This section is from the book "Dutch And Flemish Furniture", by Esther Singleton. Also available from Amazon: Dutch and Flemish Furniture.
Het reysen is een taech nyet yder opgelcgt, En 't is nyet al te veel en sonder blaim gezegt, Het huys is als een graf, waerin wy altyt wonen, In 't aerdsche tranendal.
Plate XXXV. - Chairs. RIJKS MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM.
(Travelling is a task not given to everybody, And it's not said so much and without blame That the home is like a grave, wherein we always dwell, In the earthly vale of tears.)
The house was therefore "their world, their toy, their god"; they loved to embellish and decorate it, they loved to take care of it and keep it clean, they loved to see it painted on panel and canvas; and some of them even went so far as to have their house reproduced in miniature, with all its furniture and belongings copied in wood and metal.
It would be a mistake to suppose that the so-called dolls' houses, which may be studied in the museums of Amsterdam, Utrecht, and other towns, were merely the somewhat elaborate toys with which the English-speaking juvenile race sometimes amuse themselves. As the old inventories show, dolls' houses and all their appurtenances were very vivid mirrors of contemporary life, including furniture and costume. This is particularly true of Holland, although other countries of Western Europe preserved evidences of the taste for similar "toys" of earlier date. Henry IV of France, for instance, when a child, played with toys, among which are noticeable a suit of clothes in wrought silver.
These dolls' houses were elaborate and costly; for every detail of the real model was represented, including the small articles of porcelain, Delft, earthenware, pewter, brass and silver. Dolls' salons, too, were often painted by noted masters, and cost thousands of florins. For example, a beautiful doll's house of the date 1680, in the Antiquarian Museum of Utrecht, has its walls covered with paintings by Moucheron. The houses consisted of from four to eight rooms with furniture of wood, silver, gold, or filagree silver or gold. Such rooms as the kitchen, lying-in room and death chamber were often included. The latter was draped in black with a canvas or silver coffin containing a tiny wax corpse. Often, too, the house was completed with a pretty miniature garden embellished with a quantity of coral-work, trees, hedges, seats, paths and statuettes. We may note that Margaretha Godewyck had a doll's house with a garden and arbour, upon which she wrote the following poem: -
Op myn coraal werk
Hier siet ghy van coraal in 't cabinet besloten,
Een baeckermat, een wiegh, een korf, een stoof, een tnandt,
Een kleerben opgeproncht, een bedsit, ledikant
Gevloghten van coraal en na de kunst gegoten,
Gemaecht van suyver glas, en van verscheyden kleuren,
A en d' Aemstelstroom gevormt van blaeuw, van groen en peers,
Want sulck corale werck verdient oock wel een vers.
En Pallas sou het self voor wat bysonder keuren.
(On my coral work.
Placed in my cabinet here, you see made of coral
A baby's basket, a cradle, a child's foot-warmer and a warming-basket,
An ornamental clothes cupboard, a bed and bedstead of twisted and cast coral
And of pure glass, of different colours,
Shaped at Amstel's stream of blue and green and purple.
For such coral-work deserves indeed a verse,
And even Pallas would judge it more than ordinary.)
Op myne thuyn van syde
Hoe seer dat Crassus pronckt en stoft op al sijn fruyten,
Gewassen buyten Room en aen het Tybers stof,
Hoe seer Lucullus pryst sijn bloemen, planten, spruyten,
Sijn ooft, sijn boom-gewas, sijn za'en, sijn braven hof,
Dit alles kan een wint, een buy en vlaegh verdrijven,
Soodat de bloem verdort en't rijpe fruyt verstickt.
Maer mynen hof van syd die sal gedurigh blyven.
Mijn fruyt het greetigk oogh, maer niet de mond verquict.
Geen spin, geen worm, geen rups en kan mijn boomen deeren,
Mijn bloemtjes somers sijn en 's winters even groen,
Mijn kerssen altyd root, mijn appelen, mijn peeren
Sijn altyt even gaef, sy konnen 't ooghe voen.
(On my garden of silk
How much Cassius may pride himself and boast of all his fruit
Grown outside Rome and on the Tiber's border;
How much Lucullus may praise his flowers, plants and twigs,
His lawns, his tree-garden, his seeds and a fine orchard -
All these can be scattered by the wind, a shower, or a gust;
So that the flower fades and the ripe fruit perishes,
But my silken garden will remain for ever.
My fruit satisfies the greedy eye, but not the mouth;
No spider, worm, nor caterpillar can hurt my trees;
My flowers are as green in winter as in summer,
My cherries always red, my apples and my pears
Always ripe and sound; they feed the eyes for ever.)
The dolls' houses of the rich were always made of costly woods, and were frequently inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell. At the exhibition of Amsterdam in 1858, among a number of these curiosities, was a notable one veneered with tortoiseshell and with painted glass doors - a present from the King of Denmark to Maarten Harpertz Tromp. Another was a typical Dutch house of walnut-root wood, furnished with silver furniture and wax dolls; there were also two of Italian make with tortoiseshell, ebony and brass ornaments, the doors of which were painted with Italian sea-towns; and one of ebony, the door-panels of which were painted by Peter Breughel.
In the Rijks Museum are several models in miniature of old Amsterdam houses. The finest one is of tortoise-shell ornamented with white metal inlay. According to tradition, Christoffel Brandt, Peter the Great's agent in Amsterdam, had this house made by order of the Czar, and it is said to have cost 20,000 guilders (£2,500), and to have required five years to produce. Dating from the latter part of the seventeenth or first part of the eighteenth century, it contains all the furniture that was to be found at that date in an aristocratic dwelling on the Heerengracht or Keizersgracht. Every object in it was made by the proper artisan, so that it is correct in every detail.