Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A medieval gamebox re-visited

When you enter the Kunstkammer in the Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna, Austria, you immediately stumble upon a beautifully made medieval box for board games. This gamesbox did feature in a previous blog, as well as the accompanying chess pieces that stood model for my courier chess pieces. This gamesbox, however, proved to be far more interesting than anticipated.

The gamesbox dates from the first half of the fourteenth century and contains a board for chess and backgammon. The boards have been beautifully decorated with certosina style inlays in jasper, bone, agate and chalcedony. Certosina is a technique from the Italian renaissance, similar to intarsia, that uses small pieces of other materials to create geometric patterns on wood. The term comes from Certosa Church in Pavia, Italy, where it was used in ornamenting an altarpiece. Most of the certosina patterns can be seen on the edges of the boards and the 'points' and centre of the backgammon board.

 The edges and the outside of the 'points' are heavily decorated in certosina style.

A large rose in jasper ornaments the centre of each half of the backgammon board. 
Around it are several other inlaid flowers and geometric patterns.

The most outer squares of the chess board have a certosina geometric pattern decoration, regardless of the fact that the square should be 'white' or 'red' chequered. The white (bone) chequered squares have a small certosina wheel in the centre, the red jasper squares are plain. However 16 of the 'red' squares are different. Here, painted miniatures are hidden behind a rock crystal window.

16 of the 'red' squares of the chess board contain painted miniatures.

Some of the miniatures behind the crystal windows.

The 20 game pieces on display were a surprise for me. I had checked the online database of the museum and only found the 14th century chalcedony and red jasper chess pieces and assumed that these were the 20 game pieces. Actually, the twenty game pieces were 10 chalcedony and 10 red jasper tablemen for backgammon. Actually this is 10 (5 each) pieces short of a complete medieval backgammon set (assuming the rules of quinze tablas of Alphonso X the Wise). To play draughts, only 4 pieces are missing (assuming European layout of the game; for Arabic medieval draughts 12 extra pieces are necessary). The tablemen have a similar size as 'modern' game pieces.

The 'plain' chalcedony and red jasper game pieces for backgammon.

The chess pieces, which are identically made from chalcedony and red jasper, were unfortunately not on display.  I was a bit disappointed in this, as it really would have given a complete image of the complete games box.

The chess set for the games box.

The side of the games box.

Another beautiful, unrelated game piece in the Kunstkammer made from walrus tusk. 
An image of the flight of Alexander the Great is carved in it. Rhineland, around 1200.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Furniture on a medieval ceremonial vestment

I am currently in Vienna for a conference (not related to anything medieval) and also able to visit some interesting places in this beautiful city. One of these places is the Schatzkammer in the Neue Burg. In this museum are some early medieval garments on display, as well as some religious relics (such as a piece of the holy cross and the holy lance). As a modern woodworker, the holy cross fragment did not impress me; but in my re-enactment incarnation, of course, was awed by these fine relics.

Furthermore, there were several items on display that were related to the order of the golden fleece (instated by Charles the Bold). Two of them were liturgical vestments (antependium) of the order of the golden fleece dating from between 1425-1440. The vestments are made of linen, embroidered with precious metal and silk threads and adorned with pearls and glass pastes. They show images of the apostles, saints, prophets and other biblical persons, but also some pieces of furniture of the late fourteenth - early fifteenth century. Interestingly, you can see a transition of older types of seating furniture to newer versions. Not all names of the biblical figures were discernible on the vestments, and not all figures could be photographed due to the lighting on the display of the vestments.

On the right is a writing desk with open shelves. The apostle Bartholomew sits in a chair with a high back, with likely a chest under the seating. This is a 15th and 16th century type chair. Some kind of bookshelves. 

 A saint (Jacobus?) sitting on a chair with a high back.

The apostle Matthew sits on a rounded back chair. This type of chair first appears in the 15th century. 
Also here a lectern is shown. 

Prophet Daniel is sitting in a chair with a high rounded back.
 On the right a simple chest with a lock is seen, on the left a movable lectern.

King David sits on a throne like chair. Next to him is a lidded chest with a lock.

This saint is sitting on a small bench with a lectern next to him. 
These benches were common during the 15th and 16th century, but also known in the 14th century.

 The prophet Ezekiel is sitting in a chair with a high backrest. 
On the right is a bench and on the left a writing desk.

Job is sitting in a chair with a rounded back. 
The other furniture shown here is a small chest on the right and a lectern with a movable piece.

The prophet Joel is sitting on an X chair with a high back. 
This type first appeared at the end of the 14th century and remained in use into the 15th century. 

 The prophet Zacharias sits on a chair with a high backrest. 
A lectern for writing is shown on the left.

The apostle Judas Thaddaeus is sitting in an x-chair with a turned armrest. 
This type of chair is typical for the second half of the 14th century. It is old-fashioned at the time of the vestment.

Apostle Matthias sits on a high-backed square chair is a chair found in the second half of the 15th century. 
A very modern chair for the vestment. Also a lectern and bookshelves are shown.

 This poor saint does not have any furniture.

 Apostle Andreas.  He sits on a chair, but it is hidden by the clothes of the saint.

The apostle Philippus sits in a square chair with a high backrest.

Apostle Simon sits in another chair with a rounded back. 
An armoire to store books stands next to him.

Last, apostle Thomas sits in a square chair with a high backrest. It looks as if the backrest is turned, making it an old-fashioned chair. A small armoire with bookshelves is next to him.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 3)

This post continues from the previous post on medieval planes from Northern Europe. The previous post discussed the planes with a toat, this post will concentrate on planes without a toat and Lapp-style planes. While there are more images of planes with a toat than that there are actual surviving planes, this is almost the other way around with planes without a toat, and certainly with lapp-style planes of which only excavated examples exist.



Joseph is carrying a basket with his tools while Jesus happily tugs at his cloak. In the tool basket a plane is visible (circle), but you can see only the sole. It could either be a plane with or without a toat. Other tools are a chisel, axe, brace, and an auger. Detail from the painting  'The Holy Family' by the Master of the Magdalena-legende. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium. 15th century.


Planes without a toat

Planes without a toat consist of one block in which the plane blade is set. There are no handles, to help to push the plane forward or to press the plane more firmly onto the wooden surface. There are some surviving examples of the 13th century, as well as from the late 15th century. The surviving examples are relatively small block planes. However, larger examples should have existed as well, as is shown on the miniature from the Hausbuch of the Landauer Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nuremberg, Germany.

Fridrich Punkauer  († 1571) on folio 45r of the Landauer Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nuremberg, Germany. He is working with a plane with a toat, while a large try plane can be seen next to the window.

One small plane was found in Bergen (Norway) and dated around 1248. It was made from taxus. It has a length of 15.7 cm, a width of 2.9 cm and the remarkable low height of 1.3 cm! Also remarkable is that this plane already had a grooved wedge; This is likely a necessity as a cross-pin held wedge would have weakened the plane to much.

Two views of the taxus plane from Bergen, Norway. 
Image scanned from 'Die geschichte des Hobels' by J.M. Greber.

 In France, a complete plane (except for the wedge) including the iron and the cross-pin was found in an submerged medieval village in the Lac le  Paladru near Charavines. The site became flooded in 1280, which makes it easy to date the plane. The plane is made from beech and 15.9 cm long, 6.4 cm wide and 4.2 cm high. The edges are rounded to have a more comfortable grip. The iron is set at an 27 degree angle, which is very low, suggesting that the plane was used as a low-angle block plane. The iron pin is set at mid-height, almost halfway the plane. The blade has a sharp triangular form, being much wider at the sharp end, much like the blades of medieval chisels. Another plane blade from the medieval period also has such a narrowing form, and one might wonder if this is the standard look of the medieval plane blade. (Then all the blades of our replica planes are likely wrong, but I do not feel the urge to change them). 

The plane from Charavines, France.

 Measurements and cross-cut of the 1280 plane from Charavines, France.

Two other views of the Charavines plane, together with some other excavated tools. You can clearly see the iron pin for the wedge and the 'triangular' plane blade.

Excavated medieval tools from Alvdal, Norway. The short triangular blade on the right is a plane blade. 
Other tools are files, a hammer and a knife. Image from excavation database.

This is a plane excavated in Hordaland, Norway. No dating has been provided for this plane, 
but the looks are similar to the medieval  toat-less planes.Image from excavation database.

Late medieval block plane (1500) made from beech with an iron sole. The plane has a grooved wedge, but it is placement is wrong. As a consequence, the wedge is too thick and the gap to remove the shavings too small. The plane is 13 cm long. Image scanned from 'Die geschichte des Hobels' by J.M. Greber.

A carving from the choir stalls of Amiens cathedral (France) 
showing a carpenter working a grooved block plane. Dated 1508.

The holy family. Joseph is working a plane. I think this is a toat-less plane, looking at the way he uses the plane. 
The shavings are expelled from the opening on the top of the plane. Spanish Book of Hours (1461) The British Library, London, UK. Manuscript Add. 18193, folio 48v.

We have only one toat-less plane in our toolchest. This is a small plane bought at Deagrad tools, a blacksmith who makes tool for re-enactors.

Our plane has the blade at the front at an angle of 45 degrees. The plane is 32 cm long, 5 cm high and 2.5 cm wide. The blade is 12 mm wide.

Left: A piece of wood was sawn from the plane body in order to cut the hole for the blade. After that the wood was re-attached with help of 5 wooden dowels. In the middle is a wooden pin to hold the wedge. Wedge and plane blade are shown above the plane. Right: Top view of the plane.

Lapp-style planes

Lapp planes are only found in the high north of Europe, in Norway. Lapp planes are supposed to be developed from the 'bâtastrek' or boat-moulder used by the Vikings to work the mouldings on the edges of the planks forming the hull of their long-boats. The planes have a horizontal toat placed at the front of the plane. It is difficult to imagine that the toat helps the plane to move forward. Here it more seems more likely that the toat is used to push the plane down. No medieval images of this plane exist, but two medieval examples, shown below,  have been excavated.

This is a Lapp style plane with a horizontal toat found in Tonsberg, Norway and dating from 1250-1300. 
The plane bears a runic inscription of the owner, saying 'Arni owns'.

A medieval plane from Bergen, Norway. It is a very small plane and therefore designated as a toy. This plane has a grooved wedge. Like the other Norwegian plane the toat is projected forward. The other wooden object is not a part of the plane.

A 'modern' Lapp-style moulding plane from Lillehammer, Norway. Detachable pins can be set at the sides to act as a fence, so that the moulding can be struck at either hand. Image scanned from W.L. Goodman, the history of woodworking tools.

Sources used:

J.M. Greber, 1956. Die Geschichte des Hobels. Reprint 1987. Th Schafer Verlag.
W.L. Goodman, 1978. The history of woodworking tools. Bell and Hyman Ltd.
Many thanks to Sylvestre of Aisling 1198 for the information on the plane of Charavines.