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werkelijkheid of schijn. Het beeld van het Hollandse interieur in de zeventiende-eeuwse genreschilderkunst

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

Our ideas of what 17th century Dutch interiors looked like have been conditioned by the hundreds of paintings of interiors by Dutch genre painters. Even restorations and reconstructions in our own time (fig. 1) are influenced significantly by them. It is therefore of vital importance to our knowledge of the history of Dutch interior decoration to realise what we can or cannot believe, and to compare these genre interiors with other sources such as probate inventories, building specifications, plans, conditions of sale, contemporary descriptions such as travellers' reports, etc. It is the combination of these different types of information that enables them to supplement and correct each other. Since the fixed interior fittings are not usually mentioned in probate inventories, it is even more important to weigh all the available evidence by critical analysis. The scope of this article allows me to discuss only a few of the many features; I shall therefore restrict my comments to the fixed decorations and closely associated features. This discourse is therefore in part a comment on Peter Thornton's book Seventeenth Century Interior Decoration in England, France and Holland, who made extensive use of Dutch genre paintings but, unfortunately, could not compare them with inventories of Dutch burghers (other than with the published inventories of the princes of the House of Orange) or with other written Dutch sources. The main starting point is a well-known picture by Emanuel de Witte in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningcn in Rotterdam, of which a second version is kept in Montreal (fig. 2-3); hardly any other genre interior has been so consistently used as a prototype for a Dutch 17th century interior. The room in the foreground shows a woman sitting at a virginal, a common feature in Dutch houses of the period, while on the left a man is sleeping in a bed; during this period, wealthier people were only just starting to differentiate between living-rooms and bedchambers, and a combination of the two functions was still quite common. The ceiling, however, shows that the tie-beams do not run parallel to the façade as they ought to, but perpendicular to it. This is clearly an instance of artistic licence, so that the horizontal lines of the beams can close off the composition at the top. Behind this room is the entrance hall, with two more rooms behind. An enfilade of this kind is out of the question in a Dutch house at that time, even in a country house. Here the artist has allowed the emphasis on the perspective view and spatial relationships within the painting to prevail over reality, a common feature in most other Dutch genre interiors (fig. 4). Floors with intricate patterns of contrasting marble slabs are a predominant element in these perspective paintings. They can be seen in most genre pictures from the middle and third quarter of the 17th century. However, very few such floors actually survive. There is a rare example, dating from 1661, in the museum 'Our Good Lord in the Attic' at Amsterdam (fig. 6). At that time Amsterdam was a port of transit for marble and stone from Italy and other countries. Travellers reported seeing patterned marble floors in Amsterdam, although most floors of this kind arc likely to have been in official or public buildings. Their prevalence in the residences of burghers is open to question. Only a few building specifications describe them, while explicit references to expensive wooden floors in rich houses have been found. For instance, in one of the most luxurious Amsterdam residences, the mansion of the Bartolotti family, only two such floors were added between 1649 and 1664, in which latter year the rooms in question were particularised in the inventory as 'stone' chambers. This specific indication is in itself proof of how rare marble floors were, for such designations occur only sporadically in inventories of the period (e.g. of the Trippenhuis). In the elaborate descriptions of his important commissions between 1637 and 1670 (fig. 7) the architect Philips Vingboons always mentions marble floors when there are any: altogether, he describes 'Italian' floors four times. They are however quite plain, consisting solely of white slabs; only in two instances was the white marble relieved by blue or red strips specially cut for this use. The fact that this prominent architect dwells so proudly on this feature demonstrates how exceptional it was; elsewhere he invariably speaks of Prussian deals. Several designs by the architect Pieter Post for interiors of burgher houses survive, some even with patterns for marble floors. Again, though, they are very simplc (fig. 8-9), the more elaborate ones being meant for an entrance hall (fig. 10). And we know from the records that wooden floors were preferred for a house which Post built in Dordrecht, even in the reception rooms. Similarly, a third well-known architect, Adriaen Dortsman, designed stone and marble floors only for the basement and corridors of the house he built for Jan Six in 1666 (fig. 11) - not, however, for the main rooms. Examples like these, moreover, apply to the houses of the absolute upper class in Amsterdam, the richest city in Holland. Marble and stone floors were in fact largely confined to halls and corridors, as in the palace Huis ten Bosch built by Pieter Post (fig. 12-13). Of the other palaces belonging to the Prince of Orange, only Rijswijk was famous for its marble floors in most of the rooms (fig. 14). The rooms in the two earliest 17th-century dolls houses, dating from the 1670s, do not have marble floors either, except for the entrance hall (fig. 15); a slightly later one has a marble floor in the hall and the best kitchen, but also in the lying-in chamber (fig. 16). These Amsterdam dolls houses again clearly indicate a preference for wooden floors in reception and living rooms. The rarity of marble floors in living rooms is understandable, since they struck cold and were uncomfortable to dwell on. In the front halls, where marble or stone floors were much more common, there was usually a wooden platform (called a zoldertje) for people to sit on (fig. 19). All this is borne out by one quantitative source: a series of the conditions of sale pertain ing to houses in the city of Haarlem over a period of sixty years. Although they concern the second half of the 18th century, a considerable number of 17th-century interior features were still preserved. No fewer than approximately 5000 different houses are described in this source: by then nearly all larger houses had marble entrance halls and corridors, most of them dating from the 18th century; however, a total of no more than nine living rooms arc mentioned as having marble or stone floors! All these considerations lead to the conclusion that, although marble floors did exist in the houses of Dutch burghers, they were

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