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Peace and privacy

In the sixteenth century, the elderly lived independently for as long as possible. It was not common for them to move in with their children and they sought assistance only when it was absolutely necessary. The kind of help they could receive depended on their social status and financial situation. Those with sufficient funds arranged for home help. Those less fortunate ended up in ‘old men’s homes’, ‘old women’s homes’, ‘proveniershuizen’ or almshouses.

In this period responsibility for housing elderly people who were no longer able to take care of themselves was shared by the church, city councils and wealthy individuals. They founded almshouses: a courtyard surrounded by small row houses or rooms. Most almshouses also featured a regents’ room and other communal facilities. The Karthuizerhofje (c.1650) in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam is a typical example of this typology.

The city council commissioned the city architect, Daniël Stalpaert, to design housing for approximately one hundred widows, possibly with dependent children, and unmarried women. In addition to accommodation, the residents received fuel, bread, cheese and some pocket money. The design comprises four brick buildings arranged in a square around a central garden. The architecture, with classical elements such as pediments, exudes peace and order. Here the city created a protected living environment for women, including the elderly, who were no longer able to provide for themselves.