A treasury of information on daily life in 17th century Holland

A treasury of information on daily life in 17th century Holland

In researching 17th century maternity wear, I came upon a treasure-trove of information on 17th century daily life in Holland compiled by art historian Kees Kaldenbach. The facts of daily life were deducted in part from the detailed inventories of the Vermeer household and paintings.

Fascinating! Enjoy …

On courtship and making love

Childbirths, midwives, obstetricians

Maternity dress and trousseau

Children’s chair, potty chair

Baby child presented in a crisom

Feeding brest milk/mother’s milk

Vaginal syringe

Fire basket, fire holder

Mattress, bed, blanket. A bed was made of three layers:

  1. a flat mattress filled with bedstraw, horse hair or sea grass.
  2. a soft cover filled with feathers, down or “kapok” from silk-cotton trees. This is the layer a person would sleep on.
  3. sheets and blankets

Every day the sheets and blankets were folded so that the head-end and the foot-end did not touch. The pillows had to be shaken and aired for one hour, to dry the feathers, which tended to lump.

pillows (pillows, ear cushion, sit cushion, tapestry cushion — there were no chairs for the children. They were to use pillows when the adults used the chairs.); blanket,

bed cover: fascinating! The Vermeer household of 3 or 4 adults and 11 children had few blankets. People slept sitting up, two to a bedstead, propped up by pillows. The children slept in wheeled drawers which slid under the bed.

bedsheets, pillow cases, bed linen: 8 pairs of sheets were valued at 48 gilders — the equivalent of a workman’s wage for 24 to 48 days.

In the cooking kitchen

In the basement, or cellar

In the inner kitchen

Delft markets

Market bucket

Tables: fold-out table, pull-out table, round table, octagonal table, sideboard: This includes instructions on table manners. (“Do not propose to sing at the table oneself ; wait until one is invited repeatedly to do so and keep it short.”)

Trestle table

Foot stove: “One placed an earthenware container within the foot stove and filled it with glowing coals or charcoal. One then placed the feet on it. If a large dress was then lowered over it, or a chamber coat, it warmed both feet and legs.”

Tapestry table rug: “Only the most wealthy of Dutch households put Turkish rugs on the floor.”


Since I first posted this in 2012, the site moved and none of the links worked. I despaired! However, I emailed Drs Kees Kaldenbach and he kindly provided me with the new sites. Relief! This is one of the most illuminating accounts of daily life in the 17th century. For a historical novelist, it’s a gold-mine.

Brest pumps: 17th century style

Brest pumps: 17th century style

In researching pregnancy in the 17th century, I came upon a treasure-trove of information on 17th century daily life in Holland compiled by art historian Kees Kaldenbach.

The facts of daily life are deducted in part from the detailed inventories of the Vermeer household and paintings.

I intend to go into more detail later, but one page had a historical tidbit I found fascinating.

If a baby does not suck strongly, a mother’s milk can begin dry up. That’s as true today as it was 1000 years ago.

We remedy this problem today with the use of breast pumps. In the 17th century, however (at least in Holland), one could hire certain elderly ladies to suck. It’s not known if the milk was then given mouth-to-mouth to the baby or put into a pewter feeding bottle.

For my recent blog posts on this theme:

Where are all the pregnant women?

Before “Babies ‘n Bellies,” what did pregnant women wear?

 

Where are all the pregnant women?

Where are all the pregnant women?

When studying history, one thing is clear: women were often pregnant. So why is it so rare to see pregnant women in paintings?

From a blog on Vermeer:

“There seem to be no depictions of pregnant women in the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth century. Pregnancy was obviously considered as indecorous and not attractive and was thus kept out of public eye as much as possible.”

Perhaps that was true throughout Europe. Here are a few I found:

One painting, presumed to be of a pregnant woman, is Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Vermeer.

Another, sometimes suspected, The Mama Lisa:

Yep, I think that’s her secret. What do you think?