We all know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we also can't really help it, whether or not we're conscious of the role that book covers (or spines or titles) have in our choices about what to pick up at the bookstore. I would buy the UK Picador edition of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which comes out in early July, for its cover alone. It's a photograph of a dollhouse version of a seventeenth-century bourgeois Dutch canal house, with a hand-lettered title in Delft blue. Sold. Even better, however, the book's content is right up my alley as well. It's about an eighteen year old Dutch girl moving to Amsterdam in 1686 to live with her new husband, who has given her a dollhouse version of their home as a wedding gift.
Burton was probably inspired by a visit to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, where this late seventeenth-century dollhouse, or cabinet house, is one of the most popular works on view. Like the fiction dollhouse in The Miniaturist, this dollhouse was owned by a woman, not a child, and it was probably a replica of Petronella Oortman's (the owner) actual house. These Dutch dollhouses were extraordinarily intricate and costly, and were not intended to be playthings for children. They are sometimes called "cabinet houses," because, unlike dollhouses today, they were built into pieces of furniture that, when closed, looked like normal, if very elegant, cabinets.
The cover is reminiscent of the cover of the hardback US edition of Dara Horn's In the Image, a 2002 novel that takes place partially in Amsterdam, and uses a close-up photo of Petronella Oortman's dollhouse for its cover.
The dollhouse on the cover of The Miniaturist was completely handmade for the cover! Watch this delightful video showing the making of the design of this great cover, read this post about how designer Katie Tooke came up with the concept for the cover, and check out some close-ups of the miniatures here.