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.