Saturday, January 10, 2015


Well one of my birthday books was the above, I have loved making miniatures in the past, whether making things for the Georgian dolls house I bought my daughter all those years back or historical room boxes, so the title of the book was intriguing. Read about a quarter of the book last night (I devour books that's why I keep away from fiction).  Set in Amsterdam in the 17th century, it tells the tale of 18 year old Nella married to a wealthy merchant, as she comes to the city to take up residence in her new home, only to find her marriage is not to be consummated, well not up to the time I have read! Her husband gives her a very expensive 'cabinet house', these were given to wives to introduce them to the running of a home and the things that belonged in the home.
The doll's house in the story is based on a real one in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and belonged to someone called Petronella Oortman, so the author of the above book Jessie Burton has set her story around this cabinet house...

"This dolls’ house is exceptionally realistic. All the contents have been made of authentic materials, and the proportions are exactly correct. The fine cabinet, of tortoiseshell decorated with pewter inlays, was made by a cabinetmaker from France, who worked in Amsterdam for several years. Petronella Oortman was married to the Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt."
Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam

Ornate and rather ugly but it reflects the fashions of its time, you can also see a great deal of craftsmanship and of course beauty.

Reading round this book I came across  Uta Frith, psychologist, someone who has explored how our minds work, and that which is relevant to doll houses, the fact is that they provide memory banks, she had one made by her husband and sons, and this is what she would have taken with her on her mythical trip to a desert island....

"My doll's house satisfies my lifelong longing for the good, sober and virtuously industrious domestic life, never achieved."

need I say more on untidy housewives, note how the silver needs cleaning below...


Edit: By now I have finished the book, and am intrigued by the Miniaturist, who of course is a shadowy figure you never get to meet in the book.  She delivers her parcels of tiny furniture and models of the people who are caught up in the drama and in a way she dictates, or for sees, the nature of the events, but we never actually understand her as a real living person.  This of course, is a good plot line, and the weaving of plots are after what it is all about.'a godlike person moving the chess pieces on a board.

So how do I look back on my miniature work, still have the tools, and occasionally my fingers itch to take up a knife and some wood, and there is a woodworker who creates the different grades of wood you need and also those rounded pieces that I would turn on a miniature lathe to make elegant legs for tables and chairs, but you need space and old tables to work on, something I have not got here.

Did I do it for pleasure? or to transform ideas into 3D reality, or a psychological unconscious act of trying to create the pictures that always buzz through my head, who knows but the idea of a' memory bank' somehow strikes a chord.

Well it set me thinking about 'cabinets of curiosities', a hobby in itself and what had inspired me all those years ago.  Well it must have started when my then mother-in-law Lotta gave me some small silver 18th century things, a table and chairs plus a sledge.  They were all in 1/24 scale, now most miniaturists work in 1/12 scale, so as I never worked in 1/12 they were used as toys in the nursery, being a miniaturist you have to make up stories to go with the setting.  The two little 'chased'  silver pots next to them are pepper and salt, think Persian.  Already because I have taken them out of their rather dark cabinet, I see I could have dated the man pushing the sledge by the clothes he is wearing, there used to be a little man inside but he has got lost with time.  Each object has a story in a past history, -- the star etched with such precision on the top of the table, a shadowy man stoops and concentrates as he uses a tool to scribe with such thoroughness-- the story is  there of course, we just don't see it.  Such things get passed down through the children, and our questioning curiosity is never quenched.......

To illustrate the 'bank of memories', two photographs....  The Hat Shop

These hats, which I made belong, to a little polygonal shop, with a gold cupola on top, the Bath maker was imitating the gold cupola of Beckford's Tower which lies above the city of Bath.  But when I look at these pictures, I see a moment in time, sitting with my daughter in Victoria Park.  She had just emerge from an unhappy relationship, and as we sat in the cold sunshine talking, I collected those little feathers you see on the hats from the outdoor aviary of budgerigars, with her convinced I would pick up some terrible disease from them.  The shop now belongs to my youngest granddaughter and is probably in need of complete refurbishment.  But her great granny Lotta (she who possessed the little silver table and chairs) was also in possession of a Chinese cabinet that she inherited from her mother. Filled with ivory figurines(shocking) and jade objects it dominated the sitting room in its black and gold altar like state.
Slowly a 'female' pattern emerges passing down to our daughters and grandchildren not only the possessions we accumulate but the ideas as well.


  1. I love the sound of it....will be seeing if I can get a second hand copy very, very soon!

  2. Hi Em, Must admit I rambled there, but the book is worth reading, and because I had a Dutch ex- MIL, it fascinated me.....