The Miniaturist – Notes 2

The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
* 2014 / 421 pages
* read by Davina Porter 13h 17m
rating: ___ / historical fiction

There’s historical fiction and there’s fiction set in historical times.  I love the former,  but am usually not big on the latter.   The Miniaturist is far more like the latter and it’s a romance mostly – a social statement of our times,  not theirs.

Yes, there was an historical “Petronella Oortman Brandt” who lived in Amsterdam in the 1680s and yes she had a dollhouse cabinet modeled on  her own home and that’s the one Burton used in her book.  The rest of the story is pure fiction told with 21st century sexual/ social issues in mind and a distinct political agenda (which I actually agree with).


( )

OORTMAN, Petronella (born Amsterdam 1656 -. Bury Amsterdam 27-11-1716), owner of a runner dollhouse. Daughter of Henry Oortman (d. 1680), gunsmith, and Aeltje John Sturgeon. Petronella Oortman married (1) in 1675 in Amsterdam Carel White silk cloth merchant (died 1685).; (2) on 28-3-1686 in Amsterdam with Johannes Brandt (1654-1731), silk cloth merchant. From marriage (1) was born one daughter who died young, from (2) were one daughter and three sons born.

Petronella Oortman grew up in a wealthy family with seven children on the Singel in Amsterdam. In 1675, nineteen years old, she married the silk merchant Carel White, coming from Hamburg and moved to the Herengracht, opposite the Bergstraat. The couple had a daughter in 1683, who died in 1684. A year later died Carel White, and seven months later, Petronella Oortman marriage with John Brandt, as well as her first husband worked in the silk cloth trade. She moved to his house cum shop and workshop on the Warmoesstraat. Johannes Brandt was Petronella Oortman four children: Hendrina (1691), Jan (1694), Jacob (1696) and Olivier (1697). The children were – at home – Lutheran baptized. John Brandt played a role in the church council of the Lutheran church, and son John would do that later.

Especially for Petronella Oortman was between 1686 and 1690 a doll made of precious materials: the cabinet is covered with turtle and tin and contains many works of art. The dolls in the dollhouse are now second disappeared, but they can still be seen in a painting that Jacob Appel (1680-1751) is made from between 1700 and 1710. The ‘room’ (the most representative departure for receipts) was painted by Nicholas Piedmont (1644-1709) with a continuous landscape on the walls, and the ceiling is painted with clouds and birds. The painting of Apple are two dolls to play in the hall backgammon. Two other special rooms are the nursery with a crib and a special chair for the new mother, and the funeral home where is situated in a dead child, as seen in the painting of Appel.

In November 1716 died Petronella Oortman, sixty years old, and on the 27th she was buried in the Warmoesstraat from the house. After her death, the dollhouse was owned by daughter Hendrina. It was also Hendrina that the word did when the German traveler Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1718, wanted to see the dollhouse. He writes in his report: “Hr. Fire empfing uns sehr hofflich UNDT seine Jungfer daughter […] zeigte mit uns das sonderbarer emsigheit Cabinet. […] Es ist sonsten anyway beij zu diesem cabinet observiren Dasz everything nach dem Leben Gantz naturell gemacht, UNDT bl auch so beij dem Puppies, Dasz man all Kleider und ihre an UNDT Schmuck aus ziehen konte ‘(visit on 19-7-1718 ). Von Uffenbach was proud that he was able to see the dollhouse. According to him, Princess Mary Louise of Hesse Cassel recently received her third request permission to visit.

The dollhouse Petronella Oortman was well known. The story went that Tsar Peter the Great had wanted to buy but could not afford it. According Hendrina had her mother as one thirty thousand guilders spent. In an inventory of her brother Jan 1743 the doll was estimated to be only seven hundred guilders. In comparison, the dollhouse of Petronella de la Court was sold in 1744 for twelve hundred dollars. In a printed catalog of 1758 after his cabinet and its contents described extensively (Van Eeghen, 137). In 1821, the dollhouse of Petronella Oortman was purchased by the government. So it ended up in the Rijksmuseum.


  • ZC von Uffenbach, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engel Country (Frankfurt 1753).
  • Samuel Muller Fz. and Willem Vogelsang, The Former Hollandsch house (Utrecht, 1909).
  • IH van Eeghen, “The dollhouse Petronella Oortman, wife of Jacob Brandt,” Monthly Amstelodamum 40 (1953) 113-117.
  • JR to Mill. “A view from the dollhouse of Petronella Brandt Oortman in the summer of 1718,” Bulletin of the Rijksmuseum 42 (1994) 120-136.
  • J. Pijzel-Dommisse, the 17th-century doll in the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam 1994).
  • J. Pijzel-Dommisse, The Dutch runner dollhouse (Amsterdam 2000).


  • The dollhouse Petronella Oortman (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Author: Margreet van der Hut

o much for what we know about the historical Petronella or her doll house (except the doll house is in a museum in Amsterdam).    So what Burton has done is invent a life for Brandt – it’s basically a love story terrorized by Calvinist morality felt by the characters themselves and a wacko preacher.   (annoyed ho-hum)


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