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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

18th c. Antwerp Cabinet House

(Information is based on an article I wrote for Miniature Collector magazine, September 2012, with additional text).

                                                Cookie's 18th c. Antwerp Cabinet House

             For many years, I had a dream about having a baby house cabinet similar to the antique examples I had seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Gemeentemuseum (Central Museum) in The Hague, but never thought it would become an option.  I was hoping to find some large cabinet I could use, and my then husband and I were antiquing in Westport, Connecticut.  I had had enough shopping for one day and didn't want to go into the last shop on the street.  He is psychic and said we should go in because he “knew there was something” inside for our daughter.  I immediately saw this beautiful old linen cabinet and said, “I don’t know if there is anything in here for her, but there is something here for me.”

            Thinking we could not afford it, I asked the price.  The owner's asking price was ridiculously expensive but I quickly realized it was a “married” piece and not worth the quoted figure.  I pointed out to the dealer that the hand that had done the marquetry on top was not the same as the hand that worked the marquetry on the bottom.  He had to agree.  When the dealer realized I understood what the piece was, he quickly changed the price to make the sale. When I saw the back of the cabinet during its restoration, it was obvious that the two pieces were made in different centuries, the cassone had water damage and was obviously centuries older than the top.  Several years later at an antique fair in Bruges, Belgium, I saw many original cabinets which had very high prices, so I was even more thrilled with my find.

             In this case, the “marriage” was of a 19th century Dutch or Flemish case piece on top with a 17th century Italian cassone, which was used to collect a bride's trousseau, (the size and shape of a blanket chest) below. When these cabinets were made, what we know as Belgium today was called Flanders or South Holland so it is fair to call it a South Holland Cabinet.  For convenience, the baby houses we know from the museums are referred to as Dutch Baby Houses but I will refer to this as an Antwerp piece because it is more correct and to avoid confusion with my 17th c. Dutch Canal House.

            The dealer recommended that the cabinet be sent for restoration to Agostino Antiques, a very fine antique shop in New York City's antique district with restoration facilities in Staten Island, N.Y.  I brought many books showing Dutch Baby Houses to explain how I wanted the interior to be fitted out.  The Russian restorer spoke no English but the pictures told the story and he said "Da," he knew he could fulfill my wishes.  His work was perfection.  The upper portion of the cabinet originally contained only two shelves as these cabinets were meant to store linen, and I needed this space to be converted into nine room boxes.  A Dutch housewife has always taken pride in her linens, even today.  When taken apart, the entire cabinet consists of 21 pieces.  It measures 8’ 6” high, 6 feet wide and 20” deep.

  Sara Ploos van Amstel (seated) and family

            Initially, I thought about trying to copy of one of the famous baby houses I had seen in The Netherlands and studied all the books I had based on them.  I found it so confusing between the names of the women owners, most of whom were called “Petronella!”  My favorite baby house was owned by Sara Ploos van Amstel neé Rothe, who had acquired three old cabinets in 1743 for 903 florins at auction.  (For more information on her house, see Miniature Collector #49, Summer 1985).   She had her cabinetmaker, Jan Meijer, construct two new cabinets and used the room boxes and some of the accessories from her acquisitions.  Her baby house, now in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, is the one I modeled my cabinet after.  It is so tall (probably over 10 feet high) that the museum placed a set of stairs across the front for viewers to see the uppermost floor.
             You will note the three figures of Humpty Dumpty seated atop my cabinet.  A five to seven piece set of “garniture” would normally be placed there, consisting of a matched set of antique porcelain bowls and bottles, perhaps from Delft or China.  I have searched out antique sets but some of them cost as much as a down payment on a house, so my Humpty’s happily survey the scene.

Here Goes Some History...

            A great part of my love of miniatures is to have a story for my dolls houses, as well as doing the historic research, and was inspired when I twice visited the 17th century Sir Peter Paul Rubens house (known as Rubenshuis) in Antwerp (then known as Flanders, it became Belgium in 1831).  I decided Rubens and his dearly loved family would be the occupants of the cabinet house.  Although a cabinet layout could never look precisely like a house, I used certain elements and have kept it to the period toward the end of Rubens life when the 53 year old Rubens lived there with his second wife, 16 year old Hélène Fourment and their five children, the last of whom was born after Rubens death in 1640.  Rubens and his first wife Isabella Brant, who died in 1626, had three children including Albert and Nicholaas and a daughter who died.  I gather Isabella was the love of his life but he happily married the young woman later in life.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, self-portrait

          Rubens, born in 1577 in Siegen, Westphalia (now Germany) of a wealthy Catholic Flemish family, was a classically educated humanist scholar, art collector and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England, when he conducted negotiations to bring peace between the two nations.  He was given the rank of master painter of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke and his education in art was completed with a tour of Italy in 1600 to study 16th century artists including Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. The use of color and composition of Veronese and Tintoretto affected Rubens's painting, and his later, mature style was influenced by Titian.  As part of his grand tour, he traveled to Rome and Florence, where he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of the Italian masters, being influenced by the art of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio.  He became the court painter to the Duke of Mantua and returned to Antwerp in 1608 after his mother died, never to visit Italy again.

            Born a Calvinist and raised a devout Roman Catholic, he was the most important and wealthy Northern European painter of the Baroque period, and a connoisseur of ancient and contemporary Italian architecture.  He and wife Isabella Brant bought the property in an exclusive part of Antwerp on a street called the Wapper in 1610.  His most ambitious architectural project was his plan for the radical renovation of this house which he extended between 1616 and 1621 by building a semi-circular sculpture gallery, a painter’s studio and a garden pavilion.  

The 18th c. Antwerp Cabinet House shown in my living room
                                         (note that names of miniature makers are bold)

The Cabinet House
I reasoned that the lowest floor of the cabinet would have Rubens painting studio, the garden and kitchen, with the dining salon, oval gallery and collector’s room on the middle floor.  The uppermost floor would be the lying-in room (where the woman of the house spent much time after childbirth), a combined servant’s bedroom and laundry room and Rubens own bedroom.  Unique Miniatures made most of the “plaster” trim throughout the rooms and I created the box interiors and fireplaces, painting the faux marble and designed the upholstery.  For purists, please excuse my use of “artistic license” in that some of the furnishings were of a slightly later date. 

The First Floor (the ground floor)

The Painting Studio on left side of ground floor

The Painting Studio has a similarity to the actual studio at Rubenshuis with a viewing balcony above.  In reality, this was a very large space because he worked on a grand scale and there were many apprentices working in his atelier (studio) at one time, one of whom was Sir Antony Van Dyke, later known for his portraits in England under the patronage of King Charles I.  Various artists among them had specialties such as landscapes, seascapes or florals and they would paint these parts of the works with Rubens filling in faces and hands or redoing the final layer to his taste.  His grand compositions were frequently religious or allegorical works including huge altarpieces commissioned by Archduke Albrecht and Archduchess Isabella, the Catholic Spanish rulers of Flanders.  They appointed him court painter but he was not required to live at court in Brussels since he was happiest in Antwerp and did not care to be too close to court activities.  Rubens was an avid letter writer and these were saved, so much is known about his thoughts and work.  He painted for heads of state all over Europe and had to use this studio method to keep up with the demand.  His greatest commission was to paint a suite of twenty four paintings for Marie de’ Médici, depicting her life and deeds for her gallery at the Luxembourg Palace.  I believe there are over 3000 paintings attributed to Rubens.

This time in history is known as the Baroque period which is known for its large, highly ornate furnishings and architecture where gilding was profusely used.  Rubens painting style is remembered for his lusty exuberance and almost frenetic energy.  George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, bought Rubens collection for 100,000 guilders, a fortune at the time.  Rubens was known to have collected fine ivory carvings, cameos, gold coins, carved gems, drawings, agate vases, gold chains, vessels and brilliant colored shells.  He acquired paintings by many of the Italian masters he had studied, as well as that of his contemporaries: Antony Van Dyke, his greatest pupil; Peter Brueghel the Elder; Adam Elsheimer and Adrien Brouwer.

Several period easels show Rubens paintings including that of two of his sons, Albert and Nicholaas, by Ed Chol and his painting of “The Garden of Love.”  Another easel displays the painting of "Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son, Giovanni de Medici" after Arnolo Bronzino, c. 1545 by Michael ReynoldsAnn High of England made the 15th century ambry (also spelled aumbry or called a dole cabinet) topped with red and gold fabric.   The chandelier is an old Christmas ornament that I antiqued.  There is a pair of Charles II chairs with Spanish feet on either side of the fireplace and they are marked with the Butterfly Collection logo from Goebel Miniatures.

                        The Courtyard and Garden (De Thuyn) center of ground floor

As part of his renovation, Rubens fashioned a screen, like a triumphal arch closing off the courtyard by connecting the old, 16th century dwelling with the newly built painter’s studio (the schilderhuys) which Rubens designed in the style of an Italian palazzo.  This screen still survives at the Antwerp house.  The deities shown in his customized statuary declared that this house was dedicated to wisdom, art and virtue. The miniature statuary was found over the years by several makers in the United States and England, including the sundial by Sue Cook of England.

The Pantry and Kitchen right side of ground floor

The Kitchen (De Keuken)
The Kitchen and adjacent pantry have wooden furnishings from Michael Mortimer of England and Barbara Moore of Pear Tree Miniatures in Wales, as well as wooden accessories from David Krupick and Pam and Pete Boorum of Smaller Than Life.  Some of the copper is by J. Getzan, food items from the Vincent’s of Country Contrast in England, and baskets by Francine Coyon of France and Lidi Stroud of Australia.  The hook in the fireplace to hang the kettle is by Alan Hamer and I made the very large painted dresser (far right) and painted hanging shelf (far left) in the pantry.  The painted hanging cabinet in the corner of the kitchen is by Ruth Pollock and the tiny corner piece in the hallway is by the Boorum’s.

The Second Floor 

                           The Dining Salon  left side of middle floor 

The Dining Salon features a very large 16th century light oak Cabinet with pewter hardware by Jurgen Engel of Germany as well as his refectory table.  Near the table is a pair of ornately carved Baroque chairs by Bespaq.   Above the cabinet is a large round 17th century sterling silver charger plate showing heavily chased Nautilus figures from Antwerp by Jens Torp of EnglandCarol Lodder of England made the 17th century Dutch ceramic tulip vase based on one Trees Beertema and I saw at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.   The five arm brass chandelier is an antique and Henny Staring-Egberts of Portugal made two of the ceramic chargers on the plate rail.  I made another charger at Deborah McKnight’s home.  There are also three old German metal chargers shown.

Paul Saltarelli’s painting of "A Still Life with Flowers" is after Cornelius Van Spaendonck, and I painted the Still Life in class with Johannes Landman at the Guild School (unfortunately not shown).   Ruth Pollock of Spain painted the three panel screen in the corner. 

             The Collector’s Room (De Kunstkamer) right side of middle floor

Since Rubens traveled extensively and was a great connoisseur, The Collector’s Room represents his many interesting acquired pieces.  A battery operated 17th century Lantern Clock is by Jim Watt, and Ann High made a 16th century “Rembrandt” chair and a small Gothic bench.

A French Renaissance cabinet "en ecaille," done in ivory and ebony has eight drawers, a central door with a miniature painting, interior marquetry and mirror inside made on a stand with four columns of ebony by Bruno and Patricia Herbillon of France and is featured in the alcove.  A heavily chased antique silver domed casket stands in front of the cabinet as well as an antique ivory spinning wheel.  The King Charles Spaniels are by Karl Blindheim of Canada, the pair of wooden torcheres are by John J. Hodgson of England, the Delft ceramic humidor is by Lee Ann Chellis Wessel and the 17th century globe-on-stand is a joint project by Jim Watt and Geoffrey Herickx, both of England.  An oil painting of “A Child in White" after Dirck Santvoort with a handmade frame of yew is by Johannes Landman and I painted the “Boy Looking out of the Window” after Rembrandt in Johannes’ class at the Guild School in Castine, Maine (sorry, out of the camera's view).

The small round table is by John Ottewill of Canada as well as the little turned leg stool in front of the Italian refectory table.  John J. Hodgson made the pair of Savonarola (X-frame) chairs and there is a pair of Mark Model chairs next to the small refectory table in the center of the room.

Pierre Wallack made the Flemish barley twist leg table with a central drawer, as well as the tavern table, both in cherry wood.  Ann High’s book slope rests upon this table with a copy of Jean, duc de Berry’s Book of Hours by Barbara Moore of Pear Tree Miniatures, open for reading.

The ceramic obelisk on the central table in the room is by Henny Staring-Egberts and Henry Purcell’s Book of Music is by Yahtri Bourse of Rosie Duck Designs.  There are three pairs of Dutch Silver sconces located in various rooms.

                             The Oval Gallery (Het Voorhuys) center of middle floor
Johan Ulfman of The Netherlands made the central table which has bulbous legs with ebony inlaid detail which came in its own box of Dutch yew wood.  Jens Torps’ elegant drinking horn circa 1598, is trimmed with silver and stands on an old large oval silver platter atop the table.  Christopher Malcolmson of England made the small marquetry table on the right side wall.

The Third Floor 

                            The Lying-in Room (De Kraamkamer) left side of top floor

Bedrooms were used for entertaining guests as well as for sleeping.  Every fine house of the period had a lying-in room as the lady of the house frequently had babies and recuperated for up to six weeks and greeted her friends and relatives there.  The bed used was entirely tented with velvet hangings, usually a deep red as it was thought to have healthful benefits, and was placed in a corner to keep out drafts.  On the floor near the fireplace is a bakermat, made by Zara Thomson Ribeaud, a woven basket with a handle on the back for hanging up between newly arrived babies, where the wet nurse would feed the baby and then change the infant on her lap while staying seated.  No dressing tables in the 17th century!  Interestingly enough, they did have "walking cages," and this one was made by Cristina Noriega Moran of Spain perhaps by Jim Watt), for the baby when the child was able to stand upright.  So, “nothing new under the sun” certainly applies here.  The burl oak cradle was made by Michael Reynolds.  

Next to the bed is a Bespaq Baby House, but used for its original purpose here as a linen cabinet.  Women in the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Belgium) were, and still are, intensely proud of their linens.  Seventeenth century Dutch artist, Pieter de Hooch (the resident of my 17th c. Dutch Canal House), even painted a servant handing the woman of the house her linens while she is putting them carefully away in a large cabinet.  Another ornately carved cabinet in the anteroom is by JBM Miniatures of Australia.  They also made the gate leg table standing nearby.  An old pewter framed mirror stands on this table with a collection of old brass items.  A pair of Mark Model chairs and another pair of Bespaq chairs are near the fireplace for the use of visitors. 

                  Servants/Linen Room (De Kleerzolder) middle of top floor

Michael Mortimer of England made the Dutch style box bed behind the dividing wall.  Baskets from many countries are on the floor, including the very light colored one from Thailand.  I copied the hanging linen dryer from one of the baby houses in a museum.

                           Rubens Bedroom (De Slaapkamer) right side of top floor

Sidney Anquist made the 17th century Oak Court Cupboard shown on the right and Tony Jones of Atlanta made the wide 17th century tester bed, which I dressed.  Ann High made the stool and Salisbury chair that stands near the bed. 

Rubens was a Catholic living in a Calvinist society but never suffered for this difference.  He lived in the house for almost 30 years until his death.  The city of Antwerp bought the house in terrible condition in 1937 and completely restored it using the oldest known sketches from 1680 as the basis for the restoration.