(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: August, 2013

Dutch interiors


The exterior of the Willet-Holthuysen home, which has an extra-wide facade and a servants’ entrance below

The Dutch, as you may know, are famous for their interiors.  And as one Dutch docent noted, for one of the world’s tallest nationalities, they live in some of the smallest spaces of any country (even the houses of the rich aren’t so large as elsewhere).  So I suppose they make every bit count.

I visited several different house museums while in Amsterdam.  One, the Willet-Holthuysen home, was decorated according to the style of its Victorian owners, while another, the 17th C. Geelvinck-Hinlopen home, was eclectic but included original elements.  And sometimes I’d just run into a viewable kitchen in a museum that wasn’t a house museum at all.

The pattern of most of these houses was that of an upper class family. They were usually on the Herengracht, which means something like Canal of the Aristocracy (or at least merchants). Usually Dutch houses were quite narrow, two or three windows across and four stories high, but the rich merchants sometimes bought two lots, affording a door and two windows (one room each) on either side.

A common layout included a library on the right side of the entrance, a parlor on the left, and a dining room in the back. Sometimes the dining room would have a low ceiling, which allowed for a sort of mezzanine-level linen and china pantry above. In the back of the house, overlooking the garden, was a sunroom or conservatory. The family’s bedrooms were upstairs, and the female servants slept in the attic.  Downstairs there was a servant’s entrance below the front steps, which led to pantries, male servant’s quarters, and the kitchen. Two of the houses I saw also had a carriage house behind the garden, facing the opposite block, but that was only for the richest people.

Below are some examples of the rooms in the family quarters.  Then scroll down for more explanation:

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Libraries and parlors

Bottom two photos: 1) A typical style of 17th C. curio cabinet.  The inserts were sometimes made of ebony, and sometimes merely painted black.  2) What do you know?  A painting by Bouguereau (top)!

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Dining rooms

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Over the course of the week, I realized that while sometimes the formal rooms felt a bit stuffy, I always liked the kitchens, which were intended only for servants to use. They too had their common features: Tiles on walls and floors, brass fixtures hanging from pegs or the ceiling, assorted earthenware jugs, windows (often facing the back) over wooden cabinets, a stone sink in the corner, built-in cabinets to hold china, a large table in the center of the room,  some kind of large stove/oven combination (open fireplace or wood stove) along one of the walls. One house had a tap built into the stove to take advantage of the heat for hot water, and another had a small room between the kitchen and the garden outside for messy jobs such as cleaning fish.  I’d also frequently see a small marble sink built into the wall of the servants’ hallway. One home had a shed by the back door for powdered wigs!

Below are some, but not all, of the kitchens I observed over the course of the week. The one at the bottom you may recognize from the last post. It’s Rembrandt’s kitchen.

And below the kitchens, there are two last photos and comments.

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And finally, I saw some magnificent examples of Dutch dollhouses as well. They often included perfectly detailed miniature tea services, books, and linen cabinets.  Some were scaled-down versions of their owners’ houses. Here is a small sample, including an elegant home, some kitchen implements, and a more modest home.


Up next:  A different kind of house museum altogether!




Abraham’s Sacrifice, etching by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1655, Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam

Several of the museums I went to in the Netherlands were house museums, including the home of the master painter and etcher Rembrandt van Rijn.  The self-guided tour included several rooms in the house and all the working areas, plus a couple of galleries.

It’s always interesting to see where someone famous lived, because you get a better idea of how and when the events of their lives unfolded, and especially if you are an artist studying an artist, it’s always helpful to be able to see the scene in your mind.  Rembrandt built this house (very expensive in its time) during the most prosperous period of his life, but he later lost it to creditors. Many of the dramas of his life unfolded here, including the death of his wife Saskia shortly after the birth of their second son Titus, his subsequent involvement with his housemaid Hendrikje Stoffels and a major scene that occurred in the kitchen when it became clear that he was never going to marry her as he had promised. Clients came to the house to buy art–his and that of other painters whom he represented.  He also had a large collection of artworks and natural specimens, which only the rich could afford.

I got to watch two demonstrations while I was there, one on engraving and etching, and the other on mixing paints.  Rembrandt developed the etching process himself and made it popular.  In fact, in his own lifetime he was known primarily for his etchings, rather than for his paintings.  I’ve done a bit of etching and have mixed my own paint on at least one occasion (in a class based on Rembrandt’s techniques, in fact), so I was able to follow along quite easily. Still, it was interesting to see how this work was done in Rembrandt’s own home, using materials and equipment from 17th-century Holland.  I’m rather glad that tube paints are available now and that you don’t have to charge extra for using ultramarine (the name means “from across the sea”) blue, but it’s still interesting to think of how intense a color you could get by learning to mix your own paints.

Anyway, below are some photos of the house, with explanations:

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1. One of two art galleries for clients, this one in the entry.  There was a cupboard bed for clients in the adjacent parlor gallery. 2.  The kitchen.  I developed a real interest in these cozy Dutch kitchens over the course of the week. 3. Rembrandt’s bedroom, with more paintings.  The room was reconstructed based on an etching of Saskia at the time of Titus’ birth.  Beds were so small because people slept sitting up for fear of dying.

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1. Rembrandt’s etching and engraving studio 2. A close of up an engraving plate and materials used to cover the plates used for etching. 3. Rembrandt’s painting studio 4. A sketch showing the corner of the studio used for posing 5. Paint pigments for mixing 6. Rembrandt’s collection of other artist’s drawings and natural specimens.


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After our family’s six-week trip to the US, Sarie and I barely had time to get back on European time before we found ourselves on the way to the Netherlands, along with Alberto, for an early music festival at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.  We spent nine days there, and while Sarie and Alberto played German Baroque music for violin and oboe, I visited museums.  Then we toured a bit together during the remaining two days.

This was my first major trip to another European country since we moved to Italy (not counting very short day trips to Switzerland and France), so I was pretty curious to see how much things could change within a short distance. Sarie was happy to see Alberto again after six weeks and to finally get some instruction in Baroque music.  All in all, it was a very happy trip.

I’ll probably do two or three posts on the Netherlands, because I went so many places during our time in there. Scroll down for somewhat detailed explanations of the photos below:


Photos above, after the one of me at the top: 1. Sarie, Alberto and Alberto’s oboe teacher at the Early Music festival.  They loved his comical faces and had fun imitating them! 2. A common wooden shutter arrangement in Amsterdam. This type of shutter was almost always painted red or orange. Dutch orange is a very popular color for decorating in the Netherlands.  3. A typical example of the bike culture in Amsterdam.  As Sarie said, “It’s not hard to cross the car part of the street, but you’re taking your life into your hands crossing the bike lanes!”  We also noticed that people there matched their bicycles as people elsewhere match their dogs. 4. A typical canal scene with flowers and houseboats. 5. Serendipty: a floating concert!  6. A shop window: We loved noting all the cozy Dutch details.  7. More bricks and shutters, from the top floor of the Rembrandthuis (hint).

Bronx Botanical Gardens


During one of my days in New York City, I had the pleasure of going to the Bronx Botanical Garden with my friend Barbara (above).  Despite  living in the city for fourteen years, I had never been there.  But once there, I thought, “Why have I never been?”

One of the things we saw was the Native Plant Garden, where Barbara’s husband Kirk and their sons had helped Kirk’s brother install the steel undergirding for the wooden walkways (below). So they look lovely, and they’re strong, too!*

The last photo below is of the little red door to a church just outside the gardens.  Cute, don’t you think?  It reminded me of something in Europe.

The trip to the Bronx Botanical Gardens happened before Bob and I went to Hunter (upstate in the Catskills) for a week, but when we got back, Sarie, Lara (our friend from Italy) and I met Barbara and her two youngest kids for pizza at Numero 28 again.  Then we went for coffee.  Even before coffee, we were a talkative group of people who hadn’t seen each other in a while and we had a lot of catching up to do.  And then we started using all our least favorite nouns-turned-to-verbs, like “impact,” and making plays on words.  I’m afraid Lara probably got a little lost during this rapid conversation, but it was so nice to be making jokes in one’s native language again!

Anyway, it’s always nice to see Barbara’s family, and it’s nice to keep up old friendships.  Let’s hope that Pizzeria 28 becomes a new tradition!

*Kirk also helped to install the new iron railing around Central Park’s Reservoir, which is ever so much better than that old chain-link fence).

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Entering the world of paintings

During our stay in New York, Bob and I spent one day across the Hudson in Princeton with friends who have small children.  Because we wanted the children to be entertained, we went to the nearby Grounds for Sculpure .

One of the things they had was a series of Impressionist and other paintings that had been made into sculptures, complete with brushstrokes in the style of the painters.  I found them a bit cheesy, but still, it was hard to resist putting ourselves into the paintings!

Below: The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Vermeer, and two views of The Boating Party by Renoir.  In the latter photo, the sculptor has added some modern artists to the scene.