Jan van der Heyden is known worldwide as a painter of exceptional cityscapes. But this talented seventeenth-century artist was also an important inventor and entrepreneur. He visualized his inventions—the improved fire pump and modern city lighting—in beautifully detailed drawings and prints, which the Amsterdam City Archives presents in a special exhibition for a wide audience that loves Amsterdam and seventeenth-century Dutch art and history.
Fire Pump and Fire Hose
In the trade metropolis of Amsterdam – with 200,000 inhabitants, one of the largest cities in late seventeenth-century Europe – fire was a constant threat. The exhibition focuses on Jan van der Heyden’s improved fire pump and his revolutionary invention of the fire hose. Van der Heyden showcased his inventions in his famous Brandspuitenboek (Fire Book), published in 1690. Besides nineteen original plates from the Brandspuitenboek, the exhibition includes a number of exceptional drawings that van der Heyden made on location shortly after the fires. The fifteen Amsterdam fires he described are further explained in an audio tour based on his accounts, supplemented by new archive research. The fire reports provide unexpected and fascinating glimpses of domestic life, and describe the seventeenth-century Amsterdammers’ occasionally reckless handling of fire.
The exhibition also shows images of van der Heyden’s second groundbreaking invention, the new ‘lamp lantern’. As the city lacked adequate lighting, van der Heyden not only designed a new ‘lamp lantern’ (an oil lamp on a lamp post), but also devised an organization that could operate these lamps and specified the costs: a seventeenth-century business plan. In 1669, the Amsterdam city council agreed to his plan to install 1,800 street lamps in the city. Van der Heyden had them placed along Amsterdam’s streets and canals according to a sophisticated lighting plan. Thanks to these new lanterns, Amsterdam was considered the best-lit city in seventeenth-century Europe. Both developments made a lasting contribution to the safety and well-being of the people of Amsterdam. In Amsterdam and other Dutch and European cities where van der Heyden had marketed his inventions, his fire pump and lantern were in use until the nineteenth century. The solutions that van der Heyden provided to the problems of the seventeenth-century city provide timeless inspiration for the major challenges facing Amsterdam and other metropolitan regions in
the early twenty-first century.
Amsterdam On Fire is based on the Amsterdam City Archives’ unique Jan van der Heyden collection. This collection, formerly owned by descendants of van der Heyden, has not been on public display since the van der Heyden exhibition of 1937. In 2019, the Amsterdam City Archives managed to acquire this collection in collaboration with the Amsterdam Museum. This exceptional acquisition was made possible by contributions from the Mondriaan Fund, Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its KOG–Vereniging Rembrandt Fund, its Themafonds Prenten en Tekeningen and its Kruger Fund), the Friends of the Amsterdam City Archives, the Amsterdam Museum, the Amsterdam Museum Foundation and the City of Amsterdam.