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. 


1 comment:

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog and I like what I see. You guys are doing great work! Keep it up!

    From across the pond,
    Jean Becnel