Herman Doomer (circa 1595 - 1650)
Herman Doomer was born in Anrath (circa 1595), but was recorded in Amsterdam in 1613, where he stayed until his death in circa 1650. Not much is known about Doomer, whose main reason for fame initially was the portrait painted of him and his wife Baertje Martens by Rembrandt in the 1640's (the portrait of Doomer is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pendant of his wife in the State Hermitage, St Petersburg). More information can be gleaned from the four wills drawn up by Doomer's wife in 1654, 1662, 1668 and 1677; in her wills she mentions the two portraits by Rembrandt, 26 other paintings by Dutch contemporaries, and of course items of furniture. Amongst the furniture the most valuable item is a een groote ebbekas met parelmoer ingeleydt - A large mother-of-pearl inlaid ebony cupboard - which was valued at 945 florins at the time, more than half the total value of the whole inventory. Also in the inventory are mentioned two cabinets, one inlaid with tortoiseshell the other with mother-of-pearl, and valued at 250 florins each. The large ebony cupboard with mother-of-pearl inlays is almost certainly the imposing cupboard in the Rijksmuseum.
Ebony workers in Amsterdam in the early 17th century
In 1613 Herman Doomer started working as an apprentice to the ebbenhoutwerker David Stafmaecker, who begun working ebony in Amsterdam in 1590, and claimed to have taught all those active in this craft in 1625. The name Stafmaecker alludes to the limited uses that ebony was put to in the late 16th century - mainly staffs, small objects and decorative elements for furniture. In the early 17th century the VOC started importing larger quantities of this exotic wood and larger pieces of furniture began to appear - such as armchairs, picture frames and caskets. With this new development these ebony workers started using ebony veneers on oak carcasses, which brought them into conflict with the St Joseph's guild of cabinetmakers. This led to the creation of the ebony workers guild in 1626, after Stafmaecker refuted the protests from the cabinetmaker's guild stating that in order to work ebony and other tropical woods one needed totally different tools, Stafmaecker submitted his protest on behalf of Jan Willemsz. Bus, Herman Dommer and other ebony workers. This document shows that by 1625 Doomer already plays a prominent role within the group of Amsterdam ebony workers, his success is also reflected by the fact that he was able to buy a house in one of the streets between the Singel and the Herengracht, near the Dam square. Later in 1637 he bought a second house on the Hartenstraat, situated between the Heren and the Keizersgracht, where he had his shop, it was signposted De ebbenhoutwerker.
Herman Doomer's Mother-of-pearl inlaid ebony 'kas'
The large ebony cupboard in the Rijksmuseum was Doomer's Magnum Opus, and he never sold it, even after his death in 1628, the cupboard remained in the family for a long time. This cupboard was a completely new phenomenon, entirely veneered in ebony with a great variety of surfaces and shapes, it is embellished with engraved mother-of-pearl inlays, creating a spectacular contrast which must have been conceived as wildly exotic and extremely precious at the time of its conception. The interior of this cupboard is veneered with precious woods, such as rosewood and kingwood set of with fine ivory line inlays. The shape and design drew upon earlier furniture types such as the buffet or Tresoir popular in the Southern Netherlands in the late 16th century. The Rijksmuseum and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam both have cabinet and cupboards attributed to Doomer, this group can be attributed on the basis of certain shared characteristics that can also be found on the present cabinet. All have been made to and finished to the highest standards, this is reflected not only in the exterior decoration but also in the interiors which more often than not are veneered or inlaid with geometric motifs. The designs are inspired by the furniture of Flanders. When closed the large table cabinet offered here might also at first glance be mistaken for an Antwerp cabinet, when opened however it shows its splendid mother-of-pearl inlays, offset with precious veneers and ivory line inlays. Then there is one last surprise behind the central door, a magnificent architectural interior with arched mirrors and fine chequered floor and green stained whale bone drawers inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The interior and exterior of the cabinet are further adorned with sophisticated ebony ripple mouldings. Further refinement is reflected by the drawers which have all been veneered with snake wood variously offset with amaranth, ebony or larch, the drawer linings are executed in teak and ebony creating geometric patterns. All of the above elements can also be found on the large cupboard in the Rijksmuseum: The ripple mouldings framing the waved "sun-burst" bands around the doors are very similar, Doomer's eye for detail apparently went so far that he stopped the wavy motion of the ripple-mouldings at the ends so that they can join up neatly in the corners; The mother-of-pearl inlays dominated by floral motifs; the geometrically veneered interiors; the reverse of the doors in the upper section with angular kingwood veneered, ivory lined spandrels framing the mother-of-pearl inlays as can be seen on the reverse of the doors on the present cabinet; and finally the architectural interior with mirror panels and ivory columns. The curious S-shaped acanthus scroll and perching bird motif which adorns the drawers to the interior on the present cabinet are related to the panels mounted above the doors of the cabinet in the Boijmans van Beuningen.
Mother-of-pearl workers in Amsterdam in the early 17th century.
Typically works of art such as the present cabinet were the product of a team of specialised craftsmen. In the first half of the 17th century Amsterdam was the most important import harbour for mother-of-pearl in Europe, the quantities were such that these specialists were able to work with the best materials. Mother-of-pearl like ebony was an exotic and precious commodity, it was highly prized for its iridescent quality. Jean Bellequin and Dirck van Rijswijck were the most famous craftsmen working in this material in Amsterdam, in the 17th century. Whereas Bellequin engraved and worked the mother-of-pearl directly on the shell, van Rijswijck used the different colours of the mother-of-pearl to create differently coloured inlays set into a contrasting ground of black marble or ebony. These panels were highly esteemed and received great acclaim. The most famous of van Rijswijck's works is the large octagonal table-top in the Rijksmuseum inlaid with delicate flowers and insects. Like Doomer van Rijswijck never sold this tabletop and it attracted clientele who came to his shop to admire it. The effect of the iridescent mother-of-pearl on a black ground must have been a marvel in its time, no doubt inspired by the Japanese mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer wares of the late 16th and early 17th centuries which were highly sought after by the courts of Europe. Van Rijswijck is registered in Amsterdam as a goldsmith from 1622, his earliest signed and dated work dates from 1650. Reinier Baarsen suggests that it is possible that van Rijswijck worked on Doomers cabinets before he became an artist-craftsman in his own right.
Cf. R. Baarsen, Wonen in de Gouden Eeuw Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 80-109, Herman Doomer en de Amsterdamse ebbenhoutwerkers.
R. Baarsen, Nederlandse Meubelen 1600-1800, Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 36-39.