INTRODUCING GUEST BLOGGER Halina Pasierbska
At the top of my shortlist of favourite dolls’ houses in the wonderful collection at the V&A Museum of Childhood is the Nuremberg House with its date, 1673, helpfully inscribed on one of the chimneys. This house with its rare metal star is a small example one of a number of ‘doll’ or ‘baby’ houses known as Nuremberg houses. The house is fascinating for many reasons but perhaps the most compelling factor for me lies in how the house reflects what it must have been like to live in Nuremberg in the late 17th century and to imagine how the occupants would have lived.
The house was built at a time when religious strife had played a painful part in Europe for many decades. Inside one of the open doors is a picture of Martin Luther, the 16th century theologian, whose writings had inspired the Protestant Reformation and this, together with three miniature books of inspirational hymns and prayers in one of the two bedrooms on the upper floor, informs us that the house was owned by a Lutheran family.
On the other door is the (slightly damaged) head of a unicorn which tells us that the house had belonged to an apothecary.
His wife would have had the responsibility of running the home efficiently which was vital for the wellbeing of the family and their servants particularly during the winter months when families had to rely on their stores. Few women could read and reading matter for those who could the scope was limited to the Bible and texts about domestic management which must often have been very dull. The house would therefore have been a diverting as well as useful visual aid for teaching all the young women of the house about the practical aspects of household management, from the preservation of food to the acquisition and storing of linen.
In my imagination I would probably have been a servant in this house. Most of my work would have been in the ‘working’ kitchen where the more labour intensive work took place. I would have had to scrub and clean, cook, prepare the sausages and hams ready to hang in the chimney to smoke, make the pickles and preserves and look after the hens. We can see the cook presiding over the stove and checking on the sausages whilst the chickens run about the working kitchen unaware that they are going to be eaten. Closely supervised by the mistress of the house I would have helped with the washing of the linen, a monumental event which took place once or twice a year and, as you can imagine, needed the assistance of extra staff who were hired locally to help with the work. The mistress of the house would have made sure that there was a plentiful supply of linen, folded flat and stored in cupboards.
I would have been responsible for cleaning the pewter and silver dishes and candlesticks on display in the ‘best’ kitchen. Particular attention would have been paid to the appearance of this room, ensuring that it was welcoming and ostentatious. The table would have been prepared ready for all the food and drink required for a lively evening with the family and their guests. I like to imagine how sparkling the room looked with the candlelight reflected in the pewter and silver dishes on the shelves. Just visible in the back of the room on the left hand side is a privy, which must have been useful if somewhat unhygienic!
Dolls’ Houses: from the V&A Museum of Childhood has been published to accompany a new exhibition at the Museum of Childhood, Small Stories opening on 13 December 2014. Dolls’ Houses presents specially commissioned photography detailing the astonishing skill and craftsmanship required to create these homes in miniature scale.