Title   Backer (Search for the image)
Translated title Baker
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a baker (`bakker’)

Code of occupational group 77610
Description A muscular-legged baker wears an apron over his pants; has a soft cap to keep hair from his eyes and to absorb sweat produced from the heat of the oven; and has his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He holds a long-handled wooden baker's peel so he can place two round loaves of bread on the floor of the heated oven. Behind him, at the far right, a bareheaded apprentice boy kneads dough with his bare feet by standing in a wooden bread trough.

Baked round loaves of bread are on a wall shelf between the baker and the apprentice. A scale for weighing bread loaves hangs on the back wall. Above the scale is a shelf with tools for moving coals and positioning breadstuffs in the oven. Firewood to fuel the oven and breads to be baked are placed in the brick oven through a semi-circular opening at waist-high height. Once the fuel has heated the oven's bricks, the ashes and charred remains are removed, the floor of the oven swept clean, and the breads placed inside so that radiant heat can bake the loaves. The opening to the oven was closed with a metal plate, to retain the heat. Fuel, stored in space beneath the oven, is accessible through another semi-circular opening.

Bread was the central staple of the Dutch diet. Dutch people ate bread at all four meals during the course of the day: breakfast, midday, afternoon, and evening. Breads, rolls, and rusks were made with white wheat flour (milled to remove the outer husk and bran), whole grain wheat, rye, and barley. White bread dough was kneaded by hand on a counter top; coarse dark rye or whole wheat bread was kneaded by foot in the bread trough. Bread was baked in varied sizes and shapes, including an elaborate diamond-shaped decorated bread (a "duivekaater") used for the holidays in December through New Years.

Most Dutch people living in cities and towns purchased bread from the baker, rather than baking their own. Bakeovens were not commonly built into household fireplaces. White bread was especially prized as a mark of refinement, although many families, especially poorer city workers and rural peasant families, ate a coarser grained, whole meal, "horse" bread. Breadcrumbs and crusts were saved by the frugal Dutch housewife and used to thicken sauces and puddings or as a crunchy garnish on baked dishes cooked in a lidded Dutch oven.

Bramer's drawing is based directly on the Jan van Vliet etching, although Bramer's baker faces left and Van Vliet's faces right. Both bakers are shown with a peel; both use the same kind of oven; both have weighing scales; and both have apprentices although Bramer's young fellow is performing a different task. The drawing is in the tradition of Jost Amman's 16th-century woodcut of the baker in the Ständebuch.

Painterly accounts of Dutch bakers do not tend to show them actually at work baking or preparing loaves for the oven, but rather depict the baker surrounded by the rolls, breads, and pretzels which he made, often blowing a horn to indicate to prospective customers that the goods were fresh from the oven and ready for purchase. See Adriaen van Ostade's (ca. 1644) etching of "The Baker"; Job Berckheyde's (e. 1681) figure of the baker blowing his horn (Worcester Art Museum); and Jan Steen's portrait study of the Leiden baker, Arent Oostwaard and his wife Catherina Keizerswaard, (Rijksmuseum).

Breads and rolls were included in numerous genre paintings, such as Johannes Vermeer's "The Kitchenmaid" (Rijksmuseum), Jan Steen's "St. Nicholas Eve" (Rijksmuseum), and Job Berckheyde's "Bakery Shop" (Allen Memorial Art Gallery at Oberlin College) and in many still lifes. See examples of coarse dark bread in Floris van Schooten's "Breakfast of Mussels, Cheese, Bread, and Porridge" (The Heinz Family Collection) while a crusty white roll is visible in Jan Davidsz. de Heem's "Still Life" (Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester).

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

Contact Copyright

© 2019 IISH / Antenna