Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 2)

Long promised, and finally here: this post continues from the previous one on medieval planes, and will focus on the French, German and other planes of Northern Europe, as well as providing as much illustrative material as possible of medieval planes. We are especially lucky that John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, adopted the plane as his personal symbol. Due to this many images of planes are found decorating his clothes, buildings, coins, etc. Most of these are quite schematic, though you can get a general feel of the proportions of the planes.

As shown in part 1, the Italian style medieval planes had some typical characteristics, like the cut-out handles. The northern European planes also have some typical characteristic, and can roughly be divided into three groups: planes with a horn or toat, planes without any specific hand-grip, and Lapp-style planes. The planes of the Duke of Burgundy fall into the first group. This post will consider the planes with a toat, the other two groups are presented in the next post. Aside from these three groups, there are also some medieval planes that look more different and will be also discussed in a separate post.

The planes of John the Fearless

The personal emblem or motif of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419) the plane. He supposedly adopted this symbol to oppose his brother and rival Louis, Duke of Orleans, whose emblem was a ragged staff. John ordered his brother be assassinated, and as a consequence was slain a few years later by supporters of the (new) Duke of Orleans. The plane as his emblem was first used in January 1406. The Duke had ordered 311 'planes' as new years gifts from his gold smith Jehan Mousefroy: 77 rings with diamonds and planes, 78 gilded and 155 silver planes (coins?). The most expensive gold ring was for himself, decorated with diamond, pearl and ruby. The orders for the planes (rabot/rabos)  can be found in his household books:

A lui [Jehan Mousefroy, his personal goldsmith] le premier jour de janvier cccc et cinq [= 1406] [...] pour avoir fait xlviij anneaulx et en chacun annel assis un diamant en xlviij rabos et est chacun annel avec le diamenz du pris de vj escuz valent iijc xxiiij fl. A lui ce jour pour avoir assis xxiij anneaulx en chascun annel assis un diament en xxiij rabos et est chacun annel avec-ques le diament du pris de ij escuz valent liiij fl. A lui ce jour pour avoir mis vj anneaulx en chascun annel assis un diament en vj rabos et est chacun annel avecque le diament du pris de xx escus valent vj xx xv e. et fl. Au premier jour de janvier pour avoir fait pour mondit seigneur ung rabot dor garny dun gros diament dune grosse perle et dun rubi pendant devant assis en un annel et poise le dit rabot xv esterlins dor couste vent ainsi aquil [sic] dit c xij fl. et s. A lui ce jour pour avoir fait lxxviij rabos dorez qui poisent xvm xc dargent dore qui valent a xiiij fl le marc lxx francs xvij s. vj d. A lui ce jour pour avoir fait vijxx xv rabos dargent blanc qui poisent x marcs iii; onces x esterlins dargent blanc valent a xij fl le marc vj xx v fl iij s vj d.
[Archives de la Cote d'Or  B 1543, fol. 124v]

The emblem of the plane on the inside of a gold ring. On the outside, a cameo bearing the face of John the Fearless. 
The ring was made in 1412 by the goldsmith Jean Nicolas. Musée du Louvre, Paris France.

Later more of these expensive planes are ordered by the goldsmith:

pour avoir fait ung rabot pour monseigneur de charrelois [the son of John the Fearless] garny dune esmeraude deux diamens une perle pendant en un annel ouquel avoit assis ung rubi et deux diamens et pesant v esterlins dor valent a lvii; file marc xxix s p pour lafaeon dudit rabot iii; frans x s.
[Archives de la Cote d'Or B 1543, fol. 125v]

Item pour avoir fait pour mondit s. j grant rabot au vif Et est assis sur ung ays et desous la vidange dicelle ou est le orfroi est tout plain de raboteures ycelui rabot garny dune grosse perle et losange et y pend j gros diamant assis en ung annel Et aucuns dicelle rabos a ung diamant fait comme ung escucon Et poise ycellui rabot iiij v dor fin lequel mondit seigneur donna a monseigneur de berry [a gift for the Duke the Berry] le premier jour de may lan mil cccc et vj au pris de lxviij fl le marc valent xxxvj fl iij fl. d.
[Archives de la Cote d'Or  B 1554, fol. 113v-114r]

Left: A coin with the emblem of a plane and the device of John the Fearless 'ICH HALS MICH',
 made around 1410 in Paris. Right: Another coin with an emblem of a plane.  

Item pour avoir fait pour mondit seigneur j autre rabot de semblable facon et garny comme cellui precedent lequel mondit seigneur donna a monseigneur dorleans [a gift for the Duke of Orleans!] le vje jour du mois de may lan que dessus auquel mondit seigneur disna avee lui Et poise ledit rabot iiij ixe dor a xxij mars au pris de lxiij fl le marc valent xxvij fl iij s iiij d. Et pour la facon dudit rabot xj fl ss d.
[Archives de la Cote d'Or  B 1554, fol. 114r ] 

The plane was used everywhere by John the Fearless: on coins, in architecture, in books he ordered to be made, such as Le livre de l’information des princes. Also, gowns and hoods are made with embroidered planes in gold on a background of red and black velvet. He commonly is seen in these costumes on paintings and book illuminations.

On of the three planes (on a wooden plank) with some shavings on folio 1 of Le livre de l’information des princes. The plane blade is set at a very low angle, and combined with the size looks to be a block plane.  Brussels, Belgium, KBR, Ms. 9475, dated 1408-1409. Also other folio's in this manuscript are profusely decorated with these planes in the margins. See e.g. 'Der Knotenstock ist abgehobelt!  - der Hobel als Sinnbild der Reformation bei Johann ohne Furcht, Herzog von Burgund' by S. Slanicka for  more examples.

Tin badge dating from 1409, containing the emblems associated with John the Fearless: 
the plane, the cross of St. Andreas and a level. Musee Nationale du Moyen Age, Paris, France.

A painted glass window with an heraldic plane on a shield from the 'Tour de Jean sans Peur',
the fortified home of John the fearless in Paris, France.

John the Fearless (on the right) is depicted with a cloak embroidered with many planes having a toat. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, Manuscript 23279, folio 1v. Around 1409-1410.

John the Fearless is wearing the same 'plane' coat, while the author of the book (Salmon) presents his manuscript to King Charles VI. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, ms. 23279, fol. 53. Around 1409-1410.

From the same manuscript: John the Fearless sits on a bench with a red velvet cloth embroidered with gold planes. Also the banner at his back displays planes with a toat. Bibliotheque Nationale de France Manuscript 23279 folio 119. Around 1409-1410.

Some portraits of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy with a hood embroidered with planes or planes with shavings. I have found these images on internet and do not know if these are original medieval paintings of the duke or where the original resides. At the bottom right two drawings of planes found on a hood of John the Fearless.

Planes with a toat

The toat is an upright handhold or horn at the front of the plane, which helps to push the plane in its forward direction. Toats can (still) be found on planes of all sizes, from smoothing planes to large try planes, though it is most often depicted in medieval illustrations as a medium sized plane. The toat can be placed at the center of the plane block, but is also found placed asymmetrically on one side.

Two woodworkers from the Hausbuch of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nuremberg, Germany with smoothing plane with a toat. Left: Peter Screiner (1444) and right Paulus Weydmann (1542) Note that the toat of the right woodworker is placed asymmetrically.

The ladies in this book illumination have a plane with a toat as well as a hacksaw (bottom right).  'The pleading at the court of Reason' from 'The book of the Queen' by Christine de Pizan. Harleian MS 4431, folio 196v. British Library, London, UK. Dated 1410-1420. 

The above depicted plane has a striking resemblance with the original medieval plane shown below (and with most of John the Fearless). This is a plane from the late 14th century (between 1355 and 1380 - around the same time as the illuminations) excavated from a pit in the Hanse city of Greifswald, Germany in 2001. Bram found this small picture in a book this summer and as this plane is from exactly our re-enactment period, we contacted the author of the book chapter. He was very kind so send us some more information on this plane. The plane is made of beech and has a length of 20 cm and a height (without the toat) of 6.8-7.5 cm and a width of 8.4 cm. Height including the toat is 13.2 cm, the toat itself is approximately 11 cm long and has a diameter of 4.5-5 cm. The body of the plane curved at the toat end to a height of 2.3 cm, the edges of the plane are rounded off for easy holding. Remarkable is that the toat and the plane are one single piece of wood. The plane angle is very low, 20 degrees and the opening for the blade is 2.5 cm, the width available for the blade is 4.7 cm. Such a low angle makes it likely that this plane was used as a modern low-angle block plane. No wedge or plane blade was found with this plane. A square iron pin was set to hold the wedge and iron (at 3.7 cm height - 6.5 cm length from the end). We will certainly reconstruct this plane and add it to our collection of replica medieval planes.

Left: The plane from Greifswald, Germany, dating from between 1355-1380. Right: The plane of Christine de Pizan, dated 1410-1420. 

The drawings of the late 14th century plane from Greifswald, Germany.

A 13th century stained glass window in Chartres cathedral (France) of the carpenters guild. The man on the right is  planing on a workbench using a plane with a toat.

Two small planes with toat in the scene of building of the ark from the Bedford Hours (1410-1430), as well as a large plane. British Library, Add. MS 18850 folio 15v.

 Side of a choir stall from the cloister in  Pöhlde, Germany, dated around 1280. Nowadays in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, Germany. Among the woodworking tools is a plane resting on the workbench. 

The plane of Karl Schreiner (1421) from the Hausbuch of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung was used to make a replica. Our plane is made from beech and is used as a smoothing plane. It is 26 cm long, 5 cm high (14.5 with toat) and 9.5 cm wide, fitting a 5 cm plane blade. The blade is set at an 40 degrees angle. The asymmetrical toat on the left side is rather comfortable and does not affect the planing performance.

Our version of the plane from the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung. The edges of the plane are rounded to have a more comfortable handhold. The toat is fastened with two pins to the plane block.

During the end of the 15th century, planes with pin holding the wedge were replaced with versions having a grooved wedge. Such a wedge allows the pressure to be applied more evenly onto the (edge of the) plane plane. It also does not weaken the plane body by having a hole for the bolt. Planes with wedges did exist earlier than the 15th century.

The plane by Albrecht Durer originally from the Melancholica engraving (from 1514, here the version by Viollet le Duc is shown). The plane has a toat as well as a grooved wedge. Also, the plane is a bit ovally shaped.

A southern Europe plane variant with a toat

There is a large plane variant with a toat depicted in the late 15th century that looks a bit different. This try plane has a very big toat in front, an increased middle part - that hold the plane blade - and an end without any special features. The plane is most clearly shown in a miniature from Jean Bourdichon (1505-1510) depicting the holy family as a craftsman family. Another is found on a misericord in the choir stalls in Plasencia Cathedral, Spain and a misericord in the Musee the Cluny has a similar form, but seems to be missing the toat - it might be broken off or is hidden beneath the hand of the carpenter.

Joseph is working the try plane. At the front another small plane can be seen amongst the woodworking tools. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscrit Fr. 2374/ École Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Mn. mas 92.

A joiner working a plank with a try plane . On the chest on the right two more planes are shown, though it is unclear if they have a toat or that it a projecting plane blade. Dated 1500, Plasencia cathedral, Plasencia, Spain.

The carpenter is working with a try plane with a heightened middle part on a work bench. The toat could be broken off, or perhaps more placed to the middle of the plane. Dated 1500, Musee the Cluny, Paris, France.

Bram has re-created the large plane of the Bourdichon illumination, albeit as a smaller version in beech. His plane has the size of a (number 5) jack plane. The plane blade is a recycled old plane blade with a width of 4 cm.The blade is set at an angle of 45 degrees.

 The toat looks relatively large, but is very comfortable to the hand.

The bolt that holds the wedge is made of an African hardwood. 

The gerfschaaf

The gerfschaaf is a typical Dutch plane, which is whale formed and has a curly toat at the front.  The plane body also becomes smaller at the front. A gerfschaaf has been used for multiple tasks: with a small mouthed opening for smoothing, or with a wide mouth for rough work, like a scrub plane; but also rounded rounded (ship) forms existed for planing curved work. This plane had its medieval predecessors; perhaps the smaller plane shown by Bourdichon in his miniature could be such a predecessor (or the Greifswald plane). We have also made a replica of the small Bourdichon plane. The plane blade is set at a low angle (30 degrees) to be able to use it as a low angle block plane. The plane works fine, but, as you can see at the illumination and the photos of the replica, the bolt is set such that there is little room to clear the shavings.

 Our small 'Bourchichon' plane or a medieval gerfschaaf made in beech. It has a length of 19 cm, a height of 5.5 cm ( 7.5 with toat) and a width of 6 cm - decreasing to 4 cm at the front.

Left: I made the mouth of the plane too wide in the beginning and had to make an insert to make it smaller. You can see very clearly that the plane is smaller at the front. Right: The (recycled) plane blade is thicker at the cutting end and consists of two layers of steel. Originally it was too long and had to be cut in half.

 The room for clearing the shavings is very small. The plane regularly has to be emptied by hand.

We also own some antique (beech) gerfschaven with grooved wedges. Images of gerfschaven can be found in the late 16th century. They keep this form until they become obsolete in the early 20th century. Our gerfschaaf has a length of 15 cm, a maximum width of 5 cm, and a height of 6-6.5 cm. Including the wedge and blade, the height becomes 11.5 cm. The blade is set at an angle of 50 degrees. The opening is wider than the Bourdichon plane and easily clears the shavings.

Left: The whale form of the gerfschaaf. Right: Here you can see that the plane becomes smaller at the front, but also a bit  at the back.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The effect of the sun

When we ordered the purple wool for the Thomasteppich, we decided to do a little experiment to see  what the effect of the sun was on the purple colour. We hung some threads of wool outside for about two months, exposed to the weather and the full sun for most of the day (well, Dutch weather permitting ...). The effect of the exposure to the sun is enormous: the purple has bleached to a light  lilac colour. 
The same wool. Left the threads that were exposed to sun and weather for 2 months (therefore they are more loosely wind), right the threads in the original purple colour that was kept in a box in the dark.

This does give some thoughts on the effect it will have on the final tapestry. The Thomasteppich project will likely continue for some 10 years before it is finished (the nuns did it in 2 years time, but they embroidered every day), and embroidery is mainly done outside (though not in the full sun).  However, we already see that the light green has become lighter.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Medieval mussels

It all began when we found a book on excavations in Arnemuiden, the town Anne was born. Among the finds at the harbours edge was a curious red earthenware pot, dating from the late middle ages. A similar pot had been found in the nearby city of Middelburg. As this type of pot was only found in  Zeeland, a delta province with (during medieval times) lots of small islands and fisher-folk, and plenty of opportunity to gather (free) mussels around the shore, it was thought to be a pan used to cook mussels. As we happen to like cooked mussels, and this was a medieval pot from Anne's home town, we wanted to add a replica of this mussel pot to our cooking inventory. We looked if there was a potter that was willing to make the replica and ended up at Atelier Jera, run by Elly van Leeuwen from Leiden, the Netherlands.

 A red earthenware 'mussels bowl' with lead-glazing inside standing on three rims. Dated around 1375-1450. 
Middelburg, Berghuijskazerne, now in the Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg, the Netherlands.

The red earthenware 'mussels bowl' with lead glazing found in Arnemuiden, the Netherlands. 
Dated around 1350-1450. The sizes are recalculated based on maximum diameter provided.

She made a very beautifully crafted replica of the mussels bowl, as well as a replacement for our jack-dawed milk bowl. Her bowl is slightly smaller, 28 cm diameter and 11 cm high. We tested our new mussels pot on our next event in Eindhoven. Of course using a medieval recipe for mussels. Below we provide the recipes for three different medieval dishes containing mussels.

Our mussels bowl replica made by Elly van Leeuwen.

You might wonder how mussels gathered around the shore would end up fresh in the mainland (e.g. around the Historic Open Air Museum in Eindhoven). There is some evidence that mussels were transported during medieval times in barrels filled with salt water. This prevented them from being spoiled.

Last weekend in the Historic Open Air Museum in Eindhoven we tried two of the three medieval mussels recipes that are provided below.

Cawdel of Muskels

This is an interesting recipe for mussels and leeks in almond milk, from 'the Forme of Cury' an English cookbook from the 14th century (recipe 127). The modern adaptation is from 'Pleyn delit' by Constance B. Hieatt, Brenda Hosington and Sharon Butler (ISBN 0-8020-7632-7).

Cawdel of muskels, a tasty soup-like recipe.

Take and seep muskels; pyke hem clene, and waisshe hem clene in wyne. Take almaundes & bray hem. Take somma of the muskels and grynde hem, & some hewe smale; drawe the muskels yground with the self broth. Wryng the almaundes with faire water. Do alle thise togider; do therto verjous and vyneger. Take whyte of lekes & perboile hem wel; wryng oute the water and hewe hem smale. Cast oile therto, with oynouns perboiled & mynced smale; do therto powder fort, saffroun & salt a lytel. Seep it, not to stondyng, & messe it forth.  

Add salt and saffron and boil the mussels. They are ready when they are open.
  • 1/2 cup of ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1-1.5 kg mussels in shell
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3-4 leeks, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 bottle of dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger, all spice, and pepper.

Take the mussels out of their shell and chop them to pieces.

Draw thick almond milk from the ground almonds and water. Soak mussels in cold water and discard those that open prematurely. Put them in a large pot with leeks, onions, wine, vinegar, salt and saffron. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the shells open (about 5 minutes). Stain broth through a cheesecloth and reserve. shell mussels and discard the shells. Chop onions and leeks and sauté them them gently in oil for a few minutes. Meanwhile grind (blend) half the cooked mussels with a small amount of the broth. Chop the remaining mussels more coarsely with a knife. Combine all of these ingredients with the almond milk, adding broth if more liquid seems needed. Simmer gently to reheat, stirring constantly; do not overcook. Season to taste.

Saute the onions and leeks.

Mussels in the shell

The following is a recipe for cooked mussels from Manuscript M.S. B.L. Harleian H4016, recipe 106 of around 1450. Taken from the book 'The culinary recipes of medieval England' by Constance B. Hieatt (ISBN 978-1-909248-30-4).

Take and pick over good mussels and put them in a pot; 
add them to minced onions and a good quantity of pepper and wine, and a little vinegar. 
As soon as they begin to gape, take them from the fire, and serve hot in a dish with the same broth.

The mussels in the shell were made using the new mussels bowl.

This recipe is, in fact, much alike the modern cooked mussels. Mussels are boiled in white wine, together with a drop of vinegar, some vegetables (for example onions) and spices (pepper). When the shell is open they are ready to eat. You can use an empty open shell as pincers to pry another mussel out of its shell. The use of vinegar and pepper gives it a interesting twist from the modern cooked mussels.

'Ein hofelich spise von Ostren' (jugged mussels)

This mussels recipe stems from medieval France and was taken from the German book 'Wie man eyn teutsches Mannsbild bey Kräfften hält' by H.J. Fahrenkamp (ISBN 3-89996-264-8). The recipes in this book seem genuine, but the author is lax in providing the exact sources.

  • 1.5 kg mussels
  • 3-4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium sized onion 
  • 100 g breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 l dry white wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • some bay leaf, parsley and tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a bit of saffron
  • white pepper, salt

 Wash the mussels and throw away the ones with an open shell. Put the rest in a large pan with some oil and heat strongly for around 5 minutes, while shaking the pan, until the shell have opened. Throw away the unopened ones. Take the pan from the fire and put through a sieve, catching the mussel-oil liquid in a bowl. Take the muscles from the shell and set aside. Cut the onion in fine pieces and stir fry them in a little oil. Add the breadcrumbs and stir. Add the wine and vinegar and the herbs and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the herbs and use a mixer to make a smooth purée. If necessary add the mussel-oil liquid. Add the spices, keeping in mind that none should give a dominant flavour. Add the mussels to the sauce and reheat the mixture slowly.

Medieval mussels with St. Ambrose in the Book of Hours of Catherina of Cleves, by the Utrecht Master of Catherina of Cleves, Ms. M. 917, page 244. Note that the crab has too many legs.