Nearly everybody has a notion of what the interior of a Dutch seventeenth century house looked like. There is no other historic period that has left behind such a vivid sence of what we would encounter upon entering a well appointed home of the time. This sence is based first and foremost on the many paintings in which men, women and children are depicted in an interior, directly and intimately observed and surrounded by their furniture and other possessions.
19th and 20th centuries
In the late 19th and 20th centuries these pictures have been the inspiration behind many historic interiors But how realistic are those seventeenth century paintings? The rooms themselves depart in many ways from what can be gleaned about Dutch 17th-century interiors from other sources, such as written descriptions als listings in probate inventories. Some things are over-represented: for instance, marble floors and brass chandeliers were less common than these paintings suggest.
These artists like to include such features as they allowed them to display their skills in depicting perspective, the effects of light and beautiful materials. Skills that were highly appreciated by the connoisseurs and collectors of their work. In other respects, these impression conveyed by the majority of these pictures is too plain. For example, they show little of the abundance of Chinese porcelain, Japanese lacquer and other exotic works of art what was to be found in many well-appointed interiors.
Probate inventories which are often describe the contents of a house room by room, indicate that many interiors were quite crowded with furniture ans seemingly arranged in rather a haphazard
fashion. Moreover, these inventories often mention types of furniture that occur on rarely in paintings, such as linen presses, or layette cupboards.
There is a small group of exceptional works of art that does present a unique opportunity to inspect authentic, virtually unchanged rooms from the 17th century: the doll houses that were assembled in the last quarter of the seventeeth century by wealthy women in Amstedrdam.
Ladies were interested in all aspects of the interior, but they may nonetheless have concentrated their energies of the furnishings of rooms with textiles and luxurious comfortabkle or practical items
Their husbands were perhaps more concerned with the architectural of the house, both outside and in. Much Dutch 17th-century furniture-such as massive cupboards or study tables- has an architectural, masculine feel, suggesting it was close linked to the building of the house.
It was designed and made by men and, when purchased by a couple, furniture-like everything else- was paid for by the man, as he was in charge of finances. As a result, manuscript and printed sources that provide information on furniture production reinforce the inpression that it was a masculine affair. In reallity, however, women will often have made their voices heard to decisive effect.