Silent and Deadly….

Someone has just asked me how the dummy board got its name and if it is modern. I will admit that it does sound modern and because the word ‘dummy’ is perceived to be an American one, we might think that it is an epithet from the U.S.A.

It was first used in the 19th century by an Englishman. He was one of those gentleman scholars I talked about in my very first post, who took an interest in this form of antique folk art. Before this, these figures had been called, picture boards, cut out boards or referred to by what they depicted, sweeping maids, for example.

A more modern word for them seems to be silent companion. Indeed, they are. At least the human or small animal, dog or cat for example, are.

It was said that they may have arrived at this name, some time in the early 20th century perhaps, when it was said that these figures were placed at the side of a crib to calm a fractious baby. Mmmmm? Some of them I think, were more likely to frighten it out of its wits!

The Oakwell girl, standing by a 17th century crib.

Another explanation for the name silent companion is that they were made to be ‘stand ins’ at the tea table when the hostess was called away. What a fuss!

Another idea is that they were made as companions for the grieving mother after the death of a child.

We have said that at first, these figures were very expensive and the sort of person who might have commissioned one probably didn’t have much to do with their infant children. Children of wealthy housesholds would have been brought up by nurses, nannies and surrogate mothers. Parents would have been distant and in the main, rather disinterested.

It might be that this idea took root in the 19th century; a time when ‘mourning’ was taken to a high art form, reinforced by the behaviour of the Queen, Victoria, after the death of her beloved Prince consort, Albert.

One would wear black for a time, progressing through purple to lavender and then to brighter colours after a while. Mourning jewellery ( containing locks of hair or small likenesses of the deceased ) became compulsory. The house was decked with black crepe, lights were kept low, voices hushed. Laughter was banned.

No wonder Victoria was said to be ” not amused”!

I have to say that I don’t subscribe to any of these theories. I think that dummy boards were made, not because they depicted a dead child ( Would you wish to be reminded in such a manner?), nor because they were the antique equivalent of the baby mobile, but because they were decorative, fashionable and showed you were a person of great taste and culture, if you owned one.

We have several..( ahem ! ) what does that say about us?

The dummy board figure at the top of our PastMastery blog heading (on the right up at the top ) is known as Magdalena. I painted her about 5 years ago and she has become a fixture at the head of our staircase. She is a well travelled little madam, coming with us to shows and with me to lectures and to demonstrations.

Magdalena de Vos 1630. 39 inches, Oil on MDF

She is painted on MDF, in oils and she is crackle varnished to make her look old.

I did originally paint her to sell ( and I have painted her in miniature too- which I have sold ), but Stephen, my husband is so fond of her that he won’t allow her to be offered for sale.

Magdalena de Vos 1630 3 inches, Oil on wood.

So she stays with us and decorates our own house, as does the 5 ft dummy board of Stephen in early 17th century dress that I painted at the same time. I have to say, they frightens the life out of window cleaners!

Stephen on the History page of PastMastery

Next…. a spooky story concerning our Magdalena.

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One Response to “Silent and Deadly….”

  1. Me Old Dutch! « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] yes….remember the Oakwell Girl? She appeared in my post Silent and Deadly. The 17th century Oakwell Girl, by kind permission of Oakwell […]

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