Friday 19 April 2013

An Italian sgabello

'The so-called Strozzi-chair, above all, a pearl of the collection, a world-renowned uniqueness, a truly enchanting masterpiece, one of the most beautiful Florentine pieces of furniture. Under the hand of an artist - who could not think of Benedetto da Majano? -  the profiling, tasteful intarsia, the magnificent 'schiacciato' carving of the medallions that crown the backrest, which are yet lifted by delicate gilding -  a real work of art has been created. Even in the princely Palazzo Strozzi this chair has been regarded and guarded through centuries as a family treasure.'

This (translated) praise of a three-legged chair from around 1489, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (gallery 500), comes from F. Schottmuller in his book 'Wohnungskultur und Mobel der Italienischer Renaissance' from 1921. At that time the chair belonged to the collection of Dr. Albert Figdor. He acquired the chair from the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. When the Figdor collection was auctioned in 1930 the chair - along with some other furniture - was bought by the New York museum.

This beautiful 15th century chair is made of walnut, with maple, ebony, ebonised wood, fruit-wood and gilded details. The octagonal seat plate rests on three oblique, upwardly rejuvenating triangular edged legs. The also oblique backrest is small and high, and spreads upward. All parts are decorated with geometric intarsia strips. The backrest is crowned by a circular medallion, surrounded by a row of  pierced carved rising moons of the Strozzi crest. Both sides of the medallion bear the crest of Strozzi in low relief (so-called schiaciatto) carving: the front with a buckler occupied by three half moons on a cross bar, covered by a helmet crowned with an eagle with raised wings; the back side has the buckler alone with the Strozzi family coat of arms of the three half moons on a cross bar.

The chair was made by the workshop of Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano, who were also responsible for the portrait bust of Filippo Strozzi, as well as the sculpture of his funerary chapel, and the designs of the Strozzi palace and its furnishings. The chair is 147.3 cm high, 42.5 cm deep and 41.9 cm wide.

The front (left) and the backside (right) of the medallions of the Strozzi chair. The rising half moons are omni-present in the 'schiaciatto' carving. Images by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

The side of the Strozzi chair. You can see that the octagonal seat is enlarged at the back to accommodate the backrest. Also can be clearly seen that the backrest is angled backwards. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This photo shows the intarsia strips that decorate the backrest, seating edges and legs.The dark lines are ebonized (painted like ebony) wood. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

A detail from the intarsia of the photo above.

A modern version of the Strozzi sgabello

In 2006, I did not have these detailed colour images, or had any background information of this famous chair from the Dr. Figdor auction catologue. I only had  one black-and-white photo from the book 'Oude meubels' (old furniture) by Sigrid Muller Christensen, with no more information than that it dated around 1490, that it once belonged to the Strozzi family and that it resided in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No dimensions were given, nor anything else. But I liked the appearance of the chair, and decided to make two modern versions of this chair, using modern wood glue and finish. For the rest, the construction could be like the Strozzi sgabello, but as said before, the only piece of information was the photo in the book.

The photo on page 55 of the book 'Oude Meubels' by Sigrid Muller-Christensen.

Using this photo I tried to reconstruct the dimensions. I used a standard seating height of 42 cm and based the rest of the dimensions on that. I also guessed the angles (10 degrees) using a protractor. The total height of the photo chair was 109 cm, 36 cm short compared to the real Strozzi chair.

Measurements of the chair based on the black-and-white photo and a 42 cm seating height.

I had some leftover wood from a (non-medieval) rocking dragon I made, which I wanted to use for the two chairs: European maple for the chair itself, and walnut for the intarsia - the opposite of the Strozzi chair. The same leftover wood has been used for the playing board of the 'game of the Four Seasons called the World' described in an earlier blogpost. Instead of a round medallion at the top of the Strozzi backrest I used an octagonal one, also the intarsia decoration used on the chairs was designed by myself.

I made only rough sketches of the furniture I made at that time. I have put the dimensions on a photo of one of the two chairs. The legs of the chair are triangular. The backrest also has an angle of 10 degrees, like the three legs.

The plan for the walnut intarsia at the top of the backrest. The decorative plan for the octagonal medaillon and the seating was drawn more precise in 2006. The dimensions were added in 2012. The two diamond intarsia on the backrest were skipped in the final plan.

The intarsia plan for the seating. You can see that the octagonal seating is elongated at the back to accommodate for the backrest.The walnut triangles at the bottom and the two left and right at the top are the places where the legs of chair connect to the seating.

The two modern Strozzi chairs without final their coating. The chairs were finished with an oil-wax mixture (Osmo Hardwax oil - satin finish).

Two details of the construction. Left: The backrest of the chair is connected to the seating with dovetails, which in turn are fixed by the walnut intarsia strip. Because of the angled backrest, the  dovetails are also set at an 10 degrees angle. Right: The walnut intarsia strip at the seating. The strip is around 3 mm thick. The groove for the strip was made with a router.

The legs stand at an angle of 10 degrees on the seating, which means that the mortise has to be set at the same degree. I used a block of wood set at the same degree to guide the chisel when cutting the mortise. I started the mortise at the top of the seat at the place of a walnut traingle. I then calculated where the mortise would appear at the bottom. After the mortises were made, the legs were glued in and the mortises wedged. At the top of the seating the mortise was covered with the walnut traingle.

Some more views of the chair and the intarsia. The grooves for long walnut strips on the backrest were made with a router, the grooves for the short strips were made by hand.

The intarsia of the octagonal medallion were made by hand. The walnut diamonds were made slightly tapered to fit exactly in the corresponding hole. After glueing, the medallion was planed flat.

Both my modern Strozzi chairs at Castle Loevestein in 2012..

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Woodworkers guild chests

Not only wills and inventories are are great sources of information for which tools medieval woodworkers used, also images of woodworkers at work with their tools can provide knowledge of how and which tools they used. However, when such images are made by miniaturists or painters one can doubt the accuracy, as the artist does not know the exact working and looks of the tools. But when the artist himself is the woodworker, there can be no doubt that he knows his tools. This can be seen for instance at the intarsia of woodworkers tools at the choir stalls of the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy, the image of the insarsia worker Antonio Barili at work, or the woodworker on the choir stall of the cloister in  Pöhlde, Germany.

Intasia by Antonio di Marchi showing a variety of woodworkers tools at the choir stalls of the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy. Images from J.M. Greber 'Die geschichte des hobels'.

Another great image source is the furniture used by the woodworkers guilds. They can be very illuminating by showing the tools they used. You can also be very sure that the tools depicted are very accurate - the makers of the chests are also the users of the tools! The following examples are two Austrian/Tiroler woodworkers guild chests and table with a large variety of tools. Last example is a Dutch woodworkers guild chest from the 17th century from Deventer, the Netherlands with only a few tools. However, what these images do not show is how many of each tool the woodworker owned.

The guild table and the guild chest made by the the Bozen (Bolsano) joiner Hans Kipferle in 1561. Walnut, maple, and other woods were used for the intarsia..The table and chest are supposed to be in the Stadtmuseum in Bozen (Bolsano), Italy.. The table measures 125 x 108 cm.

The table top of the Guild table by Hans Kipferly. Image from Mobel Europas 2 - renaissance - Manierismus by F. Windisch-Greatz.

The tools depicted on the guild table by Hans Kipferle are (clockwise): a frame saw, an auger, a mallet, a try square, a smoothing plane, a claw-hammer, a wooden screw-clamp, a chisel, a straight bevel crossed with what seems to be a depth measuring tool, a bench support, an axe, a shoulder-knife, a compass, a gluepot, a moulding plane, a rule, a double marking gauge and finally in the middle the work bench on which another hammer and chisel are shown as well as some bench hooks.In fact the gauge depicted is even earlier - and more accurate - than those shown in the post on the squantillion.

Front and backside of the Guild chest of the joiners guild of Graz, Austria dated 1600. It is made of walnut, maple, ash and ebony and measures 30 by 50 by 32 cm. It can be found in the Landesmuseum Joahannum, Graz, Austria. The panels on the front and backside show the tools of the joiners trade. Image from Mobel Europas 2 - Renaissance - Manierismus by F. Windisch-Graetz.

The tools shown on the four different panels are: Top left: an axe, a claw hammer, a rule, an auger and a straight bevel.Top right: a gluepot, a compass, a mallet, and a shoulderknife. Bottom left: a frame saw, a square, chisels and a gouge. Bottom right: a crew clamp, a smoothing plane (very similar to that of Durer on his engraving Melancholica), a double marking gauge.

The guild chest (cassette) and lid of the chest of the Deventer woodworkers guild of 20 March 1685 lavishly decorated with geometric carved patterns. At the bottom of the chest is a small drawer. Image from the website of the Deventer historic museum, Deventer, the Netherlands.

The lid of the Dutch guild chest shows only few tools compared to the Tiroler and Austrian counterparts: a hand saw with pistol grip, a try square and a compass. below are an axe and the typical Dutch 'gerfschaaf' a small smoothing or scrub plane. Note that the brass lockplate has been moved.