Wednesday 26 December 2012

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 1.5)

This post is an addendum to the first post on medieval planes. I did mention a specific medieval Italian plane with side handles (shown in the two images below) and also my wishes to make such a plane. I have just finished the reconstruction of such a medieval plane this month, and would like to show it to you in the next set of photos. 

Above: The fresco of Campo Santo, Pisa, Italy  by Pietro di Puccio (1390) showing the plane with side handles from the bottom in the basket. 

Right: An intarsia by Agustino de Marchi dating from 1468-1477 in the choir of  the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy, showing the plane with side handles (on the chest) from above. Both images from the book by J.M. Greber, Die geschichte des hobels.

My plane is made from beech and is 29.5 cm long, 20 cm wide (with handles), 8.7 cm wide (without handles) and 7 cm high. The plane iron is made by the German mastersmith David Schütze (Wollschmiede) and is 5.2 cm wide, 13.5 cm long, and has a 6 mm thickness. The blade can protrude maximally 4 mm from the block and is set at an angle of 50 degrees. The plane has been made for roughing out (scrub plane) and as such it has a rounded iron. The side handles make it a plane that can be worked by two men, one pushing and the other pulling. Thus far I have only used it as a one-men plane, and found it working unexspectedly easy. Shavings of 1 mm thickness were no problem at all.

 The plane with shavings. The plane blade is secured by an wedge and a 10 mm thick iron pin.

 The top, side and bottom of  the plane.

Left: The back of the plane. Right: the rounded iron and the wedge together with some shavings.  

The result of testing the plane: beautiful shavings of 1 mm thickness. My other medieval Italian plane, 
in sharp contrast, produces near translucent shavings.

Monday 17 December 2012

Medieval chests from Kloster Isenhagen

The hallway on the first floor of Kloster Isenhagen.
In this last post on the medieval furniture of the convent Isenhagen at the Luneburger moor, the chests are shown. All the medieval chests of the Luneburger convents (in particulary Wienhausen and Ebstorf, but also Lune, Medingen and Isenhagen as well as those in other musea) including the ones shown in this post, are described in detail in the books Die gotischen Truhen der Luneburger Heidekloster by K.H. Stulpnagel and Truhen, Kisten, Laden vom Mittelalter bis zum gegenwart am beispiel der Luneburger Heide by T. Albrecht. These books also contain every detail on the construction. Most of these chests are from the 13th to 15th century, and are of the hutch-type. But there are some specific differences in construction of the chests of this area that enables them to be ordered into four subtypes: the Celler type, the Braunschweiger type,  the Luneburger type and the Hannover type. All types have some common characteristics. They slightly converge  to the top, the boards more than the legs. The boards of the bottom of the chest are connected by tongue and groove, and with a groove to the side boards and legs. Most chests have small side-chests inside on the left or right side. Also a small ridge can be found near the top of the chest on which small items could be placed.

The Celler type has sturdy legs, the boards at the front  are connected with each other with dowels, and with  a haunched tenon to the legs. The lower part of the legs can be decorated with simple chipcarving or zig-zag patterns. The lid of the chest is slightly rounded and hinges on a wooden dowel or thorn at the side.  Finally, the wooden nails securing the tenons are placed at specific positions. The lock is consist usually of an iron bar at the inside. Chests of the Celler type are the earliest to appear but are not found after 1400.

An "explosion" drawing of a chest of the Celler type around 1300. You can see that the board converge to the top and that the lid is slightlly rounded. Image by K.H. Stulpnagel from the book Die gotischen Truhen der Luneburger Heidekloster.

The Branschweiger type shares many characteristics of the Celler type. The lid and lock for instance are of the same type. The boards are jointed with dowels or just butted. The connection of the boards to the legs can be either a simple tenon, or a haunched tenon. The lower middle boards often extend to the bottom of the legs and are usually decorated. Also the Braunschweiger type is only produced until 1400.

The Luneburger chest type has a flat lid, which is connected to the back of the chest with ring hinges. Sometime this chest type is found with a framework to the sides. These chests are also wider and measure over 1.25 m, making them appear  leaner. The middle boards are connected to each other with dowels, and to the legs with simple tenons or a haunched tenon. The Luneburger type is produced onwards till  the 16th century.

An "explosion" drawing of a Luneburger type chest. At the back and right side the top ridge is shown. The lid is decorated and connects to the chest with a ring hinge. Image by K.H. Stulpnagel from the book Die gotischen Truhen der Luneburger Heidekloster.

The last type, the Hannover chest type can be distinguished on the connection of the sides to the legs and the specific positions of the nails. There are no Hannover type chests in Kloster Isenhagen. All the chests from the Luneburger convents could  be dated dendrochronologically.

Characteristics of other, non-Luneburger medieval hutch type chests are that they do not converge. Most often they have strap hinges and iron bands as decoration. Also the bottom boards are commonly nailed.

Chest TR-NR 220 (ISN Ba 84) . Made of oak and dated around 1310. Height 91 cm, width 113 cm, depth 70 cm. Decorated with hardly visible cross decorations. Celler construction type. On the inside of the chest is a small side chest.

Chest TR-NR 409 (ISN Ba 83). Made of oak, dated 1375 and of Braunschweiger construction. Height 69 cm, width 85 cm, depth 53.7 cm. The chest is decorated with iron nails. On the left inside there is a small side chest. More details of this chest are shown in a previous post 'unconventional photography'.

Left photo: Chest TR-NR 410 (ISN Ba 87) is also made of oak and dated around 1379. Height 94.5 cm, width 161.5 cm, depth 77.3 cm. The chest is of the Braunschweiger construction, though this is not visible on this photo. On the right inside there is a small side chest, on the left inside a high ridge on which items can be laid. The chest has no specific decoration.

Chest TR-NR 325 (ISN Ba 85) (Right photo top and photo below) is made of oak and dated between 1500-1550. It is the very large (and heavy - around 200 kg) travelling chest of the abbess Margarete von Boldensen, which she took with her in 1540 when she was forced from the convent during reformation. Height 89.5 cm, width 220 cm, depth 75.5 cm. It has the Luneburger construction type which shown by its size, the side of the chest and the lid. This chest is also interesting because it was painted (remnants can be seen on the front) with heraldic symbols in gold. The lid of the chest is interesting as well because of the 'four-pass' decoration.


Truhe TR-NR 207 (ISN Ba 89). A Celler type chest dated 1294. Made of oak, height 92.5 cm, width 112.5 cm, depth 78.5 cm. The lower part of the chest is bleached due to the dampness of the floor. On the right inner side is a small side chest. The lower legs are decorated with a simple circular chip carving.

Truhe TR-NR 209 (ISN Ba 90). Oak chest of the Celler type dated around 1300. Height 89 cm, width 107 cm, and depth 72 cm. Decorated with nails and zigzag carving at the feet.  The left innerside shows a small side chest (see below right). The lid of this side chest can be used to hold the large lid open. Inside also the remains of the bar lock can be seen (below left).


Not all chests in Kloster Isenhagen are hutch type chests. TR-NR 111 (ISN Ba 88) is a nailed slab-ended chest dated around 1400 and made from pine wood. Height 74.5 cm, width 151 cm, depth 61 cm. The bottom is joined with a groove and tongue to the sides, but nailed at the long side. The lock is asymmetrically positioned. It is likely that 13 cm of the chest is missing and has been sawn of.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Huusraet: a book on the late medieval household

A few weeks ago we went to the museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands to visit the exhibition 'The road to van Eijck' (late medieval painting), but also to see the large collection of medieval artefacts donated by J.H.E. Van Beuningen to the museum. These artefacts can in fact better be viewed online, as the display is on metres high stacks behind chicken wire. You may take photos of  the collection (not the exhibition), but this is a useless exercise. Nevertheless, it was an interesting visit and the museum shop contained a pleasant surprise: a new book on house furnishings in the Burgundian time (roughly 1400-1550). 'Huusraet' [household items], written in Dutch by the late Berend Dubbe was published in 2012, five years after his death (ISBN 341-5688-943-1, 275 pages).

The contents bear a striking resemblence to another book, 'Thuis in the late Middeleeuwen - het Nederlands burgerinterieur 1400-1535', a catalogue of the exhibition in the Provinciaals Overijssels Museum, Zwolle, the Netherlands in 1980. Berend Dubbe was president of this museum at that time and co-author of many articles in the exhibition catalogue. So, it might come as no surprise that the new book is a rewritten and slightly updated version of the catalogue, both for text and images. The book is easier to read, text and images are presented alongside, instead of after each other in the catalogue. Another pre for the book is that it is full colour throughout, instead of partly black-and-white illustrated like the catalogue. The out-of-print paperback catalogue now costs around 120 Euro second-hand, while this new hardcover can be bought for only 50 Euro.

The first two chapters in the book deal with medieval furniture. The first chapter starts with some notes on furniture production and moves on to storage furniture (armoires, chests and dressoirs). The second chapter deals with tables, seating furniture, beds and chamber screens. These (and other) chapters are dressed with quotes from medieval legal documents and numbers of the different furniture items present in a household. Berend Dubbe presents an interesting example of a medieval round table or 'schive' [disk]. Also in castle Bergh ('s Heerenberg, the Netherlands) such a table exists according to the author. I have to check this some time, as the castle is nearby.

A round table or 'schive' dating from 1500 from the Museum fur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Stadt Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany. The book erroneously states that this museum is in Schloss Cappenberg, but it has moved back to Dortmund in 1983.

I do not always agree with the author. Especially, on sleeping furniture he misses the point in my opinion. According to him a 'koetse' means a bedframe without posts and curtains. They were found behind the kitchen and in secondary rooms, while the main (fourposter) bed was found in the living room. However, in the German language we find a similar word 'Butze', which is used for a bed fixed onto or into the wall (see the book Schrank, Butze, Bett by Thosten Albrecht). These were also found in the secondary rooms, stables and behind kitchens. Also if you imagine to add four wheels to a 'Butze', it will look like a carriage or in Dutch a 'koets.

 Left: A 'koetse' according to B. Dubbe. 'The dying Adam sends Seth to paradise'  from the breviary of Catherine of Cleves, f.79. Right: A 'Butze' or 'koetse' according to me. Butze in a farm around 1800 from the Luneburger museum village in Hosseringen. The Butze is situated in the hall, next to the kitchen. A medieval chest (shown in a previous post) is seen next the bed.

The next chapters of the book deal with all kinds of household items, used for cooking, drinking, tableware, lighting, etc. Many of the examples of household items shown in the book are from the museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Glass tableware is far under represented, although a great variety existed in Burgundian times. It is also a pity that the last chapter (other items) is rather short and scarcely illustrated. Jewellery, games, writing materials, money are all part of the medieval burgess household and there are many (Dutch) examples available that could have been added to make the book more complete.

Despite these shortcomings, this book is a well-illustrated addition to our library. 


Monday 19 November 2012

The medieval toolchest: the shoulderknife

I have told in a previous post on woodcarving knives of the shoulderknife, the knife used for making intarsia. I now would like to present the shoulderknife that I have made recently. The blade was created by the German master-smith David Schütze (Wollschmiede), who also made the blade for my carving knife as well as a specialist plane blade.  The handle I have made out of cherry wood. The total length of my shoulderknife is 65.5 cm, the knife blade itself measures 4 by 2.5 cm and extends 8 cm into the handle. I have some plans to use the knife for a medieval chest decorated with intarsia, but that will take a while to get started (and finished).

The shoulderknife, the latest addition to the medieval toolchest. At the top a chisel by Narex is shown for size comparison (used at the woodworking workshop - personally I prefer the old blue Stanley chisels when not re-enacting).

The medieval carving knife at work: This work have I Antonio Barili  made with the carving knife, 
not with a brush. In the year 1502

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Playing the game of the Four Seasons called the World

Last October we have played the game of the Four Seasons during the 'Knights Festival' (Ridderfestival) in castle Loevestein. We did have the (translation) of the rules of the game as written in the book of games of Alfonso the Wise.


And on this board four men are to play, each with his pieces of his colour according to the colours of the chess that we have named. And each one of these players is to have twelve pieces of the colours of the aforementioned chessmen which are these: green, red, white, and black – for a total of forty-eight. And they are played with the [7-sided] dice of this same chess and the players roll to see who plays first. And then the player to his right and so on around.
And the first to begin is to place his pieces according to the rolls of the dice as in doze canes and all the others do likewise. And once they all have placed all their pieces each must bring his pieces to where the third player first entered which is across from his own, by playing around to his right according to the rolls of the dice. And when one makes a roll that he cannot use, let the player who to his right use it. And if he cannot, the third. And if he cannot, the fourth. And also in this game if a roll is made that allows the capture of an unguarded piece, it is to be captured. The one whose piece was captured must return it to where it was first placed.
And no pieces are to be borne off until each player has his pieces in the opposite quarter as is stated above. And the player who first should bear off all his pieces will beat the player to his right and so on around. And this is the explanation of this game.

Doze canes, mentioned above is another tables game in the book of Alfonso the Wise played on a normal tric-trac/backgammon board. The rules of doze canes tell of the capture of gaming counters by the other player: And the one who can place his pairs the fastest, of the two players, will win because the other will not be able to capture one of his pieces once the point is doubled up.

We interpreted the rules as follows:

First, the players have to enter all their gaming counters on the board. The first player rolls two seven-sided dice and places two gaming counters on the board on the positions indicated by the pips on the dice; position one is the first space on the board of the quarter (season) of that player. This means that on a roll of seven, the counter will be placed in the next season (or quarter of the board), where the next player also can place his gaming counters. Then the next player rolls and places two gaming pieces, and so on, until all gaming counters are placed.

Next, the dice rolls are used to move the gaming counters to the quarter (season) opposite the starting season, i.e. summer moves to winter, autumn to spring, winter to summer and spring to autumn. Once the opposite season is reached, that game counter is removed from the board and play.

More game counters of the same colour can occupy the same space on the board (i.e. 2, 3, 4, etc.)

Odd numbered gaming counters (i.e. 1, 3, 5, etc.) on the same space of the board can be captured by another player by landing on it. The captured piece is returned to the owner of that piece and must be entered anew on the board by him, before he can move his other gaming pieces. Even numbered game counters (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) on the same space of the board are safe from capture. No game counter of another colour may be placed on spaces with an even number of gaming counters.

If a player can not make a move, because the places are occupied by even numbers of counters, the next player who is able to use that number must use it.

The player that has first moved all his twelve gaming counters to the opposite season (and the board) wins the game.

The game played very well and was easy to learn. Using a seven-sided dice provided interaction between the different players from the start onwards. One game the Four Seasons did take around 20 minutes. We, as well as our children did enjoy playing the game. The youngest who played was aged five, and could easily understand the rules.

Sunday 28 October 2012

The game of the Four Seasons: making gaming counters

The game board and the seven sided dice for the medieval Game of the Four Seasons, called the World being ready, the only remaining pieces to be made were the gaming counters. I will first provide some medieval examples of gaming counters for 'tables' (backgammon and tric trac like games) and then continue with the making and decoration process of the gaming pieces.

Medieval gaming counters

Medieval gaming counters or tablemen have been commonly encountered during archaeological excavations, though less than dice. This is probably due to the fact that they are not always easily recognisable. Medieval gaming counters were made of bone, ivory, leather, stone, ceramics, metal (lead, copper alloy) or wood and vary in size, thickness, and decoration. There are very plain gaming counters, but also pieces that are elaborately carved - each one with a different image.

Left: Three medieval bone gaming pieces found in Friesland, the Netherlands (photo courtesy Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden, Leiden, the Netherlands). Sizes 0.28 x 1.67 cm, 0.3 x 2.04 cm, and 0.45 x 2.14 cm. The gaming counters are decorated with concentric circles. Right: Six bone and antler playing pieces of a set of thirty from a backgammon game found at Gloucester Castle, UK. All pieces are decorated with different designs. 44 mm diameter, 7 mm thickness. Dated between 1090-1120.

Left: Leather gaming counters made from a shoe sole. Right: Four decorated wooden gaming counters. Both are excavated from 'Het Steen', a 14th century town prison at the town square in Mechelen, Belgium (details from L. Troubleyn et al., 2009. Journal of Archeology in the Low Countries 2).

Left: A cast copper alloy gaming piece dating from the 13-14th century. The upper face of the object is decorated in moulded relief with an advancing stag. The rear of the object is undecorated and flat. Thickness 8.02 mm, weight 80.2 g and 41.06 mm diameter. Photo from the finds database of the British Museum. Right: Four early medieval tablemen of a set of 24 round stone discs found at Whithorn, UK. A number of gaming boards was also found at the site. The gaming pieces measure between 2.3 and 3 cm diameter. One tablemen with a cross scratched on one face may be to represent a special piece, such as the king in a game of hnefatafl (King's Board). Photo from the Future museum UK.

Left: 11th century wooden backgammon pieces from Colletire, France. Right: Trictrac board and gaming pieces found in an Augustinerkloster in Freiburg, Germany. The board is likely made after 1278.

14th century wooden tric-trac board and gaming piece excavated at the Breestraat, Leiden, the Netherlands. Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, the Netherlands. The board fragment measures 26.5 x 12.5 cm  and is inlaid with different types of wood. The tableman has an incised circle decoration and a diameter of 2.7 cm.

Making the gaming counters

Two medieval wooden gaming counters from London excavations. Left: Turned boxwood counter, ca. 36 mm with central dots and grooves around the edge. Right: Apple wood, 37 mm with concentric circles and groove around the edge. Both gaming counters have black staining, indicating these were black painted tablemen. From the book: The medieval household, daily living c. 1150-1450. Medieval finds from excavations in London 6 by G. Egan.
The gaming counter from London (UK) served as (decorative) model for our gaming counters. I have made our gaming pieces from beech. The first step was to transform the square pieces of wood into a round sticks by simple turning on a lathe. Then the sticks were cut by bandsaw into the proto gaming pieces. A block clamped on the saw-table was used to ensure that the gaming pieces were of equal thickness. As I wanted to add some circular decoration on the counters, an additional round of turning was needed. For this a special jig was made in which the proto counters were clamped tight and that allowed the front and backside to be decorated. The edges of the gaming counters were also slightly rounded and each counter was sanded manually.

Left: Making the beech sticks. First the square was planed octagonal (see marks on the square piece of wood) for ease of turning and then turned to a diameter of 2.8 cm. Several sticks can be seen in the background. Right: Cutting gaming pieces with a band saw. A block of wood is clamped onto the table, to produce gaming pieces with an equal thickness of 8 mm.

Left: Another view of the bandsaw, showing how the equal thickness is achieved. Right: The proto gaming pieces. Four sets of twelve gaming counters are needed for the game of the Four Seasons.

Left: The special plywood jig for turning screwed on the faceplate. The hole for the gaming counter was first turned out of the plywood block. The hole was slightly tapered to have the gaming counter secured enough for turning. When the proto gaming piece happened to be too small it was additionally fixed with double adhesive tape. Right: A slot was made in the jig to be able to extract the finished decorated gaming counter with the help of a small screwdriver. 

Right: The bottom of a jig used for sanding the gaming counters. A shallow hole was made in a piece of wood to hold the gaming piece. Right: The jig offers a better grip when sanding.

A heap of finished unpainted gaming counters.

Three unpainted gaming counters decorated with concentric rings. The edges are rounded.

Painting the gaming counters

The Libro de los Juegos of Alfonso X the Wise describes the colours of the four seasons for four-season chess and the tables game of the four seasons called the world:

'And because as we said above in the first season, spring, all things grow and men are refreshed and the trees and plants turn green the reason why air is its element is clearer than for any other season; therefore they made this season green. And the summer which is hotter and drier than the other seasons they made it like fire, which is of this nature. And therefore they made this season red for it element which also is. The autumn is dry and cold because its element is earth; it is more temperate than summer because it tends more toward cold than heat. The things that burn in summer, are born and refreshed in this season. And because its element is earth, its nature coldness and dryness therefore they made this season’s colour black. Winter they gave the element water which is cold and wet because in that season there are great cold, ice, snow, and rains. And because its element is water they made its colour white.'

Left: painting the black gaming pieces. One side can be painted at a time, a quarter of an hour later the other side can be painted. Right: various paints and the basic egg tempera in a glass. on the far right the finished red, black and purple pieces can be seen, as well as the box with unpainted tablemen.

I have painted the gaming pieces with egg tempera paint according to the recipe by Kathy Storm found on her blog Medieval arts and crafts. This consists of two parts of dry white wine and one part egg yolk. The pigments are added to this to form the tempera paint. Not all pigments used produced opaque paints (e.g. green and white), but adding more pigments decreased the ease of painting considerably. Therefore most gaming counters had several layers of paint. I used pigments of the Dutch paint mill "De Kat" that  presumably also were available during the Middle ages. These were:

  • red- summer - Venetian red
  • black - autumn - bone black
  • white - winter - double washed white chalk
  • green - spring - Italian green earth

The four colours for the game of the four seasons called the world.

I also painted gaming counters for an astronomical tables version for seven persons that is found as well in the book of games by Alfonso X. The counters for that game are:
  • red - Mars - Venetian red
  • black - Saturn - bone black
  • white - Moon - double washed white chalk
  • green - Jupiter - Italian green earth
  • yellow - Sun - yellow ochre
  • purple - Venus - mix of blue chalk, Venetian red and white chalk
  • many different colours - Mercury - black, red and yellow circles

The coloured gaming counters for the astronomical tables: black, yellow, red, purple, 
white, green and many different colours.
The completed Game of the Four Seasons, called the World as depicted in the Libro de los Juegos by Alfonso X, 
folio 89v.

I did have a wooden box for storing the counters, but eventually a box like the one shown below might be more appropriate ... The next post will continue with playing of the Game of the Four Seasons, called the World.

Painted wooden box for game pieces, dated ca. 1300 and made  in Germany. Sizes 7.9 x 26.4 x 9.2 cm.  
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.