What is a Doll?

How long have we had this love affair with Dolls?

Pearls of Wisdom:

New World Dictionary describes a doll as - "a child's toy, puppet, marionette, etc. made to resemble a human being."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Santos and Creche Figures

Santos: Often found in Portuguese or Spanish communities, these dolls were used in Catholic religious processions and were often elaborately dressed in beautiful gowns and topped with golden crowns. These dolls would occupy a place of prominence in the home of a wealthy person or chapel. The cage could also be used as a sort of prayer shrine with objects placed inside the cage.

Creche figure: Technically not a doll, but rather a figure originally displayed in nativity scene as in the fascinating world of art of the 18th century in Italy, with its Neapolitan cribs, crib-figures and various embodiments of the Infant Jesus. The "presepe napoletano" The magic of the elaborate embodiments of the Infant Jesus (the so called "Bambino Gesu") is incomparable.
Bavarian Creche figures are particularly splendid, and as large as 24 inches. These are often recognized by collectors as fine statues rather than just lay figures for church use.

Background on Nativity Sets

Also know as a Crib, Presepio or Crèche, devotion to Nativity scenes has ancient origins. The popularity is due however, thanks to St. Francis who reenacted what was the first living Nativity scene. When St. Francis visited Rome in 1223, he asked for permission from Pope Honorius III to hold a special celebration during Christmas. He constructed a Nativity and around it stood figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, the donkey, the ox, and the shepherds who came to adore the new-born Savior. On Christmas night a child was placed in a crib as an ox and donkey stood nearby.

Dolls of religious significance

The earliest dolls made out of wood were not playthings--they were symbolic and ceremonial figures, often of a religious nature. Their beauty and craftsmanship makes them a desired collectable, but by no means should they be considered as a secular doll.
They were purely made by artisans for use as religious statues. The hands are in uncomfortable or impossible looking poses, the faces are extremely expressive and the overall posture, exaggerates these emotions. Because creating these figures was usually a community group effort, and the carvings of heads, legs and hands was done by different people. As a result, it is quite common to find hands that are not in proportion for the size of a particular doll.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming of Age in the Ancient World

The ancient Greeks considered their children to be 'youths' until they reached the age of 30! When a child was born to ancient Greek family, a naked father carried his child, in a ritual dance, around the household. The family decorated the doorway of their home with a wreath of olives (for a boy) or a wreath of wool (for a girl).
In Athens, as in most Greek city-states, with the exception of Sparta, girls stayed at home until they were married.

In the early days of Rome, the father, not the mother, would decide whether a child would live or die. If the father chose, the child could be abandoned to die. When a child was eight or nine days old, the father chose a name for the child. The marriages in Rome were arranged by the parents of the couple. The girl was often around thirteen years old at marriage, while the boy was a couple of years older on average. The wedding day would end with the groom pretending to take the bride away from her mother as a remembrance of the legendary story of the Sabian women in early Rome.

Children from Egypt were a very important component of life, and were considered to be a great blessing from the gods. Also in the noble and royal families, children were highly regarded. Paintings of King Akhenaten and his wife, Queen Nefertiti, indicate they had a very close and loving bond with their six daughters. Akhenaten was depicted as being at equal level with his surroundings, and was often shown in scenes kissing his daughters and sitting with his wife in a family oriented manner.

The Dolls of Egypt, Greece and Rome

Egyptian dolls constructed of flat pieces of wood and painted with various designs, have often been found in Egyptian graves dating back to 2000 BC. The wood was cut into a simple paddle shape decorated with hair made from clay beads strung into ropes.

Greek dolls surviving examples, show they were made out of clay, ivory or bone. There is a story that Plutarch mentions the fact his two year old daughter, that was not to survive childhood, loved her doll so much that she begged her nurse for milk for the doll, as well as herself. In the custom of dedicating toys at a temple when the child reached puberty, ensured the survival of dolls on such shrines. A child's doll might be dedicated to Hera, or Aphrodite...
"O Aphrodite, despise not my doll's little purple neckerchief. I Sappho, dedicate this precious gift to you"

Roman dolls were made of terracota or bone. Some of these were found in tombs, which raises the question as to whether the figure is really a doll or some sort of grave companion. A doll might have accompanied Roman girls in the grave much as effigies were placed above the grave at a later period...At Herculaneum, a little girl's figure with a doll tightly clasped in her hands was discovered under the ashes and lava that destroyed her city.

Dolls have not only been found on the graves of young pagans, but also in the catacombs accompanying young Christians.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Doll House of Petronella Dunois based on paintings from The Dutch Masters

Children's doll showing a naked child, from the Dunois dolls house. 17th century.

The little figures of people in the doll house are dressed in fabrics and authentic costumes of the day. Doll houses at this time were for the wife of the house to play with and display to her lady visitor, rather than for children to play with.
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam estimates that Petronella Oortman spent twenty to thirty thousand guilders on her model house, the price of a real house along one of Amsterdam's canals at that time. It took nearly 20 years to build.

Interiors by Vermeer and Pieter De Hooch

Dutch homes were generally cluttered, and not as well-lit as the pristine environments of The Dutch Masters compositions. The Dutch house had specialized functions. Beds, for example, were placed in halls, kitchens, or wherever they fit. But when rooms did assume a particular use, it was often reflected in the paintings chosen to decorate them—domestic scenes or religious images were selected more often for private areas of the house while landscapes or city views were shown in public areas.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Early Wooden Dolls to the 1850s… Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder…

The Old Pretenders
These delightful handcarved 'Queen Anne' style wooden dolls are made by David Chapman & Paul Robins.
English wood dolls of the time are commonly referred to as “Queen Ann” dolls. This may be too general a term as the dolls predate Queen Ann. Eighteen century dolls have different characteristics that can be sorted into three periods:
William and Mary, Queen Ann, and Georgian.

1700 William and Mary Period English Wooden

They have a carved wooden face with well painted eyes. The eye brows and eye lashes were painted as tiny lines. The have highly rouged cheeks. The large black spots on the faces emulate "beauty spots" which were fake moles that women applied to their skin - the height of fashion at the times. Wigs, if present are flax or hair. The bodies are wooden and may be carved as one with the head. The base of the torso is usually square cut. Arms may be cloth with wooden lower arms ending in forked hands. Legs are wooden with tenon joints.

1740 Queen Ann Period English Wooden

The Queen Ann period doll extends from the 1700s to 1750. They are similar to above except they frequently have glass eyes. Their eye lashes and eyebrows are composed of small dots.
Her clothes, wig and shoes are original to her. The dress has been repaired with antique fabrics but is mostly original. Her corset has whalebone inserts.

1800 Georgian Period English Wooden

These English wooden dolls differ from the preceding periods in that their wood heads are covered in gesso and then painted. The head inset glass eyes that may be occasionally blue. They had flax of hair wigs. The wooden bodies are as previously made except that the end of the torso was pointed.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Reinassance

In portraiture of the sixteenth century, noble girls are often pictured holding exquisitely dressed dolls, possibly bought new for the sitting.. These dolls are likely to be accurately painted rather than idealised, as the sitters themselves often were, so it must be assumed that such dolls were indeed artistically finished.