24th April 2019 | The list
To create the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam six 17th century canal houses situated on the UNESCO heritage protected Herengracht were connected, restored and renovated. These properties, located in an area enriched by its maritime trade for over 200 years, are not unfamiliar with distinguished guests, having been home to a number of illustrious residents.
One such person was the widely travelled merchant, Willem Sautijin, who traded in the Levant and Italy and lived in No.546 from 1673. Sautijin was also the inspiration behind the bespoke armillary sphere that can be seen through the finely detailed columns of the arrival lobby.
Dating back to between 276 and 194BC, the armillary sphere is an intricate framework of rings, centred on Earth or the Sun, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features, such as the ecliptic. Used to calculate the location of objects in the sky, they were among the first complex mechanical devices and allowed astronomers to map the stars and predict the future positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Renaissance scientists and public figures often had their portraits painted showing them with one hand on an armillary sphere, which represented the height of wisdom and knowledge.
During the 17th Century as European powers headed east and south in search of discovery and exotic trade, one of the most reliable methods of navigation was the use of an armillary sphere, helping the ships arrive at their destinations on time using the sun and moon for precise timing and location. VOC captain Dirk Hartog and Willem Sautijn of No.546 are very likely to have used this type of equipment to sail around the Cape and on to the Spice Islands and the Far East where a lively trade in mace, cloves, pepper, silk, china and textiles was to be found.
The VOC were the largest trading agency in the world during the 17th century and so the sphere is a symbol of the Amsterdam chamber’s success in trade and discovery: an image of what made Amsterdam great and helped to give birth the origins of the canal houses. Today’s Waldorf armillary sphere is a striking central feature that can be seen through the doors on the Herengracht whilst retaining a lightness and transparency allowing for views directly to the garden behind.