An oorijzer

A little while ago, I bought an old oorijzer online (more about what that is here).

This is what mine looks like

20180129_192446Web

 

You see them for sale regularly, but they’re generally the most ‘modern’ incarnation of an oorijzer, as worn with traditional clothing. These types of oorijzers are also generally very expensive, as there can be quite a bit of gold and silver in them.

 

FolkCostume: Costume of Fryslân or Friesland, land of the West Frisians, the Netherlands

Some of them are practically solid gold helmets.

 

The oorijzer I bought caught my interest as it was brass (so: affordable), and it was both narrow, and didn’t have any ‘attachments’ to the front. These attachments are practically always present on oorijzers from the 18th century onward. As I bought it I had some hope it’d actually be a 17th century one, but alas, it shows signs of breakage at the front. So it did have something attached to the front. I suspect this was silver of gold, and simply removed to be sold separately.

20180129_192951Web

Damage on the ends, Something was attached here…

Oorijzer gedragen door vrouw of meisje in Axelse streekdracht. Zilveren beugel met roodgouden krullen. De krullen hebben 4 windingen. 1899 #Axel

An example of an oorijzer of silver, with golden tips.

 

As mine doesn’t have a maker’s mark, it’s practically impossible to determine the age. The example above is made in 1899, while the one below is from 1640. See the difficulty? The basic shape stayed almost exactly the same in some areas of the country.  Dating happens based on the maker’s mark, and the attachments to the front, both of which are missing.

vroeg oorijzer met vogelkopuiteinde, ca. 1640 17de eeuws oorijzertje van metaal. Bodemvondst uit Rotterdam. Smal beugeltje dat om het achterhoofd sluit, boven de oren met een knik naar voren valt, zodat de uiteinden op de wangen rusten. In de uiteinden drie gaatjes en twee aangesoldeerde bewerkte stukken met een oogje. #ZuidHolland #Rijnmond

An early oorijzer from ca. 1640.

 

Nevertheless, I’m quite happy with my oorijzer. Without the attachments at the front, it really does look and work like a late 16th/early 17th century one would. It has got the little holes on the ends (for pinning your cap in place). Most of the 16th century oorijzers don’t have that second feature, but other than that they actually look really similar to mine. Plus, the holes come into play in the 17th century at some point, as the previous one shows.

Oorijzer, vermoedelijk laatste kwart 16de eeuw

1575-1600

 

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A slightly clearer view of the tips, including three little holes for the pins.

 

Most oorijzers of that period don’t really show, only maybe sometimes the ends. They’re very much useful items at this point in time, they serve to keep your headwear in place.

This is a rare period view of an oorijzer without a cap.

 

This invisibility also means I could use mine for the same purpose! Many of the different types of headwear in the Netherlands in this era require an oorijzer to look good. As I now own one, that opens up new possibilities. I don’t have any concrete plans, but I definitely want to make something to wear my oorijzer with some day!

To end this post, some lovely images depicting women wearing oorijzers with different caps. No, you mostly cannot see them, but look for how the cap sits very closely to the cheekbones, sometimes almost pressing into the cheeks? That effect is nearly impossible to achieve without an oorijzer. As we know they were worn widely during this era, I feel safe to say that they are in fact wearing one.

A simple black coif.

Reynier Hals, Woman with Needlework, ca. 1665. Frans Hals Museum #franshalsmuseum #haarlem #art

 

And a simple white coif, this time you see the oorijzer sticking out.

File:Wenceslas Hollar - Young Negress 2.jpg  another 1640s image that gets to live here for now...

 

A more complex cap.

Detail of the painting of Lady Governors of the St. Elisabeth Hospital at Haarlem, 1641.  By Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck. Frans Hals Museum Haarlem.

 

In this one, the compression in the cheeks is very visible. You cannot see the oorijzer, but you see the earrings. These would commonly be attached to the oorijzer instead of the ears, as you cannot see those.

The Ultimate One Pattern Piece Project: Elizabethan Coif | The ...

 

Somewhat more fancy still. No oorijzer visible, but the cap is hugging the head.

Portrait of a Young Woman | Royal Collection Trust

 

I have many, many more examples on my pinterest here.

 

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Oorijzers – ‘Ear-irons’ – Part 2

Time for part 2! In my first post about oorijzers I shared the history, what the original oorijzers were and looked liked, as well as one example of how they continued to exist to the early 20th century. The oorijzer is currently best known for its part in various regional costumes in the Netherlands. So for this post, an attempted overview of how and where the oorijzer evolved from the 16th/17th century practical object to the many variations we have today. Prepare for a lot of pictures!

Regional costume

To start this post, a little map of places I’ll be discussing!

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The regions best known for their oorijzers in traditional costume are Friesland (a province in the very north) and Zeeland (a province in the very south). It stuck around in several other places as well though, surviving in the traditional costume of towns like Urk and Staphorst. These towns have their own traditional costume worn very locally. Staphorst sees women wearing traditional clothing on a daily base up to today. The oorijzer evolved in different ways in different places, so you can usually tell which oorijzer comes from which place and which period. I’ll be discussing the most well-known of traditional costumes with oorijzers. Just as a quick disclaimer, these aren’t the only places with an oorijzer in the past of their traditional costume, just the ones most familiar (to me) and well known.

Let’s start with the costume from the Zaanstreek. This is a region above Amsterdam and the traditional costume died out in the early 20th century. It had it’s own typical headwear, which stayed nearly the same during the 18th and 19th centuries. The rest of the clothing largely kept following regular fashion.

This is a 19th century image of the 18th century costume

Zaanstreek, ca. 1790. Visitetoilet. kunstenaar:   Duyvetter, Jan 1948 #NoordHolland #Zaanstreek

Source: Het geheugen van Nederland. Drawing by Duyvetter

The oorijzer  was gold, quite a bit wider than the 17th century version and has large golden plates to the sides. Its worn fairly straight across the back of the head and is not so much a practical thing as a piece of jewelry.

An oorijzer from 1834. You can see the gorgeous filligree on the plates.

 

And a picture from the costume group the ‘Zaanse Kaper’, this is a reproduction of the 18th century costume. She’s also wearing a ‘voorhoofdsnaald’ (the thing across her forhead), two ‘zijnaalden’ (the two ‘needle’ things at the top, you can only see one) and pins behind the plates of the oorijzer. These pin the cap to the oorijzer.

Source: Zaanse Kaper

 

Another village which managed to keep it’s traditional costume despite nearness to a big city is Scheveningen. Now technically a part of the Hague, it used to be a fishing village. The costume has nearly died out, being worn only by a handful of elderly ladies today. There are several groups (from museums or choirs) which keep the knowledge about the clothing alive.

In Scheveningen the oorijzer today is silver with golden knobs. It has a distinctive shape and is used very much to give the cap it’s shape.The golden knobs are worn very close together high on the head.

In the 18th century the oorijzer was mostly silver with golden knobs, which were sometimes decorated with golden ‘bells’, jewels which would hang from the knobs. In the 19th century, some golden oorijzers also existed along side the silver ones. The knobs also took various shapes, settling on the round ones similar to the modern ones at the end of the century.

This is an image from 1850 depicting the costume around that time, also showing the ‘bells’ hanging from the oorijzer in the center top. These also disappeared later in the century. You can see the different types of knobs, as well as the swooping shape the oorijzer has in the back.

Scheveningse visventsters bij hondenkar Aquarel gemaakt voor plaat XLII van: Nederlandsche kleederdragten, naar de natuur geteekend = costumes des Pays-Bas, dessinés d'après nature / door Valentijn Bing en [Jan] Braet von Ueberfeldt. - Amsterdam : [s.n.], 1857. #ZuidHolland #Scheveningen

Image by Bing & Braet, Source: Het geheugen van Nederland

In the current costume, the oorijzer has become longer in the back, giving shape to the cap. The knobs are no longer at the sides of the head but nearly meet at the top and are a distinctive round shape. The pins are put through the knobs to keep the cap in place. (I always have to think of knitting needles sticking through a little ball of wool when I see them)

A lovely picture from the 1950’s showing the shape of the oorijzer and cap. The oorijzer sticks out in the back so keeping the cap in place.

 

An oorijzer from Scheveningen made in 1919

 

Next up is the town of Huizen. This used to be fishing town, before the Afsluitdijk (dike) made the inland sea of the Netherlands into a lake, and before the province of Flevoland was ‘created’.

This is an image of the costume around 1850, showing a simple cap on top of a silver oorijzer with small pins through the knobs.

Man en vrouw in Huizer dracht, 1854 Tekening met voorstelling van een vrouw en man staande voor de huisdeur in Huizer dracht. Naast de man een houten emmer en melkkan, links onder gesigneerd: B.v. Ueberfeldt 1854.  Aquarel gemaakt voor plaat I van: Nederlandsche kleederdragten, naar de natuur geteekend = costumes des Pays-Bas, dessinés d'après nature / door Valentijn Bing en [Jan] Braet von Ueberfeldt. - Amsterdam : [s.n.], 1857. #NoordHolland #Huizen #oorijzermuts

Image by Bing & Braet, Source: Het geheugen van Nederland

The clothing in Huizen followed regular fashion and eventually became all black between 1870 and 1920, probably also due to religious influences. From 1870 on the cap also went through a great change, becoming the main point of interest, mostly due to its size. The oorijzer seems to have stayed relatively similar, changing slightly to accommodate the new style of cap. Two different types of large caps were worn, the ‘isabee’ for daily wear without oorijzer, and the oorijzermuts (oorijzer cap) for Sundays and special occasions. The cap with oorijzer was also a lot more difficult to put on, nearly impossible to do alone.

The cap is put in place with the pins, attaching to the oorijzer. This eventually creates a type of ‘loop’ in the fabric as shown in the next image of the final cap.

Demonstratie van het opzetten van de oorijzermuts. Over de ondermuts en het oorijzer wordt de oorijzermuts opgezet. Met gouden spelden wordt de oorijzermuts aan het oorijzer vastgespeld. Eerst steekt men twee keer door de kantstrook, vervolgens door een gaatje in het oorijzer en tenslotte wordt de punt van de speld door de kantstrook van de muts weggestoken. 1945 #NoordHolland #Huizen #oorijzermuts

Vrouw uit Huizen in zondagse dracht. Ze draagt de oorijzermuts, die met hulp van een tweede persoon is opgezet. 1945 #NoordHolland #Huizen #oorijzermuts

And an image of the oorijzer only. You can clearly see the knobs with holes to put the pins through.

 

Another fishing town where the oorijzer survived is Urk. Urk used to be an island, before the province of Flevoland was basically created around it in the 1930s and 40s. It still very much retains its island culture today. The traditional costume has all but died out, but is sometimes worn for special occasions.

I couldn’t find any information on the 18th century costume, but this image shows the clothing ca. 1850. The oorijzer is silver with silver knobs, little pins stuck through. The knobs are worn on the cheeks.

Aquarel gemaakt voor plaat XXXIX van: Nederlandsche kleederdragten, naar de natuur geteekend = costumes des Pays-Bas, dessinés d'après nature / door Valentijn Bing en [Jan] Braet von Ueberfeldt. - Amsterdam : [s.n.], 1857. #Urk

By Bing & Braet, Source: Het Geheugen van Nederland

Around 1900 the costume reached its current state, the changes mostly being in the clothing. The cap changed little, the version today being a under-cap, a white cap with yellow lace at the front, pinned to the oorijzer and if the lady is married a black over-cap on the back. The red bands disappeared. The white cap and oorijzer would’ve been pinned together first and then put on. These pictures are from the early 20th century, showing the oorijzer beneath the cap. The little round balls are the tops of the pins which pin the cap to the oorijzer.

 

Jonge vrouw van het eiland Urk.

 

The oorijzer, this one made in the late 19th century. It’s very narrow in the front, which shows that it’s meant to press into the cheeks.

 

Staphorst-Rouwveen is a town which even today is known very much for its wearers of traditional costume. It has got the highest number of women still wearing the traditional clothes on a daily basis of the whole country, a couple of hundred today. The youngest is in her 40s though, and most wearers are over 60, so also in Staphorst traditional costume is dying out.

Again, I couln’t find any images from the 18th century costume. The image below is  from ca. 1850 showing the headwear including oorijzer inthe top left corner. The oorijzer is silver, still quite narrow and has small golden ‘curls’ at the ends. It’s worn quite low, both in the neck and on the cheeks.

Vrouwen in de dracht van Overijssel Aquarel gemaakt voor plaat XXVI van: Nederlandsche kleederdragten, naar de natuur geteekend = costumes des Pays-Bas, dessinés d'après nature / door Valentijn Bing en [Jan] Braet von Ueberfeldt. - Amsterdam : [s.n.], 1857. Linksboven een vrouw uit Staphorst. Middenboven en rechts: Schokland. Onder: twee vrouwen uit Giethoorn. #Schokland #Overijssel #KopOverijssel #Staphorst

Excerpt from Bing & Breat. Source

From the 1850s costume, it changed quite a bit until around 1900. After that, small changes kept happening up to at least the 1970s. As the flow of ‘new’ wearers stops, the same usually happens to the changes in fashion.

Staphorst today actually sees two examples of the oorijzer. There’s a girl version, which isn’t worn daily anymore today. The other version is for adult women. Aside from the headwear with the oorijzer, another cap exists. That one is a small decorated cap of fabric and usually the daily wear today. The oorijzer is reserved for special occasions.

The ‘girl-oorijzer’ has the same basic shape as the one for adults, and is made fully of silver. It has very basic knobs at the ends.

The girl-oorijzer, this one was made in 1909.

 

For ‘neat’ wear (opknapdracht) the oorijzer was worn on top of the black under-cap, but without a lace cap on top. For church and special occasions, the lace ‘toefmuts’ was worn on top. The oorijzer changed from being worn low in the neck, going up over the ears and back down, to being worn almost on top of the head, going over the ears and ending low on the cheeks.

A picture of a girl in opknapdracht, picture from the 1940’s.

 

The oorijzer for adult women is similar in shape to the girls. The knobs at the ends are different, and are replaced by golden curls. In the 1850s image you can already see small curls, but these grow bigger.

This oorijzer was made in 1954.

Zilveren oorijzer met gouden krullen en gouden stiften uit Staphorst, gedragen door vrouw of meisje van gegoede komaf. Gouden stiften en klinknagels waren slechts voorbehouden aan enkele welgestelde families. Oorijzer is vervaardigd in 1954 door F.G.A. Drost te Staphorst. Hij gebruikte tijdens eerste decennia van werkzame periode meesterteken van moeder, A.J. Drost-Keus. Haar meesterteken was aangepaste meesterteken van haar in WWII omgekomen man A.O. Drost. #Overijssel #Staphorst

 

A picture of a woman wearing the oorijzer in opknapdracht in the 1940’s.

 

And a picture taken in the 1990’s, of three women who still wear these clothes on a daily base. From left to right they’re dressed in regular, light mourning and mourning clothes, all fit for church.

 

Friesland

Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands, but (more so than most others) has a large ‘national’ Frisian identity. They have a flag, and their own official language. In some specific places a specific costume was worn, such as in the town of Hindeloopen or on the islands at the north. In most of the province though, traditional costume mostly took shape through the headwear while the rest of the clothing followed fashion. Friesland is one of the most interesting regions when it comes to the oorijzer. That’s because it had quite a large number of wealthy farmers, that wealth allowing the oorijzer to grow to epic proportions.

In the 18th century Frisian headwear was most commonly the ‘German cap’. I’m not sure of it’s exact origins, but it grew to be quite large. The oorijzer beneath however, was still quite modest. It’s already often made of silver or gold plated.

An 18th century Frisian costume with the German cap and oorijzer.

 

Titel:Trouwkostuum, gestreepte changeantzijde met gebrocheerd bloempatroon, afgezet met franje  Vervaardiger: onbekend  Soort object:trouwkostuum; rok; jak  Vervaardigingsdatum: 1782  Afmeting:hoogte: 75.0 cm  Materiaal: zijde, linnen:

Source: Fries museum

 

An early 18th century gilded oorijzer from Friesland.

Source: Fries museum

 

At the beginning of the 19th century the cap changes quite drastically, and this marks the beginning of a growth in the oorijzer. The band becomes bigger, the knobs growing as well and becoming more ornate.

The headwear at the turn of the 19th century was named a ‘Floddermuts’. This one is for mourning, as it’s plain. The ‘regular’ one would be made of lace.

 

Around this time, the oorijzer starts to grow. This is a gilded copper one from ca. 1800. You see that the knobs at the end grow with the band. Because the front shows best through the cap, the front starts growing first.

Source: Fries museum

 

In time the cap becomes shorter again in the back. Up to around 1850, the oorijzer keeps growing. Along with the base, the knobs at the end grow out to large ornate ornaments. Instead of a practical accessory which keeps the cap to the head, the oorijzer starts to have a more public function. Because it shows quite well beneath the sheer lace caps, your neighbors can see your oorijzer. Being made of silver or gold, a large oorijzer is expensive, a sign of wealth. And of course, it won’t do if your neighbor has one larger than you. With the growing wealth among Frisian farmers, the oorijzer grows to almost be a helmet of gold. Silver was, of course also still worn in less rich families.

The shorter cap. This is what the early Floddermuts evolved to between 1820 and 1880.

Source: Fries museum

 

A gilded copper oorijzer from around 1840. The fronts become larger, and the knobs start to become wider and even more ornate.

Source: Fries museum

 

A golden oorijzer from 1873. This is about as large as the oorijzers got. This one obviously  belonged to a wealthy lady.

Source: Fries museum

 

If you were not quite as rich, you could still have a large golden oorijzer, but the back would be unconnected, needing less metal. This one is gilded brass.

 

Silver versions also existed. It would be common as well to own both silver and gold, with the gold being for Sundays and special occasions and silver for daily wear. In this one from 1879 you can again see the narrow back.

Source: Fries museum

The Frisian costume (i.e. the cap) disappear after 1880/1890. Quite a strong national identity exists though, so a form of the costume (the ca. 1840 version) keeps being worn at events. Nowadays you can still see it being worn in dance groups, costume groups or in the traditional coach races (with Frisian horses). Nearly all of the jewelry, including the oorijzers, are antiques and even today worth quite a lot. (After all, you’re wearing a helmet of gold).

 

Zeeland

Zeeland is the province in the very south-west of the Netherlands, and mostly consists of islands. It’s probably partly due to this island culture that Zeeland evolved to have a rich variety of traditional costume.

The variation in dress in Zeeland existed mostly in the headwear. Small variations also exist in dress, though mainly in the upper-body. For the oorijzer though, the 17th century version evolved into two basic variations worn throughout the province.

In the 18th century, the oorijzer remained largely the same. It was silver and thin, but did develop round/rectangular golden pieces at the ends. These are all images from the 18th century fashion in Zeeland. You can see the small golden oorijzers, the round balls are probably the pins sticking through.

urn-gvn-NOMA01-B09469-4-large_zpsppstpfla (600x164)

Source: Het geheugen van Nederland. Left to right Zuid-Beveland, Zuid Beveland & Walcheren

 

And a late 18th century / early 19th century (pre 1814) oorijzer. You can see the small golden plates at the ends. It still has the same shape as the 17th century oorijzer, and hasn’t really become wider.

 

Before we continue, another map, this time of Zeeland. Most of the names I’ll be throwing around are the islands. Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland are two regions on the same island. Arnemuiden and Axel are specific towns. I’ll also be considering costume from just north of Zeeland, the light blue island at the top of this map. These are the islands of Zuid-Holland. Another province, but the oorijzer existed there as well and is most similar to that of Zeeland.

Zeeland_zps3nz3wdue (574x600)

In the first half of the 19th century, the oorijzer starts evolving in two different ways. In most of Zeeland, the knobs turn into golden curls. In Zuid-Beveland, however, they stay plates and become larger. Most back parts of oorijzers are silver, though brass is also seen. The decorative knobs are generally gold, but also sometimes gilded brass.

Oorijzers from Zuid-Beveland. 1864, 1886 & 1964. The first one is rather unusual, being made of filligree. Most oorijzers would be more similar to the other two, with plain golden plates. Through time, you see the plates growing in size.  This reflects the growth in wealth during the late 19th and 20th centuries.

urn-gvn-NOMA01-HM3521-large_zps5olxmor9 (600x161)

 

Although the oorijzer in the rest of Zeeland and islands of Zuid-Holland all developed into spiraled curls, you do see some slight regional differences. In Walcheren and Axel, you get spirals which are even in size. As well as with the plates, you do also see them growing slightly over time, although they keep the 4 tiers.

Oorijzers from Walcheren (ca. 1800-1825), Axel (1899) & Walcheren (1920)

urn-gvn-NOMA01-HM2896-large_zps6foyswes (600x159)

 

An interesting case is the town of Arnemuiden. At some point the back part of the oorijzer disappears, leaving only the curls. This happens exclusively in the town of Arnemuiden. These ‘curls’, as they’re called (this term is also often used for the whole oorijzer by the way), are pinned to the bonnet. You see here that all practical function of the oorijzer has gone, leaving only the decorative part.

A pair of curls made in 1909.

 

In Noord-Beveland, Schouwen-Duiveland and Tholen you get spirals with 4 tiers, but decreasing in size. The process of growth is similar to the other regions. The twisted spiral seen in the oorijzer of Tholen was typical for this island.

Oorijzers from Schouwen (1856) Noord-Beveland (1872-1904) & Tholen (1954)

urn-gvn-NOMA01-HM5780-large_zpsakz18ism (600x159)

 

In the islands of Zuid-Holland, you also see spirals decreasing in size as they go upwards. Unlike the spirals from Zeeland, however, these are not limited to 4 tiers. Over time, they get more and more spirals.

Oorijzers from the islands of Zuid Holland, (1879, 1898, 1900-1910 worn in Heenvliet)

urn-gvn-NOMA01-Z35-49-large_zps42qt6mpk (600x159)

 

 

These following images all show the oorijzers as worn with the different costumes in Zeeland and the islands of Zuid-Holland, throughout time. Most of these images will show the costume and cap as worn on Sundays, this being the most elaborate version. The most recent images for each costume are also roughly where the changes stopped. This is different per region, depending on how long the costume was still worn. The only one being worn daily today is the one of Arnemuiden.

Zuid-Beveland. On the left is a print ca. 1850. Next to this you see the 2 different ways the cap evolved. Top row is protestant, first image ca. 1905, second one is ca. 1940. The catholic cap is in basis the same, but folded and pleated differently to get a different shape. The first image is ca. 1900, the second one ca. 1950. You can see how the oorijzer was worn much higher on the head than before in the catholic version.

Zuid-Beveland_zps3ztsuya5 (600x295)

 

Walcheren. On the left the costume ca. 1850.  Top right is an image from what I’d guess to be early 20th century. The girls on either side are wearing the ‘girls-cap’, with the long back. The cap in the center is the one generally worn by adult woman. Lower right shows pitures from the 1950’s. Left the adult cap, right the girl cap.

Walcheren_zpskrqztx7z (600x349)

 

Arnemuiden. Left the costume ca. 1850. In the middle a girl ca. 1890. On the right the cap ca. 1930. This was roughly the size the cap stayed afterwards.

Arnemuiden_zpscefgwhua (600x277)

 

Axel. To the left an image depicting Zeeuws-Vlaandren ca. 1850. Top middle is a woman from Axel ca. 1880, bottom middle girls ca. 1905. The right image was taken in 1950.

Zeeuws-Vlaandren_zpsdrver2do (600x266)

 

Noord-Beveland. Left ca. 1850. Top right is ca. 1900, bottom right 1950’s.

Noord-Beveland_zpsklo3cusy (600x476)

 

Tholen. The Bing & Braet series doesn’t cover Tholen, so on the left a print from 1874. On the right a woman in the 1950’s.

Tholen_zpskrfzhvye (600x416)

 

Schouwen-Duiveland. Ca. 1850 on the left, ca. 1910 on the right. The hair was typical for Schouwen and worn slightly different in Duiveland.

Schouwen-Duiveland_zpscgfuh4k9 (600x405)

 

Islands of Zuid-Holland. The left image depicts the costume from Goeree Overflakkee, Voorne, Beijerland and IJsselmonde ca. 1850. In the middle a girl from Voorne ca. 1880, the right image was taken ca. 1910.

Goeree Overflakkee Voorne Beijerland en IJsselmonde_zpszfecr9ov (600x262)

 

This post turned out slightly longer than anticipated, but I wanted to be complete, so I hope it wasn’t too long. This concludes the post. Below some sources, by far most information and images were taken from the website ‘Het Geheugen van Nederland’, which has a large image archive about Dutch traditional costume. This includes wonderful information from about the objects, from the museums they belong to.

 

Sources:

Het Geheugen van Nederland

Fries Museum

De Scheveningse Klederdracht, Koolbergen 1990

Historische Kring Huizen

Oorijzers – ‘Ear-irons’ – Part 1

Oorijzers are a type of metal headgear which have been worn in the Netherlands for a very long time. Literally translated the name means ‘ear-iron’, but I don’t think there’s an official English word for them, so I’ll keep using the Dutch term. I wanted to just write one post about oorijzers, but it became a bit long, so this is part 1 of 2! In this article I’ll give a little background on the history of the oorijzer and one example of it’s continued use throughout history. The next article will be about the oorijzer in various traditional Dutch costumes!

Just a quick disclaimer: I’m writing this article as an interested layman, I’m not a scholar on this subject by any means. My information comes from museums and books, and I’ll try to give an overview of sources at the bottom. I’m also writing this more as knowledgeable on Dutch traditional costume than on 16th and 17th century dress, to give an idea of my perspective.

But back to the topic on hand! What is an oorijzer? The basic description would be ‘a piece of metal  worn on the head underneath a cap’. That’s a very bare description, mostly because the function, appearance and material of the oorijzer all changed throughout time and place. Below you see a collage of different existent oorijzers ranging from 16th to 20th century, all worn in different parts of the Netherlands (source for all images: Het Geheugen van Nederland ).

Oorijzers_zpsvbwzua9m (600x359)

Origin

In origin, the oorijzer was a simple wire often made of brass. It was worn around the head and meant to keep the cap (which was worn on top) in place. It was a very utilitarian object, of which the largest part was not seen. The tips could be a little decorated with wire or small knobs, because these would stick out a little in the front. The rest of the wire was narrow and undecorated. Below is a brass oorijzer with copper wire around the tips found in Amsterdam, believed to be made in the 16th century. This is a good example of the style and shape of oorijzers around this time.

This type of oorijzer was worn throughout the entire country as a part of regular fashions of the time. These would’ve gone out of fashion for the elite around 1650. The lower classes would keep wearing them for a little longer. After 1700, you see oorijzers mostly in regional and local wear.

Although the earliest examples of oorijzers are twisted wire, at some point you also start seeing plated (I’m not sure if this is the correct technical term for how they’re made, sorry!) examples with little loops attached. The one below is from the last quarter of the 17th century, made of gilded brass. This one might’ve been for a wealthier woman, given the gilding and decoration of the knobs. It might have been worn with an early version of regional clothing as well, given the date.

Oorijzer, vermoedelijk laatste kwart 16de eeuw

The oorijzer would be made such that it would grip the head, preventing the cap from sliding off. The cap could be pinned to the ear iron. Because it was a bit tight (otherwise the grip wouldn’t work), you often see the knobs or ends making indentations of the cheeks of wearers.

Although few oorijzers from the 16th and 17th centuries have survived (being the practical accessories they were), they were worn widely. Luckily for us, the 17th century is a great era for the Dutch painters. Even though most of the upper class stopped wearing them at some point during the century, lower class portraits were also done. This means a fair number of paintings have survived which show women wearing oorijzers. Below a small selection.

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Top left to right: “Vrouw aan de maaltijd” Gabriël Metsu ca. 1661, ca. 1664 – “Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-1685)”  Rembrandt, 1657 – “Studie van een oude vrouw in een witte dop” Rembrandt  – “Woman eating”  Gabriël Metsu 1664-1666. Bottom left to right:  “Meisje maakt kant”  Caspar Netscher – “Portrait of a Lady” Frans Pourbus the Elder 1580 – “Portrait Of A Young Woman” Frans Hals 1655,1660 – “Portrait of a woman” Frans Hals 1640

 

In the 18th century the oorijzer disappears from regular fashions. In some regional costumes the oorijzer disappears (if it ever existed at all, sources pre 1700 being scarce). In others though, it is kept on and starts to transform. The 18th century is the base of most of the regional traditional costume we see today, it’s when the differences start becoming larger. The same is true for the oorijzer, which becomes different for different regions.

Burgerweeshuis

One very interesting place where the oorijzer is kept is the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, the main orphanage in Amsterdam. Founded in the 16th century, the orphanage was quite well known and located in the same place up to 1954. The uniform for the girls was very distinctive, with dresses which were black on one side and red on the other, worn with white caps including oorijzers. After the oorijzer goes out of fashion in the 17th century the orphans keep wearing it and it serves as a part of their dowry when they leave. Throughout time it grows a bit from the 17th century version, becoming wider. The oorijzers worn in the Burgerweeshuis are eventually made of silver, making it one of the most valuable possessions the orphans were likely to have. The costume, including oorijzers was worn up to 1919 when they stopped wearing the uniform. This is an example of a costume which is not as much regional but institutional, but which therefore stays nearly the same for centuries. I couldn’t find any pictures of the uniform before late 19th century, so these images below best reflect the uniform as worn in the last years.

Below is a print of the costume made in 1914 after a doll (date unknown, but I’d guess late 19th/early 20th century) which clearly shows the silver oorijzer beneath the cap. At this point, it has become wider than the original 17th century oorijzer and the little knobs are high on the head.

 

Some existent examples. The pins would’ve been put through the knobs at the top

The painter Nicolaas de Waay painted a good number of paintings of girls of the Burgerweeshuis in the early 20th century. This is one of his portraits, again clearly showing the oorijzers beneath the caps.

Currently, most Dutch people know the oorijzer purely from their use in various traditional Dutch costumes. In Part 2 of this topic I’ll attempt to give an overview of how the oorijzer evolved in different regional wear, and how they’re still worn today!

Sources:

Het Geheugen van Nederland

Amsterdam Museum – Burgerweeshuis

Wikipedia page Burgerweeshuis