A new Golden Age

Is there a link between economic growth, science and art? Of course there is! And nowhere else was this clearer than in Amsterdam in the final quarter of the nineteenth century.

In 1877 the old Athenaeum Illustre made way for the new University of Amsterdam. The proud citizens of the city gave their wholehearted assistance to the establishment of their university. They donated many books, for instance, that are still among the best pieces in the Special Collections. Thanks to this involvement, the university got off to a flying start. The university was given a Vesalius, for example, which is now one of the most valuable books in the Special Collections.

Almost simultaneously, the great economic and cultural revival that we now call the ‘Second Golden Age’ began. The city underwent radical modernisation, and this renewal was captured by young artists and writers. The ‘Tachtigers’ were an Amsterdam-based movement that included authors such as Willem Kloos, Lodewijk van Deyssel, Frederik van Eeden and Albert Verwey. They met in the cafes on Nes street and at the home of the well-known painter, Willem Witsen.

The natural sciences flourished in the nineteenth century like never before, a development in which Amsterdam’s professors played a key role. In many Dutch city there are streets named after the physicists Pieter Zeeman and Van der Waals, the celebrated botanist Hugo de Vries or the chemist Jacobus van ’t Hoff.

Amsterdam’s researchers were awarded numerous Nobel prizes. Their laboratories arose in the city’s Plantage neighbourhood, where they are still to be found to this day.
Science and creativity made Amsterdam into the bustling economic centre that it remains today.


  • Hugo de Vries, painted by Thérèse Schwarze in 1918, painting a plant of the species Oenothera, his most important test plant.

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