Let’s talk about historic dollhouses again, as I did with the Victorian Dollhouses and the Tudor-style dollhouses. I really do think that any antique dollhouse is worth seeing if you are interested in history ànd dollhouses and miniatures, wouldn’t you agree?
And nothing appeals to the imagination like an old dollhouse that has been fully furnished so that living in earlier times comes to life.
What are cabinet dollhouses?
Originally, the term cabinet was used to describe a room full of ‘curiosities’, not necessarily a specific piece of furniture. These could contain a variety of unusual items: oddities gathered from newly discovered lands, special fossils, scientific papers, etc.
For maximum effect, the Curiosities were often displayed in such a way that it contributed to the ‘wow’ factor.
John Evelyn, for example, was a collector, and his wife Mary decided to buy a cabinet on a stand from a craftsman so that the little pieces of her husband’s collection would stand out more from the large pieces in the curiosities room.
Dollhouses were serious business in the 17th and 18th centuries, in Amsterdam specifically, where a small group of rich Dutch civilian women built a dollhouse in the form of an art cabinet.
The quality of these cabinets was exceptionally high. They furnished it with much detail and special miniatures, which were often made by craftsmen that were asked to make them custom made.
These valuable collections often represented the household that the owners were living in and most of the time, they were given as a wedding present. (if you can, you should definitely watch the miniseries ‘The miniaturist’ on TV about this topic).
Have a look at the video below for more explanation on this topic:
The cabinet antique dollhouse was a proud centerpiece in the house and it showed how wealthy someone was.
A few famous owners of cabinet dollhouses during history.
1. Petronella de la Court.
Petronella de la Court ( 1624-1707 ) was the wife of the beer seller Adam Oortmans and had, well, lots of money ;-). She had a large art collection with over 150 paintings, drawings, porcelain (more than 2000 pieces of oriental porcelain), and many rare objects. One of these objects was her cabinet dollhouse.
The dollhouse was made with olive wood, many different craftsmen were employed and it took nearly 20 years to build. A ‘decent’ household was represented in it and it had 11 parts that could be packed separately for traveling so that it could be shown off some more, all around the world.
5 of the rooms have a ‘senses’ theme. ‘Hearing’ in the salon, ‘Viewing’ in the art room, ‘Feeling’ in de delivery room,’ Taste’ in the kitchen, and ‘Smell’ in the garden.
This house had 28 dolls, representing the residents, the staff, and some visitors. They were all dressed according to the French fashion of 1670 to 1690, as did the hairdo of the ladies/wigs of the gentleman etc..
It also has more than 1600 miniature objects, but sadly, around 1800 all the original silverware was stolen.
If you would like to visit this dollhouse and have a good close look at all the antique miniature items ( Dutch paintings, ivory bas-reliefs, sculptures, beautiful clocks, or even a globe with a brass stand and illustrated books with leather covers, then you could always go to the Central Museum in Utrecht. ( yes, that is in the Netherlands 😉 ).
2. Petronella Dunois.
I haven’t found this much information on this antique cabinet dollhouse, but there is a bit.
Petronella Dunois (1650-1695) was a rich orphan, who was living with her sister Maria in Amsterdam. She compiled a cabinet dollhouse together with her sister, but only hers remained.
It probably was finished in 1676, because that year was mentioned on several objects in the house. The house was also mentioned in her dowry in the year 1677.
The dollhouse has an attic, a children’s room, a nursery room, a reception room, a basement, a kitchen, and a dining room.
The cabinet was made with walnut wood and originally had two doors. You can go visit it in the ‘Rijksmuseum‘ in Amsterdam, where it was donated in 1934.
3. Petronella Oortman.
Yes indeed, I am not confused, yet another collector is called ‘Petronella’. There must have been a lot of people with that first name during that time period in the Netherlands ;-). If I read it correctly, these three women probably knew each other as well. I can just imagine them showing off their dollhouses to each other, fun times!
Petronella Oortman ( 1656- 1716 ) was married to Johannes Brandt, a rich silk merchant. She ‘worked’ on her cabinet dollhouse for 24 years and its estimated value is about 10.000€, which was a fortune during that time period. (it would cost as much as a real house).
Her cabinet is much larger than the others and beautifully decorated and very detailed.
The outside of this dollhouse is covered with tortoise and tin. It had marble floors and paneling from oak and walnut wood. The Chinese porcelain in the kitchen was bought especially for Petronella through the United East India Company in China. It had 9 rooms. Have a look at the interior in this video:
This antique dollhouse was decorated so precisely, that it gives us a perfect view of how rich civilians lived in the 17th century.
This dollhouse was already very famous as an art cabinet in the 18th century and visitors from the Netherlands ànd from abroad came to see it. In 1887 it has been handed over to the Rijksmuseum.
4. Sara Rothé
Sara Rothé ( 1699-1751 ) had 2 cabinet dollhouses. Her husband was the merchant Jacob Ploos van Amstel, living in Amsterdam as well.
The 2 cabinet dollhouses were made by Cornelia van der Gon, who took apart 3 of them and assembled them into 2 houses. Sara added more ‘modern’ objects to the collection, and she also made some embroidery and card weaving herself. It had an exceptional group of dolls in it.
The cabinet itself was made from oak, burr walnut veneer, walnut veneer, and copper.
Her written notes about the origins of her dollhouses turned out very valuable for scientific research of the living circumstances of this period in time.
Have a look at the dollhouse in the next video:
5. Lizzy Ansigh.
Lizzy (a beautiful name isn’t it? 🙂 ), was a talented artist who grew up in an artistic environment. She became known for, among other things, painting dolls. ( She lived from 1875 to 1959 ).
This is where the cabinet dollhouse comes into the picture because she wanted to paint one and so she bought one in 1910. I can not seem to figure out who the person was that actually made the dollhouse.
It was made around 1740-50, veneered with burr walnut and mahogany. Twenty dolls live in eight rooms and a very large attic. A variety of miniature objects were added by the artist.
After moving around from museum to museum, it finally ended up at the ‘ Erfgoedcentrum Rozet‘ in Arnhem, where the restoration is sponsored by the ‘Friends of Museum Arnhem’.
Sadly I can not find more information or a video of this cabinet dollhouse, but that is probably because she was more specialized in painting dolls, and because her studio, including the dollhouse, was severely damaged during World War II.
But I do think that by now, you get the picture of what a cabinet dollhouse in the Netherlands looked like:
6. Agnes Maria Clifford
Agnes Maria Clifford ( 1739–1828 ) came from a wealthy, prominent family of patricians. She got married to Cornelis Backer, who wasn’t that poor either :-).
At first, she was a real needle artist and collector, but at a later age, she got very well known because of her 2 cabinet dollhouses, which were nice showpieces indeed.
Later on, the houses got a little too expensive for the household, so these are clearly less luxurious than for example the dollhouse of number 4: Sara Rothé. But she did inherit miniature silver, porcelain, and special wooden dolls.
These dolls were dressed by her and her wonderful needle-art, according to the dress code of The Netherlands during the time period of 1785-1795. She also embroidered all carpets and covers for the walls and furniture, on which she put her initials.
One house is now seen in the museum ‘Simon van Gijn‘ at Dordrecht and the other in ‘Stedelijk museum Zutphen‘ at … Zutphen ;-). Sadly again, I didn’t find any video of the houses and just a few pictures. I guess I will need to visit myself one day and take better pictures..
Other countries to visit antique cabinet dollhouses.
Cabinet dollhouses were not so popular in England, they preferred to impress visitors with their real size houses and furniture, but there is 1 exception and it’s called the ‘Killer Cabinet’.
This smaller cabinet was a gift of surgeon John Egerton Killer, from Manchester, to his wife and daughters in the 1830s.
It was lacquered in black and decorated in the Chinoiserie style. There were 4 rooms that also were decorated in that style.
Dr. Killer ( what’s in a name for a doctor haha ), didn’t just want to please the women in his household by having this dollhouse made, but he was also obsessed with cleanliness and thus it tells a story about how the staff must have struggled with keeping the house as hygienic as possible.
This house is now seen at the “small story’s”-exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (admission seems free?).
Modern cabinet dollhouses.
You don’t like an antique dollhouse, but you do like the thought of a modern cabinet dollhouse? Then you should probably go have a look at the work of Xandra Dekker. She is from the Netherlands (yes yes, of course! 😉 ) and collects and makes dollhouses and miniatures. Two of them are being done in a cabinet. Her blog is in Dutch obviously, but it could be fun to watch the pictures of all the rooms! (click on them to enlarge).
To end this blog post about cabinet dollhouses, I leave this video here, WATCH it, this is a mini-mini cabinet, so damn cute! (sorry for my language)
An antique dollhouse as we know it now wasn’t a toy in the 17th/18th century, but serious business and a way to brag about the effective way that your household was running! And to show how rich you were..
Do you have any questions about this article, would you like to add something to it, or maybe want to ask me to write another article on another (dollhouse) topic, then please leave a comment in the comment section below.
Also, I would love for you to join my Facebook group on miniatures and dollhouses.
I wish you happy crafting!