Tall and Small
Jan 01, 2017 10:51
The earliest silver miniatures were in all probability manufactured in the sixteenth century for the French court, intended as toys for royal offspring. In 1571 the daughter of Henry II of France ordered a dolls’ house and the accompanying household articles for the Duchess of Bavaria’s daughter. As a child, Louis XIII of France (1610-1643) was given an army of three hundred miniature silver soldiers. He used them to learn how to fight wars when he was older. Girls were also prepared for their future roles by playing with miniatures.
Court culture was keenly observed bobserved by the aristocracy. They wanted to emulate all things royal, and if they could afford it they surrounded themselves with the furniture and decorations they had seen at the court. The aristocracy, in turn, was copied by the wealthiest citizens, and in this way new fashions emerged.
As was often the case with trends originating in Paris, silver miniatures eventually arrived in the Netherlands. Although there was already considerable demand for silver miniatures in the Netherlands in the second half of the seventeenth century, their popularity was at its height in the first half of the eighteenth century. Particularly in Amsterdam where great prosperity continued unabated it was a real craze.
The design of miniature silver was modelled on full size silver objects. In the Netherlands a great many top quality pieces were crafted. Although the children of the elite did play with them, collecting them soon became a hobby for the wives of wealthy merchants and ruling families. Well-to-do ladies, chiefly from Amsterdam, had large cabinets made as dolls’ houses, which were then furnished with miniature silver household effects. This was an expensive hobby, which only a few could afford. The dolls’ house – like the collector’s cabinet – was intended for display and it was regarded as part of the owner’s art collection. It was a splendid way of emphasizing one’s status and distinction. One of the finest eighteenth-century examples is Sara Rothé’s second dolls’ house in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Centraal Museum Utrecht all have a magnificent dolls’ house in their collections.
By no means everyone could afford an entire dolls’ house, but many well-off people had a collection of silver miniatures at this time. They were displayed on shelves on the wall or in small cabinets. The figurines – occupations, games, sports and the like – were a separate category and were not put in dolls’ houses. This and the fact that no two dolls’ houses were the same size, explains why there is no uniformity in the dimensions of the pieces.
The demand for silver miniatures in Amsterdam was so high that generations of silversmiths specialized in making them. Three Amsterdam families – Van Strant, Somerwil and Van Geffen – dominated the market. The Van Strant family had three brothers working in the trade, one of whom – Frederik – later had a son who also joined the business. Three generations of the Somerwil family were actively involved. Arnoldus van Geffen worked as a silversmith for forty years, from 1728 until 1769. His nephew, Johannes Adrianus, made silver miniatures for thirty years.
Silver miniatures were mainly produced in Amsterdam. On a much smaller scale this silver miniature fashion was imitated in Haarlem, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Dordrecht, Delft, Leiden, Middelburg, and Groningen. Pieces were also produced in Friesland, where the Nassau family had a residence in Leeuwarden. In England, France and Germany miniatures were produced as well but on a much smaller scale then in the Netherlands.
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