The House with the Heads

The symbolism behind the name ‘House with the Heads’ fits the great thinkers that can be encountered in the Embassy of the Free Mind.

In the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam was internationally known for its tolerance and freedom of expression. Several great thinkers were not allowed to publish their works in their own country – except in Amsterdam, which fast developed into a haven for free thinkers in the 17th century. It was one of the foremost places in Europe where unconventional ideas could be freely printed – it also led to a flourishing book trade in those times. The House with the Heads was built at the outset of this Golden Age and became a hotbed and a place of exchange for creative and progressive ideas in the fields of science, philosophy, culture and trade. The reformer and philosopher Comenius, possibly also Spinoza, and members of the prominent Elsevier publishing family were made welcome by the De Geer family who owned the house, to philosophise and discuss scientific, philosophical, theological and social issues. It is that very contrarian and free thinking which is a central and continuous strand running through the unique collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and the stories that are told in the House with the Heads. As in the Dutch Golden Age, the House with the Heads with its remarkable cultural heritage will be open to the free thinkers and the independent minds of today and tomorrow.

The symbolism behind the name ‘House with the Heads’ fits the great thinkers that can be encountered in the Embassy of the Free Mind. The collection of 5,000 early printed books and manuscripts also recalls the collection built by the De Geer family in the seventeenth century, which included works by Comenius, Böhme, Spinoza and others. As such, the De Geer family library shows great similarities with the BPH collection managed by the Worldheart Foundation. In a manner of speaking, the collection has come home.

The House with the Heads was only partially accessible to the public throughout its centuries-old history. Art auctions were organised in the building from 1811 – Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson was sold from here. At the beginning of the twentieth century the house had fallen into disrepair and there were plans to demolish it. Fortunately, it was decided in 1908 to thoroughly restore the house instead, after which it became the home of the Amsterdam Music School. The next occupant of the house was fur dealer Aron Heertje, who lived and worked here from 1931 to 1983. He put great effort into improving the building and also furnished it in seventeenth-century style. After Heertje’s death, the Amsterdam department of Listed Buildings (Bureau Monumentenzorg) moved into the house, following another restoration campaign.

Today, one of Amsterdam’s landmark buildings is open to the public at large and will be restored in seventeenth-century style in phases. Although its authentic character has been remarkably well preserved and the house plan has remained virtually intact, a number of changes were introduced in the course of time. Several elements were lost, there were reconstructions to the building, a few authentic parts were moved and parts were added that did not originally belong to the house.