25
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De schouwburg van Jacob van Campen
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Abstract

In 1637, following the union of three Chambers of Rhetoric, work was begun on a new theatre in Amsterdam to replace the wooden building (of 1617) known as the Academy. The prime mover behind the project was the city treasurer, Nicolaas van Campen, and the architect was his great-nephew, Jacob, who, although clearly influenced by Palladio, worked out his design primarily in accordance with the traditions of the Rhetoricians, bearing in mind the demands of their many-sided repertoire as well as elements of decor already in existence and the requirements of the Netherlanders9 beloved tableaux vivants. Situated behind some of the houses on the Keizersgracht, the building looked much the same from the outside as the Academy. It was built on piles, the exterior being of brick and the interior of wood. Through a monumental entrance on the canal one passed into a courtyard and thence through a low foyer into the theatre itself, under the steeply sloping roof. The theatre was elliptical inform with a stage as broad as the auditorium (14 m.) but very shallow (maximum 5 m.). The pit had a brick floor, providing standing room only, surrounded by two tiers of boxes with an amphitheatre above. The ceiling had a barrel vault with a semicircular window opposite the stage to let in daylight; otherwise the theatre was lit by a chandelier, oil lamps, candles, wax-lights and torches. The theatre's accounts, which have been preserved, provide much useful information about the progress of the building work, the materials and people involved in the installation and decoration, the repertoire and the actors. The building itself was paid for of out the proceeds of the Rhetoricians' theatrical presentations, which had long been used to suppurt the city orphanage and the almshouse for old men. When it was opened on January 3rd, 1638, it was still not finished and work on the stage, entrance and boardroom continued throughout that year and most of the next, the building accounts being finally closed in November, 1639. Among the craftsmen were Nicasius van Eyckelbeeck who did the woodcarving, R. J. Berchouwer who did minor painting jobs, and Thomas Gerritsz. who was responlible for the sculpture. The final work on the stage began about the time of Marie de MedicVs visit to Amsterdam in September 1638 (which, incidentally, provided work for a great many artists, since the displays on the River Amstel were repeated in the theatre). The landscape flats, which appear on Van Baden's painting of the stage and which could evidently be interchanged, were painted by Steven Jansz. van Goor and the six flat statues, which were detachable, by Moses van Uyttenbroeck, while Aelbert de Valck and Pieter Post were responsible for the perspective views in the background, which seem to have given Joachim van Sandrart inspiration for his militia piece. On either side and the centre at the back there were porticos. The central pavilion, hung with blue silk curtains containing a throne (by Van Eyckelbeeck) upholstered in blue velvet, could, so it seems, be removed to permit a painted and specially illuminated "cloud" to be lowered and raised behind the opening thus revealed in the back wall. This cloud and the "Gates of Heaven" above the central pavilion, with a representation of the Judgment of Paris, were completed in December 1639 by Claes Moeyaert. The central section (alcove) was often the setting for dumb shows (a typical example ofwhichs appears to be represented in Pieter Quast9s In Praise of Folly), while all the porticos were used to frame tableaux vivants, like Isaacsz.'s street-scenes which, according to the accounts, attracted very large audiences. From the projecting corners of the side balconies apparitions could be let down, and there were also trapdoors in the floor of the stage itself. Under the influence of the Italian decor system however, in 1664 the permanent setting was dismantled in order to enable the auditorium to be rearranged lenghtwise and a deep stage with changeable scenery to be built. This necessitated the addition of an extension behind the theatre but otherwise the exterior was little affected. As Miss Freemantle has pointed out, there is a resemblance between Jacob van Camperis stage and the wall of the Tribunal in the Town Hall (now the Palace) on the Dam, which served as a backdrop for the ceremonial process of justice, and indeed the reality enacted there had exactly the same mythological and religious appeal for the citizens of Amsterdam as the performances in their monumental theatre.

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