This is an exploration of contemporary domesticity and the home in contemporary society, through the visual and textual analysis of three different historical (sets of) images of the home: the Dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman, painted in 1710 by Jacob Appel, Saint Jerome beside a Pollard Willow, by Rembrandt van Rijn, and L’Arbre savant, by René Magritte. The dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman, assembled between 1686 and 1711, was a collection of miniature objects displayed in nine boxes that were placed in a cabinet, creating a complete overview of the ideal home as it was developed in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. The etching of Saint Jerome beside a Pollard Willow, 1648, by Rembrandt van Rijn depicts Saint Jerome, one of the church fathers, seated next to a pollard willow. The architect Alison Smithson saw this as an ‘allegory of the ideal home’; the result of a symbiotic relation between the Saint and his surroundings; an enclave.
A third image, L’Arbre savant, 1926, by René Magritte depicts a cabinet, which is conceived, just as the dolls’ house-cabinet is, in a rational manner, in a tree trunk, which is formed organically. The image, therefore, displays the nonsensical aspect and the tension that a juxtaposition of two familiar, yet incompatible, objects generates. In fact it is the tension between these objects that could generate the idea of the home. It can also be seen to represent a series of what the architect Kim Dovey calls ‘dialectical processes of becoming at home in his article ‘Home and Homelessness’, 1985. The resulting design, a miniature Domestic Toolkit, is a collection of miniature objects, images and narratives that explore these ‘dialectical processes of becoming at home’ that a juxtaposition of the painting of Saint Jerome and the images of the dolls’ house of Petronella Oortman generates