The Tiny World of Cabinet Houses: Background information when reading The Miniaturist

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The Miniaturist

by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton X
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 416 pages
    Jun 2015, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
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About this Book

The Tiny World of Cabinet Houses

This article relates to The Miniaturist

Print Review

Like Nella in The Miniaturist, the real Petronella Oortman ordered a cabinet house to be made in 1686 to the exact scale of her own home. It can still be seen today in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Petronella's cabinet house was elaborate, gilded with silver and inlaid with tortoise shell, but this was not a unique purchase for a woman of her time.

Petronella Oortman's cabinet houseBoth wealthy men and women in 17th century Amsterdam kept cabinets full of exquisite trinkets to celebrate their status. Men's cabinets were usually called curiosity or wonder cabinets. They displayed items from anywhere in the world the Dutch traded. Women's cabinets were oversized dollhouses, but were certainly not toys. While a man's cabinet exhibited the bounty of Amsterdam's success in trade and international relations, a woman's exalted the beauty and order of the home. Still, a woman's cabinet was no less exotic than a man's. Just as Petronella's husband would have included items from Asia in his cabinet, her cabinet house boasted miniature porcelain plates imported from China. The pieces of furniture and accessories in the home were not the only focus. The physical decoration of the cabinet house was also important. Petronella's contained marble floors in the front entryway and murals created by famous Dutch artists Willem Frederiksz van Royen and Nicholaas Piemont. When the house was on display, the front door could be opened to show a full garden, complete with working fountain and pump. The copper pump in the kitchen was even functional.

Petronella purchased the house for twenty thousand guilders, the equivalent cost of an average-sized family home in today's dollars.

Petronella Oortman's cabinet house, courtesy of Jacob Appel

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Miniaturist. It originally ran in September 2014 and has been updated for the June 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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