The Auricular style in Dutch furniture: an abstract by Professor Reinier Baarsen

by The Frame Blog

R Baarsen - image - Auricular Style Frames

Pieter Hendricksz Schut after Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Two side-tables, etching, 1655, Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It is generally assumed that it took nearly half a century for the Auricular style, evolving in the goldsmith’s work of Paulus and Adam van Vianen in the early 1600s, to be adopted in furniture-making in Holland.  Gerbrand van den Eeckhout’s designs for tables, frames and the like, published in Amsterdam in the 1650s, are often interpreted as point of departure for this development, and indeed what is known of dated Auricular Dutch picture frames tends to support this view. However, close inspection of paintings depicting carved Auricular furniture, as well as some surviving examples of cabinetwork which may be attributed to the Amsterdam ebony-worker Herman Doomer (who died in 1650), suggest that avant-garde carved and veneered furniture featuring Auricular elements was made at least as early as the 1630s. This is corroborated by some rare designs by Crispijn van de Passe, published in 1621.

This assumption invites a closer look at the fantastic Auricular furniture depicted by Rembrandt and painters from his school in scenes set in Biblical or exotic environments. Normally considered pure figments of the artists’ imagination, these beds, thrones and other sumptuous objects may in fact reflect some extraordinary pieces that were actually made in Holland at the time. Rembrandt himself was closely involved with the elaboration of early Auricular frames, and took an active interest in the style in general. Some rare examples of Auricular furniture, executed in an exceptionally pure version of the idiom, should probably be dated considerably earlier than has normally been proposed. Thus a new point of view emerges, suggesting that furniture-making was treated as an important art-form by avant-garde patrons and artists from the beginning of the 17th century onwards.


Reinier Baarsen is Senior Curator of Furniture at the Rijksmuseum, where for twenty years he was Keeper of the former Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, and Professor of  the History of European Decorative Arts at Leiden University. He has written extensively on European decorative arts from the 16th to the 19th centuries and in 2013 published Paris 1650-1900: Decorative Arts in the Rijksmuseum. He is preparing an exhibition on the Auricular style in the Netherlands and beyond, to be held at the Rijksmuseum in 2018.