The Rasphuispoort

At the entrance of Amsterdam’s version of a shopping mall, the Kalvertoren, is a marble arch with a woman, two chained men, and a lion carriage. A man is whipping the animals and beneath them shoppers walk today.

Large and gold is the Latin word Castigatio. Discipline as punishment, and any Italian child knows that to go in castigo is to be separated and be punished either from family or at school. Here, Castigatio refers to the use beyond the arch: this was a place of punishment. This was the Rasping House, Rasphuispoort, where young men were sent to hard labor after breaking the law. They were to rasp trees into thin wood shavings.

Small and gold are the words Virtutis Est Domare Quae Cvncti Pavent. A line said by Megara in the book of Hercules by Seneca, written in the first century. She was the first wife of Hercules, the man all men feared, but was only married to him as a gift from her father. She disdained Hercules from the start, driving him to madness over the years. How could all these men love him, yet his own wife loathe him? In the legend, he kills their two sons as revenge, and there is no record or line that explains her death. What remains are her great words: “Valour consists of subduing what everyone fears.” Wild beasts must be tamed.

What else remains is a nameless woman between two chained men. She holds in one hand a whip and in the other the shield of Amsterdam. The men are strong and full of hair, young men who have lost their way. Below, a man on a cart is whipping wild animals, lions, bears, tigers, and boars, showing what was happened after the arch. The Rasp House refers to the workplace where imported wood was grated into a powder necessary for mixing paint and dyes. It was one of the most important but difficult tasks in the chain of labor, done thanklessly and viciously in a hot, powdery, hard to breathe area. Through discipline and separation can misguided men find their way back to the right path. But through the story of Hercules, is that ever really possible? 

Rasphuispoort, Heiligeweg 19

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