Weigh house cover

The Dutch weigh house arose as a building type at the time such as the well-known artist, Jan Vermeer, was producing his distinct oeuvre. This Dutch painter is now recognized around the world for his highly refined, realistic paintings. Both his oeuvre and the unique architecture of the weigh house type were produced during the so-called Golden Age in Holland. Extending through much of the 17th century, this period was characterized by great prosperity, cultural sophistication in the arts, a weak aristocracy as well as a powerful and independent mercantile class. Although the high level of the aesthetic, technical and psychological qualities of the painting of this period is widely recognized, the attending Dutch architecture is generally considered to be less significant, particularly when compared with contemporaneous examples of feudal and religious buildings in southern Europe. Yet such an assumption ignores the special qualities of the profane architecture that the Dutch created during the Baroque period to serve their global trade and highly developed local economy. Among this architectural production, the most important building typology that emerged is known as the weigh house. It is found in no other countries on earth.

Karl Kiem’s groundbreaking study of the weigh house (2009) is now available in an English translation. The weigh house typology, which emerged during the Dutch Golden Century, was constructed to weigh merchandise exclusively. The author traces the development of this type beginning with its origins as one of a number of functions that were included in the large urban trade hall of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance period. In the Republic of the Northern Netherlands (1581-1795), due to the special economic and political conditions, the function of weighing became extremely important. Subsequently a new typology, the weigh house, was developed primarily in the Provinces of Holland and Friesland. These buildings contained elaborate moveable weighing equipment and accommodated the movement and short-term storage of goods, foodstuffs and even livestock for local or international consumption. Public weighing of merchandise was crucial to the Dutch economy during the 17th and 18th centuries because it enabled the state to tax these transactions to raise substantial revenues. Due to its technical inventiveness, careful integration in the urban fabric and the rich sculptural articulations, this building type can be considered as the architectural pendant to the illustrious painting of the Dutch Golden Age.

In addition to this historical overview, the variations of this typology are analyzed, their development and distribution throughout the Republic of the Northern Netherlands are documented, and the economical, political and cultural conditions that gave rise to the building type of the weigh house are presented and evaluated. Karl Kiem’s study of the Dutch weigh house not only recounts the history of the weigh house for the first time, but also calls for a reevaluation of both the normative historical narratives of the Dutch Golden Century and European architecture of the Baroque period.


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Articles (in German language) on Dutch weigh houses: