Saturday 31 December 2011

Making a sella curulis: starting with the wood

I decided to make the sella curulis of pear wood for two reasons. First it is historically correct (the St. Admont folding chair in the MAK in Vienna is also made in pear). Secondly, because pear has a nice pinkish colour. I will not paint the sella curulis; just decorate it with chip carving. Pear is also relatively easy to carve, at least a lot easier than oak.

The quartered pear plank with the markings of the chair stands.

 The drawing model card used to fit the chair stands on the pear plank.

I had acquired a pear plank of around 5 cm thickness. With a bit of puzzling, the four chair stands just fitted the size of the plank. I then cut the plank into two pieces with a scroll-saw to be able to manage the plank later when using the band-saw. Using the band-saw I again halved the plank, so I had 4 pieces. These were planed to exactly 5 cm, after which they were cut more precisely with the band-saw to four chair stands. These were shaved with a spoke shave to smoothen the saw cut.

Two of the four band-sawn chairstands of the sella curulis 

 Two smoothed chair stands ready for the next step.
The next step was to drill a hole for the connecting rail in the centre of the X, using a machine drill and a 3 cm forstner bit. As the connecting rail is meant to be invisible from the outside, the outside stands were not drilled through like the stands on the inside.
Then I had to remove half of the thickness of the centre parts by router in order to have the chair parts at the same level. For routing, I made a small jig, which made it easier to manoeuvre the router which was equipped with a guide bush. After routing, the remaining parts missed by the router were removed using a chisel. This allowed the parts of the X to be perfectly fitted.

 The part to be removed is marked by pencil. Note that this chair stand is for the inside of the chair as it is drilled through.

The routing jig is fixed by clamps onto the chair stand.

 Movement of the router is restricted by the jig and the guide bush.

 Two finished parts of the sella curulis, an inside and an outside of an X stand.

 Two parts of one X clearly show the perfect fit of the connection. Side view (top) and front view (below).

The chair stands give already a rough impression of the final sella curulis. 
Behind the chair, the medieval tool chest Bram is working on.
The 4 chair stands of the sella curulis showing the folded situation of the chair.

The making of the sella curulis will be continued in another post with the different side rails that connect the two X-stands.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

A Saint Nicolas gift: the book Vivre au Moyen Age

I have got a nice book as a Saint Nicolas gift called "Vivre au Moyen Age - Archeologie du quotidien en Normandie, XIIe-XVe siecles" (ISBN 88-7439-00-9). This book contains some essays on medieval life in Normandy, France, as well as the illustrated catalogue of the exposition held in several museums in Normandy in 2002-2003. 

The amount of furniture shown inside is limited, but there are some beautiful excavated woodworking tools inside, including several clawhammers from the 14th century.  

Forging hammer, length 18 cm, width 4 cm.  Iron hammer without claw, length 10.3 cm, width 2.9 cm. Iron claw hammers, length 9.2 cm, width 3.2 cm and length 7.5 cm, width 1.4 cm, all from the Musee de Normandie Caen, France.

Claw hammer, length 11.7 cm, width 2.7 cm, and scissors (10 cm long)  from the Musee de Normandie, Caen, France.

Next to these tools, there are many artefacts shown of daily life. I found it interesting to see that 14th century pottery in France is different from that found in the Netherlands, where more Siegburg type stoneware is found. In Normandy, more earthenware is found which is decorated with typical floral designs and green or yellow-brown glazed.  

14th century drinking vessels and a jug found in Rouen, decorated with flowers and dots, and beige-yellowbrown glazed. 
Musee des Antiquites, Rouen, France.

The book also shown some jewellery dating from the 13th-15th century. The bronze rings shown in the background used to be bling-bling, but being buried in the ground for many centuries changes its former gold-like colour to a nice greenish patina. Stones are coloured glass. The three other rings are silver and gilded silver with an amethyst. Average size of the rings is 2-2.2 cm.

Nine finger rings in bronze, silver and gilded silver dating from the 13th-15th century. 
Musee de Normandie, Caen, France.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Construction plan of a sella curulis

My inspiration for the construction of the sella curulis came from the two medieval folding chairs on display in the Museum fur angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna, Austria. Both are elaborately carved and brightly painted, as usual for this type of chair. The oldest is most widely known and shown in images. The other one is not. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photo's in the museum (in 2006), but they were so kind to mail me some photos they had of the chairs (in their glass show-case).

The oldest chair dates from the early 13th century and is made from pear wood. It originates from the Benedictine cloister Admont near Salzburg, Austria. The heads of the folding chair are carved as lions, while the feet are carved as dragons. The lions are the symbol of Christ, while the dragons symbolise the devil, showing the victory over evil.

The outer sides are decorated with are carved with rosettes, twines and shoots of plants, which are painted in red, green, white, yellow and blue. One of the lower rails has been replaced in the second half of the 15th century, and is decorated with the arms of the Admont stift and that of the abbot Johann Trautmannsdorf (1466-1481). The other medallions depict an eagle, griffin, lion and pelican. More recent replacements are the leather of the seat, the other - undecorated - lower rail and one of the x rails (seen on the photo by the uncarved and undecorated head).

The inner side of the chair is undecorated and uncarved, except for the heads and feet. Part of the wood at the centre of the x is removed to allow the chair to be folded and to have all parts of the x at the same level. An iron pin connects the both pieces of the x. The leather seating is folded over the upper rails and nailed to the underside of the wooden rail.   

Images always show the Admont folding chair on this side, with the original complete x and the decorated rail with the medallions.  Note that the lower jaw of the left lion is missing. Sizes of the chair are: 61 cm height, 64 cm width and 41.5 cm depth. Image from the book Mobel Europas I by Franz Windisch-Graetz.

Here you can see the other lower, undecorated replacement rail. Photo by the MAK, Vienna, Austria

The second folding chair in the MAK also originates from the Admont cloister and dates from the 15th century. It is made from maple and painted in red with the chamfered sides in green. The chair is more crudely decorated. The centre of the X has carved and gilded rosettes on both sides. The heads of the chair are carved dog heads, with remains of gilding. The chairs' feet are dogs claws of which one is undamaged.

The sizes of the 15th century Admont chair are height 55 cm, width 63 cm and depth 43 cm. Photo by the MAK, Vienna, Austria.


Detail of the carved dog head of the 15th century Admont folding chair. The eye is painted white and the pupil black. Images from the book Mobel Europas I.

When I started drawing the construction plan I noticed that in 14th century miniatures the sella curulis hardly showed the lower rails connecting the two crosses. Some miniatures just show a frontal view of the sella curulis, but others seemingly have had loose feet. Could it be that the connecting beam was at a different place, for instance at the cross-section? Indeed, one medieval miniature shows a sella curulis with a rail at the x-section. I then changed my plan. Having the connecting rails at the a cross-section is  more of a challenge, and I could always revert to having the rails like in the Admont chair.

A gilded sella curulis with lions heads and feet. 'Solomon judges among three brothers' 
from a 'Bible historiale' of a Paris workshop around 1355. British Library, London, UK. Royal ms 19 D ii, fol. 273.

Solomon is seated on a 'gilded' sella curulis with lions heads. Solomon teaches the young Rehoboam 
from a 'Bible historiale' of a Paris workshop around 1358. British Library, London, UK. Royal ms 17 E vii, fol. 1.

Two gilded 'sella curulis' for a King Solomon. The heads are either dogs or lions. 'The true brother refuses to shoot at his fathers corpse' and 'Solomon discovers the true mother' from the 'Bible historiale'  made in a Paris workshop around 1369. Deutsche Staatsbibl., Berlin, Germany. ms. Philipps 1906, fol. 255.

'The King' seated on a elaborately carved sella curulis.The chairs' legs are 'hairy' and the complete chair is gilded. There are no rails between the lower legs of the chair. Miniature from the manuscript 'Polycratique' by John of Salisbury from a Paris workshop around 1373.  Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, France. ms. fr. 24287, fol. 12.  

A gilded bishops sella curulis with dog heads. Miniature of the 'Sacrament of Confirmation' dating from 1390 from a Paris workshop. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. Tres Belles Heures de Notre Dame, ms. n.a. lat. 3093, p.169. 

A gilded sella curulis with the connecting rails at the x-point. The top of the chair are carved dog heads. The chair itself is set on a dais, covered with cloth. The seat is folded over the the rails, and looks as if it is made of three pieces stitched together. Manuscript made in Paris in 1362. The Dauphin questions the antique astrologers. Neuf anciens juges d'astrologie. KBR, Brussels, Belgium, ms.10319, fol. 3. 

A sella curulis from a miniature 'The knight before the royal council' dating from 1392-1393. 
This folding chair clearly shows the connecting rails near the feet. 
The chair's heads are concealed, but the feet of the chair look like simple feet. The chair is painted in bright red.  
From the manuscript 'Pelerinage de vie humaine' by Guillaume de Digulleville. 
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, France, ms. fr. 823, fol. 152.

The construction plan above still shows the sella curulis with the lower rails in place. I have a wooden pin locked inside the cross-section as the turning point (the black rectangles in the top and side view), instead of an iron pin through the wood. This will be changed for a turned wooden rail at the cross-section. The chair will be carved, except for the inside.  The intention is to have the circles (frontal view) decorated with carved rosettes.

The next post on the sella curulis will continue with the preparation and sawing of the wood. Finally, this post concludes with the remains of an elaborately carved boxwood folding chair dating from the 13th? century in the Cathedral of Roda de Isabena in Spain. The folding chair is associated with San Ramon (sandals and handkerchiefs of the saint are shown as well), and has a curious story of theft, destruction and recovery.

 The recovered remains of the chair now attached to a transparent plastic folding chair.

This is how the chair looked before the theft and destruction. 
Image from Historia del Mueble by  Luis Feduchi.

Monday 12 December 2011

Medieval folding chairs

Folding chairs have a long history of existence. The oldest examples date from around 1500-800 BC, for instance the turned ash chair found in a wooden gravetomb in Denmark. Similar examples existed in Egypt and Greece. In Roman times the folding chair, also known as 'faldistorium' or 'sella curulis' was usually made of metal with a leather seating. As a consequence many of these metal chairs have survived (and even can be bought nowadays at auctions).

Folding chair from a tree-tomb grave in Guldhog, Denmark dating from 1500-800 BC. 
The chair is made of turned ash. Length of the x-leg 34 cm, length of the seating wood 36 cm. 

 Egyptian folding chair from the Tomb of Kha, Deir el-Medina, Egypt. Now in the collection of the Museo Egysio, Turin, Italy. The stool is made of sycamore with ebony and ivory decoration. It has a leather seating.
Sizes are 54 x 87 x 37 cm.

Two Roman iron folding seats from online auction catalogues of Hermann Historica, Munchen Germany. (left) Late Roman/early Byzantine, dating from 3rd - 4th century AD. Iron with fine bronze and silver inlay. Folding frame of square bars, with the supporting sides and the upper edges becoming rectangular in section. On each side of the top there are five ring fittings to accept the passage of iron bars to attach the (replacement leather) seat. There are remnants of the bronze decorative inlay on the sides, with meanders, angles, and wave ornamentation. Fine openwork geometric silver ornamentation and remnants of animal figures on the crossbars. Height 50 cm. Element dimensions 63 x 39 cm. This iron field chair, the so-called "sella castrensis" (another type of sella curulis) was particularly common for military authority and essentially reserved for commanders in the field. (right) Sella curulis spätrömisch/Völkerwanderungszeit, 4./5. Jhdt. n. Chr. Klappbarer Rahmen aus runden und quadratischen Eisenstreben, an der Unterseite kurze Standfüße. Eine Seite mittig geteilt mit S-förmigen Verstrebungen. Seitlich angebrachte Endknäufe aus Bronze. Gereinigter Bodenfund, Maße des Rahmens 50 x 59 cm.

The sella curulis was a seat of authority, for army commanders and state rulers. This remained so throughout the Middle Ages: miniatures in medieval manuscripts show kings and abbots seated on a folding chair. Often these are adorned with draperies and cushions, and equipped with a foot stool. Even Lucifer (the 'authority' of Hell) had its own 'living' folding chair. However, in the Middle Ages the construction of the sella curiculis chair changed. The medieval sella curiculis is usually made of wood and highly decorated. The four upper ends of the chair are carved animal heads, such as dogs, lions or dragons. The feet of the folding chair are carved as animal feet or animal heads, and can be made of bronze. All surviving medieval sella curuli are painted in bright colours - red and green or appear gilded.

(Left) Abbot Hugh of Cluny seated on a sella curulis, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and Matilda of Tuscany. Miniature in Cod. Vat. lat. 4922 (around 1115 AD). (Right) A writer sitting on a turned folding chair in a miniature from the Evangeliar de Charlemagne (Vienna, around 800 AD) .

John II  the Good, king of France found the Order of the Star. He is seated on a golden (gilded?) serra curulis, with a baldachin. 14th century miniature from Grandes Chroniques de France, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, France. France (Paris), Mn 2813, fol. 394

(left) Satan's  sella curulis in hell. "Damnation of the Jews", miniature from the Hortus deliciarium of  Herrad von Landsberg. Second half 12th century. (right) Emperor Otto III seated on a sella curulis. The seat is made more authorative by the addition of a footstool, draperies, cushion and the tapestry behind. miniature from a bible around 1000 AD.

Faldistorium from the Nonnberger Benediktinerinnenstift, Salzburg, Austria dating from around 1242. Height 56 cm, width 63 cm and depth 46 cm. The legs are square and of wood painted with red tempera, the feet are made of gilded bronze. The heads are made of carved walrus teeth. Seat of pressed leather likely dates from the 15th century. Note that the leather seating is fixed between a lower and a decorated upper rails at each side.

Details from the Nonnberger faldistorium. (Left) Carved walrus inlays from the upper rail with a scene from the Eustachius legend - the hunting of the hind. (Right) The  carved lions head - the lions muzzle has a small human figure in it, the scene likely symbolises hell. 
As mentioned above, most folding chairs were made of wood. There are however some remaining metal folding chairs, for instance the folding chair of the Bayeux Cathedral, dating from 1400. Also medieval documents mention metal folding chairs. From an inventory of Chateau de Vincennes in 1420: "Item deux autres chaezes ployans, l'une de fer bien ouvree, et l'autre de boys." [Item, two other folding chairs, one of iron finely worked and the other of wood].  The best known metal sella curulis is the so-called 'Throne of Dagobert'. It is made of bronze and originated from the 8th century. Due to the additions in the 12th century (the armrests) by Abbot Suger folding is not  possible any-more.

The iron faldistorium from the Bayeux Cathedral, France dating from 1400.

The bronze throne of Dagobert and a detail from the leg.  The folding chair dates from the 8th century AD and is likely made in Aachen, Germany. the armrests were added in the 12th century. When folded, the x falls inside the opening in the leopard legs. Dagobert's  throne is now in the Cabinet des Medailles de la Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France.
Height 102 cm, width 70 cm.

In later medieval periods (14th and 15th century) the folding chairs diversified into several new types, while the 'sella curulis' remained in use. These new types were the so-called x-chairs or pincer chairs with or without turned connections (low armrests), which had a complete folding wooden seating. Or types with a backrest and armrests, like the Savoranola chair (wooden seating) and the sedia Dantesca (cloth or leather seating). Another new type of folding chair had the x lateral, instead of at the front (the 'sedia tenaglia').

Small x-chair made from walnut in seating and folding position. The folded image clearly shows the construction of the chair with the four (iron) pins though the laths. Pins for this chair type can also be wooden dowels. Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria. height 49 cm, width 63 cm and depth 35 cm. Image from the book Mobel Europas I -Romanik - Gotik by G. Windisch-Graetz.

 Doctor examining a patient  showing a x-chair with turned low armrests. 
Miniature from Anatomia of Guy de Vigeganot from 1345.

(Left) Sedia Dantesca (16th century) from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France with a (velvet?) cloth seating and backrest; this chairtype has four legs. The chair is made from walnut and originates from Italy. Legs and central cap are decorated. Approximate sizes height 90 cm, width 65 cm depth, 45 cm. (Right) Sedia Savoranola (15th century) from Burg Kreuzenstern near Vienna, Austria with twelve legs; however this chair type can also be found with up to 18 legs. Beech, backrest made of pine. Height 92 cm, width 59 cm and dept 42 cm. The construction is like the x-chair, but has armrests and a backrest.  Both the sedia Dantesca and the sedia Savoranola chair types have curved legs. Note that these chair types also existed in a form without a backrest (but with armrests) . 

16th century sedia tenaglia  from Burg Kreuzenstern near Vienna, Austria in seating and folded position. The chair is likely made in Zwitserland or Tirol. Beech, 80 cm high, 45 cm wide and 43 cm deep. This type already existed in the 15th century. Image from the book Mobel Europas I -Romanik - Gotik by G. Windisch-Graetz.

I have made several medieval x-chairs and a Savoranola chair of oak, but currently I am working on the construction of a "sella curulis" made of pear. Another post will continue with the plan and construction of the chairs.