Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Making medieval benches

For re-enactors the bench described in the previous post is ideal. It is easy to take apart and to carry with you as a flat package (in medieval Ikea-like style). A good guide on how to make such a medieval bench exists (by Master Dafydd ap Gwystl) and can be found on the SCA Greydragon website. This guide was also used to make our first bench. Also a nice pictorial guide on benches (and other sitting furniture) in medieval illuminations in the 15th century was made by John Howe of the re-enactment group the Company of St. George and published in their magazine Dragon issue 4.
One of the praying benches of the 'Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie' museum in Bruges, Belgium. The side board is carved with the name Jhesus, the other side has Maria on it. The bench measures 63 cm height,  50 cm width and has a depth of 30 cm. Wooden pins, easily visible as dark dots, fix the side boards to the leg boards.

The first small bench

Our first bench was made in 2007 and modelled after the oak praying benches in the 'Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie' (and the apothecary of the Groeningen Museum) in Bruges, Belgium. These benches have the name Jesus carved on one side and Maria on the other. Naturally, we used the names of our own patron Saints Thomas and Joseph instead on the bench. We skipped the lower rails of the bench, as it had to be easily transportable, while otherwise it would have been fixed.

Left: The complete praying bench. Right: The board for the knees when praying.

To construct the bench, oak boards with a thickness of 2 cm were used. The leg and side board parts were sawn using a power jigsaw. The ogee edge of the seating board was made with a router. A test piece, though, was made using a hollow moulding plane, which yielded the same result as with the power tool. Finally, the carving of the names was done with a carving knife and some fishtail gouges. After sanding the bench was coated with several layers of linseed oil.

Our St. Thomas bench measures 60 cm width, 25 cm depth and 45.5 cm height.


The five boards of the bench.

The second 2-person bench

Our second bench has just been finished. It is based on the 2-person bench that used to be in the Figdor collection, but nowadays (since 1930) resides in the Philadelpia museum of art. The sides of the bench have the same openwork tracery carving as the scapradekijn made for Muiderslot castle. As such, we could use the same technique to make and carve the decorations. Different in this bench is that the leg boards are tilted at 10 degrees. This makes the bench more stable, but also slightly more difficult to construct. The tenons that fit in the mortises of the seating need to be adjusted, and the leg boards thus only fit one way.

A 15th century two-person bench from the Philadelphia museum of art, formerly in the Figdor collection. Made of oak. width 96 cm, height 49.1 cm. Photo Philadelphia Museum of Art.  ID 1930-85-1.

From the photos it is not clear how the bottom rail is fastened. The side boards are fixed with a dowel to leg boards. Photo Philadelphia Museum of Art.  ID 1930-85-1.

Also here oak boards of 2 cm thickness were used for the construction. The ogee carving on the seating was made with a hollow moulding plane and a shoulder plane. The side boards were carved on both sides, though this is usually not done in medieval times - only the visible parts are decorated.

Planing the sides of the seating board with a hollow moulding plane at castle Hernen.

Different steps in the construction of the leg boards: (1) The basics of the leg board are the same as that of the small bench and a leg board was used as a mould to draw the lines of the new one. (2) The outlines were cut using a power jigsaw. (3) The grooves of the joint were deepened with a router plane.  

(4) The tenons were chamfered at 10 degrees so they would fit into the mortise of the seating. (5) Also sawing of the tenons needed to be done at an angle of 10 degrees. (6) To create a flat surface, also the top and bottom of the legs needed to have the 10 degree angle. (7) Finally, at the centre of the leg board, a openwork rose pattern was carved.

The side boards had a similar form as that of the smaller bench, however the groove was made further from the edge, so it would be less prone to breaking.

Left: The power saw-marks were cleaned away with a scraper. Middle and Right: Testing of the joints. The 10 degree angle is easily seen. Also the top and bottom of the leg board had to be angled.

 First, all the joints were made for the bench, so that we already had a functional yet unfinished bench.

The different steps of making the openwork tracery of the side boards. (1) A router with a jig was used to create the basic depth. (2) The ribs and round were carved with gouge and carving knife. (3) The places for the openwork were drawn on both sides of the board. Guide lines were used so that the drawings on both sides would be at similar places. (4) Holes were drilled from both sides using a Forstner bit in a cordless drill. (5) Holes were cleaned with files and carving knife. (6) Roses were carved in the circles.

Just finished. Our second bench has a width of 99 cm, depth of 29 cm, and 45 cm height.

The flat bench package in five pieces.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Some Bulgarian medieval furniture

Our medieval furniture posts often features West European and late medieval furniture examples, but not this time. Recently I received a book on Bulgarian medieval art - which happened to be very uninteresting and pretty boring - except for a few pages showing some (early medieval east European) furniture. I will show these furniture pieces below.

The Terracina chest

The carved chest, from the church treasury of Terracina (Italy), but now in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, Italy dates from the second half of the 9th century. The chest is presumed to originate from Bulgaria - based on the stylistic details such as the arcades - and likely arrived in Italy due to the religious treaties between the two states.  The scenes below the 18 arcades show eastern European mythological themes. The chest measures 58.5 by 105 by 66 cm.

The front of the 10th century chest from Terracina. The arches are very like the arches found in the Roman style orthodox churches found in Bulgaria.

Both sides of the Terracina chest.

The Ochrid door or chest

The decorated oak door from the Saint Nikola-Bolnicki church in Ochrid, Bulgaria once used to be displayed in the National Museum in Sofia, but disappeared during the second world war. The door is thought to be made of the panels of a former chest, like the Terracina one. Another hypothesis is that it is a wooden mould for a bronze door. The images depict early and pre-christian symbols and mythical beasts, as well as saints on horse-back. The door panels likely date from the 10-11th century.

The former door or chest panels from Ochrid, 10-11th century.

Church door from Rila monastery

The panelled and openwork carved door made from walnut originates from the Saint Ivan monastery in Rila, which is now a national museum. The door is highly ornamented with many wickerwork elements. Some panels show mythical beasts. The door likely dates from 1469, although church doors in a similar style with gilding, wickerwork and carved scenes were common in western Europe around 1100 (for instance the door of the St. Maria im Kapitol in Cologne, Germany), and outdated in the 15th century. The door is 2.03 meters high and 1.22 m wide.

Two mythical beasts from the door panels.

A more recent photo by Vincent Ko Hon Chiu (CC-BY SA licence) from the UNESCO World heritage site.

The carved and panelled door of the St. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne, Germany. This door dates from the mid 11th century and was also carved from walnut. It is 4.85 m high and 2.48 m wide

 One of the 26 carved scenes of the life of Christ on the door of the St. Maria am Kapitol, Cologne.

Source (also of the b/w scans) :

Assen Tschilingirov. 1979. Die Kunst des christlichen Mittelalters in Bulgarien. Verlag C.H. Beck, Munchen, Germany. 402 pp.

p.s. If someone is willing to pay the postage, I am happy to send him/her this book. Personally I do not think it is worth the money. Weight 2.1 kg.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Medieval benches

Dieric Bouts. Triptych The last supper, dated 1464-1468. Oil on oak panels. Museum M, Leuven, Belgium. Several small and large benches can be seen on this 15th century painting.

Medieval benches start to appear in the 15th century and continue to be in use for the next centuries. The benches that have survived are most often well decorated. There is one exception, the bench found in the Mary Rose shipwreck, which shows it in its most simple form, consisting of just 5 slats of wood. Among the benches there are a few variations in the constructing plan:
1- the bench consists of four interconnecting boards with a seating;
2- the four boards are nailed together with a seating;
3- as above, but with one or two extra lower beam(s);
4- no side panels, but only a broad lower beam (so actually a 3-board bench);
5- the seating is clamped between the side boards by a large beam (so a 3 board bench);
6- there is only one interconnecting board in the middle (so a 4-board bench).
7- the legs have the form of trestles.

Also variation exists in size: from one person benches, to two person benches, to multiple person benches (which are also called forms). Below some examples of the different bench types are given.

Left. Bench type 1. Fifteenth century, oak, from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs,Paris, France. The seating is connected to the legs with a (wedged) mortise and tenon joint. Right. Bench type 2. The simple elm bench from the Mary Rose, early 16th century. Image scanned from 'Chapter 9 Plain and Functional: Furniture on the Mary Rose' by V. Chinnery in 'Before the mast: life and death aboard the Mary Rose'. The bench is nailed together.

A two-person type 1 bench. 15th century French or Flemish, made from oak. length 92.7 cm, depth 31.1 cm, height 53.3 cm. Photo Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, Accession Number 47.101.70 .

Type 1 Form. The framing below the seat is decorated with eight ogee arches, the two central arches further decorated with cusps. The solid supports at the end are buttressed and moulded and have each an ogee arch below. The back framing is missing. Oak, late 15th early or 16th century, originally from Barningham Hall, Suffolk, UK, now V&A museum. 53.4 cm height, 236 cm width, 28.0 cm depth. Photos Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

 There is a groove in the underside of the seating for the side rails.

Two pins secure the side board to the leg board and another the seating to the leg tenon. The extra decoration in the middle of the side rail.

The underside of the form. There is a groove in the leg board for the side rail.

Bench Type 3. One of the several 15th century oak preaching benches in the Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie museum in Bruges, Belgium. The kneeling plank can be turned inside. The seating board is fitted with dowels to the frame. The two side frames are decorated with the names 'Jhesus' and 'Maria'.Note that there is a groove in the underside of the seating for the side frame.

Type 3 bench. 15th century French or Flemish, made of oak with openwork tracery. 57.8 cm width, 55.2 height, 24.1 cm depth. A groove in the underside of seating can be seen for the leg boards. Photo Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, Accession Number 47.101.72.

Bench type 4. A late 15th century decorated oak bench from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK. The seating is partly open, making this bench easy to carry around, it is fixed to the frame with a wedged mortise and tenon joint. Also the broad lower beam is connected with a mortise and tenon joint, but fixed with a separate wedge. Images copyright V&A museum, London, UK.

Some details of the same bench: The marks of saw and chisels are clearly visible. The top carving of the leg is hollowed on the inside. Photos Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

Bench type 5. A 15th century chair from Chateau Le Bois Orcan, Noyal-sur-Vileine, France. A large wedge in the lower beam secures the construction.

Bench type 6. A large oak bench or form dating from the 16th century. The construction plan of this bench is given by Charles Oakley. Image scanned from the book 'Oak furniture, the British tradition' by V. Chinnery.

Type 7 bench. The leg boards are in trestle style and connected by a lower rail with a loose wedge. The seating board is pinned to the trestles. 15th century French or Flemish, made of oak. 53.3 cm wide, height 58.4 cm and 26 cm depth.  Photo Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, Accession Number 47.101.71.