Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Medieval and renaissance chests of Chateau Martainville

As mentioned before, Chateau de Martainville in France contains a large collection of medieval and renaissance furniture, dating from the 15th and 16th century. This furniture can roughly be divided into three styles: 'Gothic', 'First (French) Renaissance' and 'Second (French) Renaissance'. These styles could occur together in the same time period of the 15th and 16th century. The Gothic style is based on mortise and tenon frames and panels, often with linenfold or parchemin carvings. This style is typical late medieval. In the First Renaissance style the linenfold panels are exchanged for more decorated panels. For instance medallions with human heads are found on panels. The Second Renaissance style is even more decorated; carvings have more depth, i.e. they are more three-dimensional, and whole story scenes could be depicted.  

Among the furniture in Chateau de Martinville are around 12 large chests (not all are shown here). Some of them are so-called 'bridal chests', given as part of the dowry. Sizes of the chests are more or less the same.

1. This bridal chest dates from 1610 and is in First Renaissance style with seven front panels.

2. This is a simple panel and frame chest without any carving.

3. This bridal chest is also in the First Renaissance style dating from 1540-1550. 
Sizes are: 96 cm height, 179 cm width and 78 cm depth.

3. Frontal view of the same bridal chest. Panels are more decorated with animal figures.

3. The side of the chest is decorated with diamond carved panels.

3. Detail of the lock of the same chest.

4. Another bridal chest in the same First renaissance style as the previous one.

 4. Only a part of the lock of this chest is present.

4. Also this chest has decorated diamond panels at the sides.

5. This Gothic style chest has four panels with parchemin carving.

5. A birds eye view of the same Gothic style chest. Also the side panels have parchemin panels. 
The boards of the lid are severely warped.

5. Detail of the lock of the Gothic style chest.

5. Side of the gothic chest.

6. A second renaissance style chest. The front panel has a complete scene.

7. A medieval chest with four linenfold panels against the back of a wooden wand panel frame.

7. The side of the same medieval chest.

8. Another chest with five linenfold panels, but it has a different type feet.  
8. Detail of the lock of this medieval chest.
8. The side of the chest with linenfold panels. The lid has a supporting horizontal rail. 
9. A chest with four panels with parchemin carving. This chest has a simple lock plate. 
9. The same medieval chest seen from the other side.
10. A Gothic style chest with four panels with simple linenfold carving.
10. Side view of the same chest.
10. The lock is on the outside of the chest. 
All the other chests had the lock inside and only the lock plate outside.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Threstle table: a quick summer project

We needed a display table for our event of 4 September in Utrecht, so during the summer months I was busy making two trestles for a trestle table. We already had a second hand oak table board of 45 by 200 cm which we could readily use for our trestle table.

Our trestle table with painted trestles and oak board with linseed oil finish.

Medieval trestles (or trestle tables) are found in many variations: decorated or undecorated, with three or four legs, turned, etc. The design we used is based on a medieval stool type. So far, I have not seen a trestle based on this design depicted in a medieval painting or miniature. We used this simple design because we needed our trestles quickly (and I forgot to check if this design existed for trestles ...). They are very easy manufactured and also assembly / disassembly of the parts is very easy.  A further asset is that they can be transported flat. 

I used cheap pine wood from a local DIY store, and only had to saw it to pieces. A scrollsaw was used for the curved parts of the trestle; the rest was sawn by hand. The sides of the trestle are chamfered to approximately 5 mm wide (these were later painted in a contrasting colour). The decoration, i.e. the Gothic circle in the middle, was carved by hand, the holes drilled with a drill press with Forstner bits. Most of the construction time was used for decoration and painting the pieces.

 The undecorated pine trestle table, together with the medieval stool type of the same construction.

Medieval furniture could also be painted, instead of finished with wax or linseed oil. I chose to paint the trestles, because it camouflaged the modern pine planks (smaller pieces glued together). Painting of course was done in the medieval style with egg tempera. Pigments for the egg tempera paint were bought from Paintmill 'de Kat'. Several layers of paint were needed to cover the wood. The table board was scraped clean of old varnish and finished with linseed oil.

One of the trestles is being painted green with egg tempera in the Historic Open Air Museum Eindhoven. 
On the well boarding you can see that the rim of the horizontal beam of our pole lathe is also just finished green.

The three finished parts of the trestle in red, black and green lying on the table board.

The finished trestles provide a relatively stable support for the table board.  A better stability can be obtained by increasing the angle / width of the 'triangular' trestle piece, and also to connect the trestle parts at a slight angle (the side view would then be 'triangular' as well).

Front and back of the painted trestle (left photo) and side view (right photo).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The medieval toolchest: the rule

Rules are found with woodworkers, architects and stone-masons. A rule is used for measuring, drawing straight lines and checking if (planed) surfaces are flat. They were made from seasoned hardwood as they need to be straight without any flexibility. W.L. Goodman states in his book 'The history of woodworking tools' that the seasoned oak came from barrels or casks bought for this purpose. This is remarkable as staves from barrels are not straight.

 A rule from the engraving 'Melancholica' of Albrecht Durer, 1514. The rule has two holes at the end.

 A similar rule at the bottom of this engraving of a carver making a wooden statue. 
Wood engraving from Nurnberg, around 1550.

 Two carpenters at work to build the cross. The right man uses a rule. 
Jean Fouquet, around 1450. The Hours of Etienne Chevalier, F 76.

The rule is also the sign of authority for the master craftsman (carpenter, joiner or architect), and its use became a guild privilege for the master craftsman in the 16th century. 

Tombstone of the architect Hughes Libergier, 1264. Reims cathedral, France. 
The rule shows several divisions.

Church building. The architect holds a rule in his hand. 
Miniature from La Legende de St. Denis, 14th century. Paris Bibl. Nat. Fr. 2092, fol.75 v.

Rules were divided into equal parts by lines across the width; (some) parts could also be subdivided into smaller units. A certain number of parts could be marked with a circle inscribed over the line. There is no consistency to be found on images on the size or how many divisions a rule had. Divisions were likely feet, inches (thumb width) and arms length (voet, duim and el in Dutch), but it is known that each region more or less had its own inch/feet/arms length. However, for a joiner the exact size of a feet or inch hardly matters. He will use his own measurement tool in his workshop. As long as all his rules have similar markings and the divisions are identical, he can make what he wants. (The Egyptian rule, where each unit is subdivided differently into e.g. 2, 3, 4, 5 and up to 10 parts might also have been very useful to the medieval woodworker).

Two of our oak rules. One is one foot long, the other 2.5 feet.

Our rules are made from seasoned oak and immersed in linseed oil. As the size of the divisions on the rule are arbitrary, we have used the thumb width of the master joiner of the Thomasguild, which is around 27 mm. Twelve inches make up one feet (~325 mm). The long rule is two-and-a-half feet long, the short rule one foot. For the long rule I used circle markings for each half foot, and subdivided the inches of the first half foot in two units. The short rule uses half inches subdivided into two units. Both rules have markings on two sides for ease of measuring.

Detail of our oak rules. Note that the markings are on two sides of the rule. 
The circle markings indicate half a foot.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The surprise at Chateau de Martainville

This year we went for our holidays to Normandy, where we visited some historical and cultural sites among other things. One day we came along Chateau de Martainville, a late 15th century castle which houses the Musee des Tradition et Arts Normands. This renaissance style castle proved to be full of pleasant surprises. First, it contains a large amount of late medieval and early renaissance furniture. Second, the audioguide for the museum was also available in flawless Dutch. Third, you were allowed to take photographs in the museum (without flash). And last, the greatest surprise of all, one of the rooms contained an original strycsitten from the early 15th century! I did bring measuring tape with me, so I could take some approximate measurements of the strycsitten.

Chateau de Martainville in Martainville-Epreville

The early 15th century strycsitten in front of its appropriate place, the hearth. The pieces of paper on the strycsitten mention that you are not allowed to sit on them.

The strycsitten is of the French type (see the first blogpost on strycsittens for an explanation of the strycsitten types) and made of oak. Its approximate sizes are: 188 cm long, 47 cm deep (at armrest) / 40 cm deep (at seating) and 90 cm high. Seating height is 52 cm. The sides of the strycsitten are closed, and consist of a panel and frame set with two panels. The panels are linenfold  carved. The leg styles are 10 x 3.5 cm, the bottom rail is 10 cm as well and starts at 5 cm above ground.

Both sides of the strycsitten.

The front and the back of the strycsitten are differently constructed. The front is open, whereas the back has an additional horizontal rail at 8 cm above ground. Furthermore, only the front horizontal rail, which supports the seating boards, is supported by two 'triangles'. These triangles do not have dowels to fix them (like my own strycsitten). The bottom of the strycsitten shows some interesting details: there are three rails supporting the seating board, and the outermost rails are not positioned at the ends. In other words, all three small rails are fixed to the large horizontal rails. At the end, the support for the turning point for the backrest is attached to the middle style with two dowels. 
Thickness of the small horizontal rails is approximate 2 cm, as are the seating boards and the support triangles. Size of the triangle is 8 x 20 cm. The two seating boards are loose and do not have a groove and tongue joint.

The backside of the strycsitten.

 The triangle is not fixed with dowels; the horizontal rail with two dowels.
 The bottom of the strycsitten. At the end the support for the turning point is attached to the middle style. 
The support rail for the seating is attached to the horizontal rails.

The backrest is approximately 10 by 3.5 cm. The turning point of the backrest is an oak dowel. The support goes through the seating boards. See photo of the bottom of the strycsitten for the rest of the support. The armrests are rounded off at the ends.

The pieces of the backrest are attached to each other with two dowels.

A wooden dowel is used for the turning point. 
The support for the turning dowel goes through the seating boards.

 The backrest needs an angled support to rest against. Note the rounded off armrest.

 The seating boards are not equally wide.

Some more strycsitten photo's with measurements are given below. In a next post I will show you the other types of furniture in Chateau de Martainville.