BEELDENKAST, CARVED OAK, DATED 1650

This kind of richly-ornamented cupboard, whose decorations admonished to a life of virtue, was frequently made as a dowry piece or wedding present, representing the most important piece of furniture owned by young newlyweds. As a rule, houses in the first half of the seventeenth century were still very small; the obvious place for such a large cupboard was the voorhuis, the large room into which the house was entered from the street, and which was also the place where the occupant usually conducted his business. Positioned there, a beeldenkast sent out a direct message about the affluence of the house’s occupants, their taste and their preference for the rules of classic architecture, as well as their adherence to high morals. However, it seems unlikely that a married couple is indicated by the coats-of-arms of the two cities of Amsterdam and Hoorn. A more plausible explanation is that the cupboard was made for a government institution or some other organization connecting both cities. It is worth mentioning that Hoorn occupies a special place within the history of the Dutch beeldenkast. The only known example that was made as part of a fixed wall panelling was originally in the Sint Pietershof in that city, a former monastery that was turned into living quarters in 1617; that cupboard is now in the Westfries Museum in Hoorn. It may therefore be assumed that cupboards of this type were made in Hoorn, whereas Amsterdam was also an important centre of their production. What is remarkable about the cupboard is that it bears the date of 1650: an extremely rare occurrence. The earliest dated example, from 1622, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Clearly, by 1650 the specific form of a beeldenkast had already been made over a protracted period of time. While the basic form remained unchanged, the cupboard from 1650 shows several innovative features. The carving on the frieze does not form a decorative pattern but shows a continuous representation of marine creatures – quite appropriate for the sea port of Hoorn. There is a cupboard in the Rijksmuseum which has a similar frieze with representations of ships at sea, fish and so on. Taking the place of ‘statues’ on that cupboard, which is dated 1659, there are plain half-columns with festoons in the style of the Amsterdam Town Hall, built between 1648 and 1655 to a design by the famous classical architect, Jacob van Campen. The festoons on the bottom drawers of the cupboard made in 1650 are already display this style, as do the brackets carved with acanthus leaves that support its top. Moreover, the same cupboard also shows unmistakable elements of the so-called ‘kwabstijl’, an exuberant, fantastical decorative idiom that was developed by the famous Dutch silversmiths, the brothers Adam and Paulus van Vianen. Auricular motifs are seldom found on carved oak furniture. The most eye-catching examples on the cupboard of 1650 are the cartouches framing the coats-of-arms on the doors. In this way the cupboard represents a kind of sample book of decorative trends in the first half of the seventeenth century: the makers have used all their ‘tricks of the trade’ to produce an exceptional showpiece.