Last week I visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t seen yet since its reopening in 2013. I was impressed: by the new entrance courtyards, the layout, the helpful staff, the paint colours, the restored murals, the display cases and the text labels. And last but not least by the objects, which sing out in their greatly improved environment.
One of the things I had a good look at was the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, which was created between about 1686 and 1710. Like the big dolls houses at Nostell Priory and Uppark it provides a wonderful insight into the taste of its period. Objects or practices which have been lost in actual historic houses can still be encountered here. It is almost like a seventeenth-century photo-shoot.
Textiles, in particular, have often been lost from historic interiors through wear and tear and light damage, but in these dolls houses you can still see what kind of squab cushions they had and what the bed curtains looked like.
I was intrigued by the miniature representations of the pieces of silk stretched on wooden frameworks, called sassinetten, which were set into window embrasures of Dutch houses at that time. Presumably they were meant to increase privacy while still letting in the light. No full-size examples seem to have survived, as they would have deteriorated fairly quickly in the sunlight. But the painted decoration seen on some of the miniature screens in the Oortman dolls house is clearly in the Chinese style (and is similar to the scenes in the Chinese pictures at Shugborough Hall, for example). So did they use imported Chinese pictures on silk for these screens, I wonder?
And if the painted silk on some or all of these window screens was indeed Chinese, should they then be counted among the precursors of Chinese wallpaper? We tend to think that the development of panoramic Chinese wallpaper for the European market was preceded by the use of separate Chinese prints and pictures as wall decoration in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. These sassinetten may have been one expression of that taste.