On 18 October 1680 the merchant Barent Helleman passed away, leaving his fortune of 90,000 guilders to the Diaconate of Amsterdam. These funds were used to found a home for elderly women. The city donated a plot of land and the city architect Hans Jansz. van Petersom was called in to help with the design. In 1683 the ‘Diaconate Home for Elderly Women’ was completed with an imposing facade that was 102 metres wide. Behind it was enough space to house four hundred women. Chambrettes, the rooms in which the women lived, were constructed in the two side wings of the building. In 1817 the home also started providing accommodation for elderly men.
The church hall was the second-biggest hall in the city up until the twentieth century. Not only was the church service held here every Sunday but it was also the place where the residents ate their meals every day, where official celebrations were held, and where receptions were held for dignitaries. Members of the Dutch Royal House and Sir Winston Churchill set foot in this building by the Amstel river and in 1953 it was given the name Amstelhof.
A number of renovations have been completed over the years. Early on it became clear that the original kitchen was too small and a new one was built in the cellar. That kitchen can still be viewed in its original state in the Amstel Wing, near the reconstructed Regent’s Chamber. In 1860 a central heating system was installed – the very first in the world. Large-scale renovations were carried out from 1970 to 1979. Yet less than twenty years later it turned out that despite these improvements, the building no longer met the requirements for suitable residential care. In 2007 the last residents were transferred to other homes. That was long after Ernst Veen, director of De Nieuwe Kerk, had come up with the idea of using the Amstelhof for a new purpose: to become the partner of the Hermitage St. Petersburg. A place to exhibit art from that colossal Russian treasure trove which has over three million works of art at its disposal.
From 2007 to 2009 the Amstelhof was converted into a state-of-the-art museum. The architect Hans van Heeswijk designed the building, Merkx+Girod architects designed the interior, and Michael van Gessel designed the garden. The exterior has retained its classic character, although all later coats of paint were removed, while the interior is a completely new, open, and light. On 20 June 2009 the Hermitage was opened to the public with the launch of the exhibition At the Russian court.