The Amsterdam City Orphanage
I have always liked the paintings by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). His paintings focus on reality. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the way he portrays his subjects. He painted objects, people and scenery in an enigmatic way that allows the viewers to contemplate a meaning. His work also lacks a narrative; he concentrates on giving people a chance to focus on the moment yet letting a story develop gradually in the viewer’s mind.
This same kind of realism in art can be found in a series of remarkable colorized postcards from 1904 of the Burgerweeshuis (City Orphanage) in Amsterdam, Holland.
Founded in 1578, then between 1580 and 1960, the orphanage was home to thousands of children, many of whom lost their parents to the plague. An education was provided for the orphan boys in city schools, also for the girls from the orphanage with an emphasis on domestic skills.
The orphanage building is now the Amsterdam Museum. Visitors can learn of the orphans and other eras in Amsterdam’s history.
The five postcards that follow show an exterior and four interior pictures of the orphanage.
Girl’s Dining Room
Boy’s Woodworking Class
A Class of Younger Students
These postcards invite many questions. Were the students well-treated at the orphanage? Did they learn valuable skills there? What happened to the children who misbehaved? Did children die of ill-health while there?
These postcards provide no answers to such questions, but they do give the viewer an up-close look into the past. A more detailed history of this orphanage and more of the postcards from this remarkable series can be found on the website http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/.