Tuesday, 24 September 2013

I give you my heart with all my love….

I give you my heart with all my love….

How often will that have been said over the centuries. Very, very often probably. And is still said…. Sometimes the sentence may have been accompanied with a gift. And who wouldn’t fall for a suitor bringing a very nice and very precious gift?

In Sandra Hindman’s book (S. Hindman. 2007. Towards an art history of medieval rings. Paul Holberton Publishing, London, UK. ISBN 978-1903470640. Medieval (gold) rings from a private collection placed in perspective.) a very nice example is shown of a golden ring with a large heart-shaped ruby, lord of stones, with engravings of ivy and the text ‘CORTEPORTAMOR’ estimated to be just for the right period of our re-enactment group, the fourteenth century. Nowadays, I would probably laugh hard and find the ring very much over the top, but perhaps in older times I would just have been delighted. Well, actually no one ever gave me a present like that, so I will just have to make it myself!

The Gothic heart shaped 14th Century love ring in gold and ruby. 
With engravings of clinging ivy and text inscription. Height 23 mm, 
inner diameter 12.3 mm, outer diameter 18.7 mm, bezel 21.6 x 17.5 mm. 
Stone approx. 10.2x 10.8 x 7.7 mm.

The original ring is of course full of symbolism. Ruby is and was a very precious stone surrounded by myths of warding of danger, having the power of fire, removing evil thoughts and of influencing the decisions, mental and physical health of the person wearing it. The ivy expresses fidelity and eternity, as the evergreen crawls and creeps towards the sky, forming a union with whatever it clings to, becoming almost inseparable. And the text to make it even more plain in old Italian that the heart caries love… Someone really had to be convinced.

(Above) Text engraved on the Gothic Love Ring's hoop.
(Left) Engraving with ivy on the bezel of the Gothic Love Ring's hoop.

In Medieval times rubies were probably traded along the spice trading routes, arriving in Europe from India. Nowadays it proves to be difficult to find heart-shaped cabochon natural rubies of the size desired for the ring. Well, at least, I could not find affordable ones. In the end I resorted to buying a synthetic, opaque one – made in China - that as side bonus seems to come closer in appearance to the more pale pink colour of the original stone.

The ring itself is made from 1 mm thick silver plate material. I started sawing out the shape for the band and the heart in one strip very much like a loop shapes cigar band. Sizes. I neatly filed the ends of my band and soldered them together. Next I made the ring round on my ring mandrel. For the heart shaped stone I made the setting out of 0.5 mm silver plate. I drew the heart shape on a small paper and used to strips of approximately 5 mm to form to half shapes that soldered together exactly fell around my ruby.

Repeated annealing the hoop and bezel of my silver ring to be able to slowly mould it to its round shape.

On a half round file I now hollowed out the setting so that the bottom fitted nicely on my ring. I soldered the two pieces together. With a small file I made the top of the setting thinner to make it easier for the time I was going to fit the stone into the setting. Then I had to file and sand the whole thing thoroughly, before polishing it.

The heart shaped setting soldered to the rounded hoop and bezel. After this the heart shape was filed to its final shape and sanded.

The ring was polished except for the inside of the setting. 
The text and ivy has been written with a black marker on the hoop and bezel before engraving.

When it was nice and shiny I used a black marker to draw on the ivy vines and fit all the letters of the text on the ring itself. I am not a good engraver, but having the ring firm and stable in my ring clamp it worked out quite nicely. I lightly polished the ring again to get rid of any small scratches made. Then I placed the stone in its setting and slowly pushed, bit by bit, the setting round the stone. Bling bling, ready to show off!

The result shown from three different sides.

The CORTEPORTAMOR text on the replica.


A small movie to show the ring from all sides.

There are various other examples of heart-shaped rings and jewellery found in private collections and museums. Some examples are given below: A medieval 'A'-engraved heart-pendant of bronze (private collection), a medieval children's silver ring with gold-plated heart (private collection), an engraved gold ring with a heart shaped wolf's teeth (14th century, V&A museum, London, UK), and a heart shaped brooch engraved at the back with the text (14th century, V&A museum, London, UK).

Two pictures of a medieval small heart shaped children's ring in silver and gold (the heart) found on a terp - a man-made dwelling mound - in Friesland, the Netherlands. The ring is ornamented with diagonal ribs.

A medieval bronze pendant with a nice green patina, engraved with an A. Archaeological find, Germany.

Gold heart- shaped brooch with stylised leaves and flowers or feathers, made in France or England around 1400. The brooch would have been colourfully enamelled, both at the front and back. Engraved on the reverse in a dentillated border is the black-letter inscription 'NOSTRE ET TOUT DITZ A VOSTRE [D]ESEIR' (Ours and always at your desire), each word separated by a small floral sprig. Brooches often fastened garments with a slit at the neck; they were used both by men and women (V&A museum, item 86-1899, London, UK).

Decorated gold ring with wolf's tooth set in a heart-shaped bezel, made between 1200-1300 in France or England, inscription added around 1375-1425. Gems, but also other materials, such as teeth, were supposed to have magical properties. Inside the hoop are two engravings: a magic formula and a biblical phrase. The charm: ‘BURO + BERTO + BERNETO’ is to protect against toothache; the biblical phrase 'CONSUMMATUM + EST' are the last words Christ spoke on the Cross, and were used as a charm to calm storms. This large ring likely belonged to a man, possibly a merchant who travelled at sea (V&A museum, item 816-1902, London, UK).

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Medieval tables in Kloster Lune and Kloster Medingen

The Luneburger kloster contain an enormous amount of medieval furniture: hundreds of chests, cupboards and armoires, but also some interesting medieval tables. These are not like the trestle type table as found in the Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie in Bruges, although there are some similarities.

The medieval tables in Kloster Lune

In the winter refectory  of the convent a 8.5 meter long oaken table is found. The table top is made from a single piece of wood with a thickness between 4 and 5 cm. The width of the table is around 50 cm, which makes the weight of the table top approximately 138 kg (half the weight of the trestle table of Bruges). It is believed that the table was also used as a working table for the embroiderers of the convent. The table has some unique features: beneath  the table top are small lockers. The 'open spaces' are places where once doors were fitted. The remaining holes of the hinges can still be seen, as well as a remaining door. I did not check if the lockers were on both sides of the table, but the placements of the 'open spaces' make this a likely option.

The large medieval table with the row of lockers beneath the table top. 
Image from the book 'Luneburger Einblicke' by C. George, A. Tamme and B. Ness.

The placement of the legs is irregular. Two are quite close to each other. This is exemplified by the number of the locker 'open spaces' between the table legs: 1, 3 and 4, respectively. The table legs are only connected to each other at the top by the locker row.

The winter refectory with the large medieval table. You can see that two of the table legs are close to each other. At the right end of the refectory another medieval or/renaissance table can be seen. Image scanned from a postcard.

The summer refectory painted in the original colours. Some medieval/renaissance tables are standing here. More of these tables are in the convent, all with a table top of a single piece of wood (but less thick). The legs are connected to each other with a beam, fastened by a pegged mortise. Image scanned from a postcard.

The medieval table from Kloster Medingen

Kloster Medingen is a bit curious convent. The current building has been built after a fire destroyed the medieval convent in 1781. Despite the destruction of the medieval building (except the brewery), it is full of medieval furniture. How did it survive the fire? No one knows. Perhaps St. Mauritius (the patron saint of the convent) miraculously intervened. The convent has a special medieval table which is located in one of the large hallways. Normally, it is not allowed to take photos in the convent, but after the guide had seen us taking so many notes on the pieces of furniture, we got the special permission to take photos of this very special table.

The medieval click-on table of Kloster Medingen.The middle leg is different: smaller and not fixed by a peg to the lower beam.

You can best describe the medieval table as a click-on table, where extra tables can be added 'seamlessly'. The table top is made such that at the end one half is extended, and the other not, while at the same time the upper half of the extended part is removed, and the lower part of the un-extended part. A next table top with the opposite configuration can 'click' into the first table top. This can continue until a large table is produced. Unfortunately this is the only table, and we can not see the 'click' in action. At the end of the table are also two square holes, and I think these were used for a piece of wood to fasten two tables together.

View of one side of the table. The X-leg is fastened by dowels to the table top. The two parts of the X are connected by two dowels and the mortise and pen of the lower beam. The 'click-on' version of of the table top is clearly visible here.

The rest of the table construction is typical of a so-called cloister-table with X-legs and a supporting rail fastened by mortise and pen. These X-type cloister tables remained popular even until the last century. In fact I am adjusting such a modern cloister table to a have more medieval look. One thing, however, is different: the central leg of the Medingen table is no X type and much smaller than the outside X-legs. The Medingen table was measured by counting the floor tiles. One floor tile equalled 1.5 times of my foot (= 48 cm). The table had a length of 5.5 tiles (~264 cm) by 2 tiles (~96 cm).

Scheme of connecting two medieval 'click-on' tables. 
Two of the blocks shown below could have been used to fasten the two tables.

 The other end of the table. You can see the two gaps left and right of the leg that likely 
were used to connect two tables. The 'click on' construction of the table top is reversed.

Two views of the underside of the table. You can see the top rail connected with a diagonal rail to the lower beam. The middle leg consists of one piece of wood and is much smaller than the outer X-legs.

 Once a single piece of wood, the table top is now split in two. My notebook is lying on the table top.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The medieval toolchest: the level and plumb bob

The level and the plumb bob are two instruments using the same principle - gravity and a weight - to establish straight horizontal and vertical lines, respectively. In medieval times, both tools were mostly used in construction activities by masons and carpenters. The level is known in Roman times as the 'libella'. Sometimes this tool has markings at the bottom to measure varying degrees.

Detail from the base of the 'Four crowned martyrs' at the Or San Michele church in Florence, Italy, showing an A-shaped level. The marble made around 1370-1421 by Nanni di Banco was commissioned by the guild of stonemasons and woodworkers.

An A-shaped level used to construct the Tower of Babel from the French Bible Historiee, c. 1250.  French Ms 5, 16 r, John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK.

Cunrad (Steinmetz), a stonemason from the Hausbuch of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung in Nurenberg, Germany. Died before 1415. His tools of trade include the typical long A-like level used by stonemasons, as well a a square and a template. He sits on a one-legged chair.

Miniature of the apostle Andreas from the Book of Hours of John the Fearless, between 1406-1416. The illumination shows an A-style level and low-angle block plane, with smaller versions of both tools in the background. Planes were the personal symbol of John the Fearless of Burgundy and can be found in other illuminations on his clothing. Ms lat novv acc 3055, Bibilotheque Nationale, Paris, France.

Our level is a triangle made up of three strips of wood jointed together at angles of 45 and 90 degrees. We used European walnut for the body, with maple pins securing the different strips. The leaden weight is attached with a waxed linen cord to the top corner. The long side of the level measures 41 cm, and the short sides are 39.1 cm each.

The level in standing position.

The level and a (walnut) square lying flat.

Levels can also have an inverted T shape, here shown by a colleague medieval woodworker during the Limburg Brothers medieval festival in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Two types of levels, the A (figure a) and the inverted T (figure b), as well as a plumb bob with a wooden holder (figure c). Image from the book  'Das werkzeug des Zimmermans' by Hans-Tewes Schadwinkel and Gunther Heine.

While the level is used to set horizontal lines, the plumb bob is used to set straight vertical lines. It is sometimes used together with a wooden block, to check equal distances from the construction.

A plumb bob and a square used at the construction of the Babel tower. Illumination from the Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg, 1175-1185. Only copies of parts of the book remain.

The use of a plumb bob is shown here in an 15th century illumination of the construction of the tower of Babel from Le tresor des Histoires, Cotton Augustus V folio 22. British Library, London, UK.

The plumb bob lying flat on the table and hanging above the same table.

Our plumb bob is an antique one, bought at a brocante shop. We recently used the plumb bob to check our height measurements of the entrance tower at castle Doornenburg (Doornenburg, the Netherlands) during a medieval festival. This was our story behind it:
We were commissioned by a French knight who complained of a supposed bias of the referees at the Lage Landen Tournament. His complaint was not granted, so he wanted revenge. We were to build him a storm tower that should have an equal height as the entrance tower. Therefore we needed to know the height of the tower.
The measurement trick, today still used to measure the height of trees (with a yardstick) . H1 = height to eyesight, H2 = horizontal length from person to the wall. H3 = height of the wall equals H2 plus H1.

We first used a trick to measure the height using a wooden block with an 45 degree angle. From the 45 degree angle we moved to a distance where we just could see the top of the tower while holding wooden block horizontally flat. At this point, the height of the wall equals the height of the person to his eye (H1 in the figure above) plus the length from him to the wall (H2 in the figure). We asked several visitors to measure as well, which gave us a mean height of 33 feet. Then, our children went up to the wall and lowered the plumb bob for an exact measurement: 34 feet and 6 inch.

(Left) The children lower the plumb bob from the entrance tower. It can be seen just above the window. (Middle and Right) Bram grabs the plumb bob at the gate and checks when it has reached its lowest point.

Some measurements of the tower using the trick: 31.5 feet, 36.25 feet, 36.5 feet, 32.7 and 34.5 feet. 
The actual measurement with the plumb bob yielded 34 feet and 6 inch.