The Agnietenkapel on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, is one of the few of the many monasteries and convents of the city’s medieval period to survive.
The Agnietenkapel was built in 1470 as part of a large convent. Like all Amsterdam’s monasteries and convents, with the Alteration in 1578 (when the city switched from Catholicism to Calvinism) the chapel came into the possession of the city government. Following redevelopment, in 1632 the chapel was taken into use by the Athenaeum Illustre, the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam. The contiguous buildings on Oudezijds Voorburgwal were demolished in order to make way for an inner courtyard and entrance gateway. The façade and layout of the chapel were radically altered. The existing tall Gothic pointed window was bricked up and two new pointed windows were built at first floor level in order to allow daylight into the large lecture hall, where the professors delivered their lectures from nine o’clock to eleven o’clock every morning. When the Athenaeum Illustre outgrew the building, it was given a new use. From 1864 to 1919 it housed a primary school and a library.
The unusual brick and sandstone gateway to the chapel’s inner courtyard was built in 1571 to a design by the architect Vredeman de Vries. The gateway, in Renaissance style with airy and elegant scrollwork, originally stood at the entrance to the Stadstimmertuin on Nieuwe Doelenstraat until the city government decided to move it. The date on the gateway was changed from 1571 to 1631, the year in which the redevelopment for the Athenaeum Illustre was completed. The gateway is decorated with lion masks, diamond heads and geometric patterns. On top of the gateway is the city’s arms and the date 1631, flanked by two ornamental vases.
In 1921 the chapel was once again taken into use by the University of Amsterdam and underwent a major redevelopment and restoration programme. This was carried out under the direction of A.A. Kok, an architect at the city’s public works department. His aim was to reveal the building’s history and to add components in a contemporary design. The original character of the chapel’s attic storey was reinstated, with recessed walls and a wooden roof. Kok also added various elements in the style of the Amsterdam School and designed new wrought-iron railings for the gateway.
Following this redevelopment, the attic storey housed the university’s historical collection. The other rooms were used as lecture halls. This situation continued for some considerable time, but on various occasions certain parts of the chapel were given a new use. The oldest lecture hall on the first floor has served as the university’s conference centre since a refurbishment in 2007. The ground floor has been used by the university museum as an exhibition space since 1988. (Arcam, Ismay Rentenaar)