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.

3 comments:

  1. Are there any pieces in their collection from before the 15th century? I visited there twice, once in 1999 and again in 2001 and was very disappointed to see nothing much that i would call "medieval" Thanks for sharing the pictures, though, they look great!

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