Friday, 29 April 2016

Another medieval cradle in Musee de Cluny

Remember the medieval Christmas cradle from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam? There happened to be another medieval Christmas crib in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, France, which Anne and I visited last month. Both cradles look strikingly similar, but the one from Cluny is more complete. It carries three bells underneath the cradle and also the original box in which the cradle was stored and carried has survived.

All the features of the Amsterdam cradle are here as well: the pinnacles, the archway, the lions, the tableau on top of the lions and the openwork tracery panels of the crib. According to the descriptions the cradle was made around 1500 in Belgium, likely Brussels. It is made of oak and walnut, and used to be painted and gilded.

The cradle itself with the openwork tracery panels.
Two photos of the bottom openwork tracery panels. The panels slightly fold inside, forming a kind of alcove.

Three crotal-like bells are hanging underneath the cradle. They would make a tingling sound if the cradle is swung.

One of the four lions supporting the cradle.

 
The original red painted box in which the cradle was stored with two coats of arms (male and female). 
The box is locked with a simple bended pin.

The backside shows the simplicity of the construction: just (worm-eaten) wooden planks and nails. 

Left: The side of the box. Right: The top with a handle to carry the box.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A visit to the Rijksmuseum: small furniture

This is the second post of  my visit to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands and the medieval furniture in it. The larger pieces were already dealt with in a previous post, this one will have some (religious) small furniture.


The official photo from the Rijksmuseum, inventory nr. BK-1958-40. The portable altar is made from oak and has a height of 23.3 cm and a width of 14.5 cm (in a closed state).

I first start with a small portable altar, made between 1525-1540 by an unkown artist. Shrines and altars are often not seen as 'furniture'  as they are mainly found in churches. This altar, however, is for private devotion either at home or when travelling.  Closed, the altar is rounded from above and has a greyish-green colour without further decoration. Open, the main niche of the altar presents an image of ‘Christ as the Man of Sorrows’ standing in his tomb and pointing at his wounds caused by his crucifixion. This helped the believer to identify with Christ’s suffering. On the left side of the tomb are three ointment pots (arabelli) and on the right are three dice. On the background is the cross with a nail (the other one missing), the spear and a stick with a sponge. Each of the half-niches contain an angel standing on a pedestal. The left angel presumably holds the remnants of a lily, the right angel the remains of a sword. The edges of the inner side are decorated with rosettes and in the main niche pearls.

The backside of the altar is painted in a dark greyish-green colour. The red colour are the places where the green colour has worn off.

The hinges are set on the outside of the side of the altar and the door; two for each door. What is special about these hinges is that the two are connected to each other with a very long pin (right photo).

 The front of the portable altar.

Next are two ivory caskets or reliquary boxes with (gilded) silver bands, hinges, lock and grip. These caskets were very popular during high medieval times and often richly carved. The centre of production was in Sicily, were Arabic craftsmen were employed to make them.When, due to religious wars, the import of ivory dried, the production of these caskets moved to other countries, using bone as substitution. These caskets are late medieval, when ivory became available again. The ivory is undecorated, the decoration solely comes from its metalwork. 

 
The official photo from the Rijksmuseum, inventory nr. BK-NM-625. This reliquarium once belonged to the Chapter of Oudmunster in Utrecht, the Netherlands, but was made in France around 1500. 15.2 cm height, 20.7 cm length and 13.5 cm width. The casket rest on four gilded seated lions. The silver fittings end in gilded lilies. The handle ends on both sides in a fools head. 

The front and the back of the casket.

 
The lock also has four lilies on the corner.


Casket (inventory nr. BK-NM-9373) dates from 1400-1425 and was constructed in Northwest Europe. height 5.4 cm, length 15.4 cm and width 8.5 cm. The silver fittings end in lilies.

The front and back of the casket.

Also a reliquary, is the bust of one of the virgins that went along with St. Ursula to Cologne (Germany) to be massacred. As there were many martyred virgins (11,000!) accompanying St. Ursula, these busts are 'ubiquitously' found. The treasury of the cathedral of Cologne has a huge collection of these busts (with their relics), but there is one as well in the Rijksmuseum (without the relic). The bust is made from walnut with a polychrome painted layer on linen. Made around 1325-1350.

The official photo from the Rijksmuseum (Inventory nr. BK-NM-11666). The bust is 26.6 cm high.

 The heart is formed by a nice four-pass. The relic could be seen through this hole.

 At the back is an opening, you can see that there is a plateau where the actual relic can be placed.

 She looks more smiling on my photos than on the official one. I guess she likes me.

Of course the Rijksmuseum has a much larger collection of medieval furniture. Not everything is on display. For instance, the high chair shown at the Engelanderholt post is in the depot.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Engelanderholt report presentation


Thursday 14 April was a big day for Bram and me: the report of the Engelanderholt project from was presented to the Geldersche Kastelen and Landschappen, Staatsbosbeheer and a group of private forest plot owners who all happened to have an area within the Engelanderholt. They were all very content with the report, for which we researched and wrote the chapter on the construction of the klaarbank.

The representative of the province Gelderland receives a report.

The report 'The hidden history of the Engelanderholt' [in Dutch] and Chapter 11 written by us. The report is available as SAGA (section archaeology of the city Apeldoorn) volume 8 (ISSN 2214-0664).

 One of the 13 prehistoric grave hills on the Engelanderholt.

A lot of volunteers helped uncovering the history and facts of this area, and perhaps the greatest compliment was that the volunteers had discovered more than professionals would have done. The klaarbank at the Herenhul was not the only historic place in the Engelanderholt. There were also some stone age grave hills, remnants of iron delving and production, a cold war watchtower, a private airfield used by the late prince Bernhard, and, quite unexpectedly, an arboretum. During the late 19th and early 20th century it had been a fashion among wealthy landowners to collect tree species in an arboretum. This arboretum was set up by Dr. Jan Ooster in the early 20th century as a testing ground and nursery for exotic tree species. A lot of the originally planted trees have disappeared, but there are still some peculiar trees left, such as the Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra), the Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata), the Oriental (Caucasus) Beech (Fagus orientalis), the Tatar Maple (Acer tataricum) and the Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). The Gelderse Kastelen and Landschappen are now planning to restore the arboretum and eventually disclose it for the public.

Bram at the hidden arboretum.


Left: A cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). Right: the Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis).

There was a small excursion to the Engelanderholt after the presentation. For me (Marijn) this was the first time I visited the site. We also went to the stone indication the point of the klaarbank. This is now situated directly next to the motorway A2; also in medieval (and earlier) times this was a 'highly' trafficked road.

  
 A klaarbank is at a small hill overlooking the surrounding area. Directly behind the trees is the motorway .

The megalith marking the place of the klaarbank. behind the trees you can see a truck.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Saint Thomas for sale


A late medieval sculpture of Saint Thomas is currently for sale at Period Antiques, for the price of 'only' 6,950 UK pounds (around 8,800 Euro). This is unfortunately above the budget of the St. Thomasguild, so we will have to do with the set of high quality photos that the antique shop provides. This Saint Thomas is made of oak and made around 1480. Thomas is holding a carpenters square, which is also correctly made for a square of this period. In his other hand he is holding a leather girdle book. The sculpture is 5 cm high and 28 cm wide.

 The carpenters square is made of wooden rails.The carpenters square he is holding is quite large.

The girdle book. The leather cover folds over the book and has a knot which is 
put under the girdle/belt in order to carry the book.

A girdle book of around 1500, now in the Beinecke Rare Book Library (Beinecke MS 84) of Yale University, USA. The book contains a work by Boetius 'De consolatione philosophiae' together with short notes on medical recipes, including 'Medicyn for the Colyk' (in Dutch). The mathematical work of Boetius formed the base for the medieval board game rithmomachia, which rules are often found at the end of the reproduced works of Boetius; however not in this book. More on girdle books can be found on this medieval book blog.

Monday, 21 March 2016

A visit to the Rijksmuseum: medieval furniture

Last month I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This museum has recently been re-opened after several years of restoration and refurbishment. Part of the ground floor is dedicated to the middle ages, the place where I spend most of my time. Several interesting pieces of medieval furniture can be seen there - and taken photographs of. Among them a small strycsitten, one of my favourite types of medieval furniture.

 
This is the official photo of the strycsitten, which can be found in the online collection of the Rijksmuseum 
(Object nr. BK-NM-1971).

The strycsitten dates from around 1500 and is made from oak. The front and back panels of the chair are the same (except for the keyhole): two linenfold panels with a plain panel in the middle. Also both sides have the same panel pattern and arrangement: four linenfold panels that are uncarved on the inside. The chair has a height of 82 cm, a width of 80.5 cm  and a depth of 51 cm.

 
Left: the front of the strycsitten. Right: a closer at one linenfold panel look showing the dowels in the frame.

Left: The corners of the frame are chamfered. Each rail is secured by two wooden dowels. Right: one of the sides with four linenfold panels.

Left: The inside of the strycsitten with plain panels. The wooden pin of the hinge of the backrest does not go through the frame. The pin could be fixed by another dowel, but this cannot be seen from this side. Right: The armrest with the 45 angle resting point for the backrest.

Left: Front view of the backrest. Right: Detail of the backrest construction with two dowels.

There is a storage space inside the chair of which the lid is also in use as seating. The iron hinges and lock-plate as well as the nails are countersunk, thus increasing the comfort of seating. The keyhole is in the mid-front panel. It would be interesting to have a look at the inside of the box as well, but alas ...

Top view showing the complete armrests. The line is to prevent visitors sitting on the chair.


One of the top furniture pieces of the collection is a Gothic style cabinet that belonged to a militia company from Alkmaar, the Netherlands, and stored the company's valuables, such as drinking cups and guild chains. The cabinet is dated 1520-1530 are made from oak. The imperial crown and the lily on the front panels pay homage to the sovereign, Emperor Charles V. The fire-steel with crossed arrows point to the Burgundian background of the emperor. The cabinet has a height of 147.0 cm, a width of 110.0 cm and a depth of 80.0 cm.

This is the official photo of the cabinet, which can be found in the online collection of the Rijksmuseum
(Object nr. BK-KOG-656)

The cabinet is very richly carved at the front, but also at the back which is rather unusual for a piece of furniture that is commonly positioned against a wall. Also the frame rails are elaborately carved. The function of such a cabinet was not only to store the valuables, but also to show them. This is was possible at the bottom shelf or on top of the cabinet. When you look at the storage places, there is something curious: there are two drawers, but the main compartment does not seem to have a door. There is no lock or keyhole or hinge visible on all sides of the cabinet. So where is the hidden door? I only realised this after my visit, so the only thing I could do was to re-examine to photos for a clue.

 The backside with three large (double) linenfold panels.

A closer look at the front panels; from left to right the panels show lilies, a fire steel with arrows, a fire steel and an imperial crown, respectively. The red arrows show where there is a sawn line, a clue for the doors. You can also see thin openings around the two middle panels - they are not set into a frame. My conclusion is that this is a double door.

One of the middle front panels with tracery work showing the fire steel. If you look at the left frame top you notice a sawn horizontal line. A clue that the doors are here.

Left: The top of the cabinet. Above: The rim of the top is connected by a doweled mitre joint.

 The mid frame ends in a figure of an angels bearing a shield.

The cabinet is set on wooden sockets  with carved lions.

 
Left:  The bottom shelf is made of three planks and fixed with dowels to the frame. 
Right: one of the linenfold panels from the side of the cabinet.

 The tracery panel of one of the drawers of the cabinet. The panel is fixed with dowels to the drawer.

Both sides of the cabinet. The linenfold panels are the same, but the tracery panels below are different.


The Christmas crib - although the crib looks more like a state cradle - is a recent acquisition of the Rijksmuseum in 2013. The work is attributed to Jan Borman (II) and dated around 1500. Christmas cribs were used for private worship at home, as well as in cloisters and churches. Another medieval Christmas cradle is found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This cradle is made from oak and is 62.5 cm high, 34.5 cm wide and 17.5 cm deep.


This is the official photo of the cabinet, which can be found in the online collection of the Rijksmuseum (Object nr. BK-2013-14-1).

The stand for the cradle has two "floors" with openwork tracery panels in between.

The cradle feet are four carved lions.

Two photos of the bottom openwork tracery panels. The panels slightly fold inside, forming a kind of alcove.

The The crib itself is completely made from openwork tracery panels.

This devotional crib originates from the Grand Béguinage of Louvain, Belgium, established for lay women in the twelfth century (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA). It is decorated with carved representations of the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi on either end. The biblical family tree of Christ is illustrated on the embroidered coverlet. The crib is made around 1500 from painted/gilded wood with added pearls, enamels and silk. The crib measures 35.4 x 28.9 x 18.4 cm.


This type of folding chair is called a sedia dantesca. These chairs started to appear during the late 15th century and remained popular for several centuries. This particular chair dates from 1620-1650 - not really medieval - but still interesting because the construction details remain the same. Here, the front legs and posts are decorated with dolphins and crowned tritons (or mermen). The hinge on the front is fitted with a lion’s head. Near the leather backrest are two lions holding a shield. The chair is made from walnut and has a height of 100 cm, a width of 74.5 cm  and a depth of 44.3 cm.

This is the official photo of the sedia dantesca, which can be found in the online collection of the Rijksmuseum
(Object nr. BK-15337)

This is another sedia dantesca from the Rijksmuseum - but not on display (Object nr bk-16634). The decoration style is Spanish and the chair looks like the one in the Museum fur angewandte kunst in Koln. The chair is made from elm and decorated with mother of pearl and bone. It is dated between 1500 and 1600. Height 88.5 cm, width 63.5 cm, depth 49 cm.

 Left: The side rails are fixed with two dowels to the X-legs. Right: The underside of the seating.

Left: The end of the armrest is decorated by carved flowers (just like my savoranola chair). Right: The leather seating is nailed to the rail with large bronze nails. The leather is also nailed to the legs.

Left: The lions head at the front hinge. Dolphins can be seen on the lower part of the X-legs.
Right: No middle pin is needed for the hinge (or it is hidden between the two legs of the X); the chair is held together by the armrests, the seat rails and low rails.

Nicely carved feet of the chair.

 The chair seen from the side. You can see the backrest is nailed to the sides of the armrest, but also at the back with the same large nails used for the seating.


The Rijksmuseum has also some very nice medieval cassones, but I will dedicate another post to this type of chests. Also for one of the next posts are the other smaller medieval furniture pieces from the museum.