Tuesday 25 November 2014

The faldistorium in the MAK in Vienna

The faldistorium from the Stift Admont dating from the early 13th century in the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna was a real revisit for me. I did visit the museum some 10 years ago. At that time photography was not allowed, and I had only some notes made on paper and a few blurry photos send by the MAK staff (this year I received some excellent photos from them that helped me finish my sella curulis). Now, I went on Tuesday evening, when access is free to the museum.

The glass cage has been 'shopped' away. Nowadays you can only see the front and sides of the folding chair. The chair is painted in red, green, white, yellow-gold and black colours.

The MAK has been refurbished recently, and most of the old displays have moved to new compositions or went to the depot (e.g. the painted medieval table made from cherry and the 15th century folding chair). I had to adjust to the new, more modern design, focus of the museum. The faldistorium had moved from the ground floor to the MAK Design Labor(atory) in the basement, to a long row of chairs; the only being one locked in a plexiglas cage and behind a laser-guided alarm. However, this time photography was allowed.  I took the opportunity to make a many photos of my favourite folding chair, and did set off the alarm three times in the process ...


The Admont faldistorium used to have four lions heads, representing the might of Christ. As one leg is a replacement, there are only three original lions heads left. Each lion is different as can be seen by the beak, snout and the curly hair at the back. 


 At the feet were four (now three) dragon or snake's heads, representing the devil who is defeated by the lions of Christ. The curse to the snake in the Old Testament  (Genesis) 'You shall eat dust the rest of your life' also becomes a symbolic reality in the folding chair. No wonder the dragons look angry. The photos also show the mortise for the lower rail between the two X legs.

The upper rail fastening can be seen here. The tenon goes completely through the mortise and has two wedges set to fix it. Furthermore, a pin is put though the tenon (seen on the lower rail).

The X is fastened with an iron bolt, and also iron reinforcements on the back of the rail. At least the front disk is not original, the original is hidden behind the disk. I wonder what decoration was shown on it.

This lower rail is a later addition from the 15th century. It shows the arms of the Stift Admont (the red and white diamonds) and that of the abbot Johann von Trautmannsdorf (1466-1481) (the red/white flower) between the emblems of a griffon, eagle, lion and pelican. Next to the pelican you can see on the leg the pin that goes through the tenon. 

The other lower rail is plain and a replacement.

Different types of floral patterns are found on different parts of the legs. Tiny white flowers only appear most of the sides, while the green foliage is mainly found on the front of the legs. The backs of the legs are undecorated.

I only found out that this leg was made in three parts (or was broken and then fixed). Here you can see the halving joint on the lower part of the leg - and the beautiful floral carving patterns.

Also here a 'break' line can be seen on the upper part of the same leg.

This more or less sums up where the 'breaks' in the leg are found. Also the replacement leg is shown.  

Wednesday 19 November 2014

A medieval gamebox re-visited

When you enter the Kunstkammer in the Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna, Austria, you immediately stumble upon a beautifully made medieval box for board games. This gamesbox did feature in a previous blog, as well as the accompanying chess pieces that stood model for my courier chess pieces. This gamesbox, however, proved to be far more interesting than anticipated.

The gamesbox dates from the first half of the fourteenth century and contains a board for chess and backgammon. The boards have been beautifully decorated with certosina style inlays in jasper, bone, agate and chalcedony. Certosina is a technique from the Italian renaissance, similar to intarsia, that uses small pieces of other materials to create geometric patterns on wood. The term comes from Certosa Church in Pavia, Italy, where it was used in ornamenting an altarpiece. Most of the certosina patterns can be seen on the edges of the boards and the 'points' and centre of the backgammon board.

 The edges and the outside of the 'points' are heavily decorated in certosina style.

A large rose in jasper ornaments the centre of each half of the backgammon board. 
Around it are several other inlaid flowers and geometric patterns.

The most outer squares of the chess board have a certosina geometric pattern decoration, regardless of the fact that the square should be 'white' or 'red' chequered. The white (bone) chequered squares have a small certosina wheel in the centre, the red jasper squares are plain. However 16 of the 'red' squares are different. Here, painted miniatures are hidden behind a rock crystal window.

16 of the 'red' squares of the chess board contain painted miniatures.

Some of the miniatures behind the crystal windows.

The 20 game pieces on display were a surprise for me. I had checked the online database of the museum and only found the 14th century chalcedony and red jasper chess pieces and assumed that these were the 20 game pieces. Actually, the twenty game pieces were 10 chalcedony and 10 red jasper tablemen for backgammon. Actually this is 10 (5 each) pieces short of a complete medieval backgammon set (assuming the rules of quinze tablas of Alphonso X the Wise). To play draughts, only 4 pieces are missing (assuming European layout of the game; for Arabic medieval draughts 12 extra pieces are necessary). The tablemen have a similar size as 'modern' game pieces.

The 'plain' chalcedony and red jasper game pieces for backgammon.

The chess pieces, which are identically made from chalcedony and red jasper, were unfortunately not on display.  I was a bit disappointed in this, as it really would have given a complete image of the complete games box.

The chess set for the games box.

The side of the games box.

Another beautiful, unrelated game piece in the Kunstkammer made from walrus tusk. 
An image of the flight of Alexander the Great is carved in it. Rhineland, around 1200.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Furniture on a medieval ceremonial vestment

I am currently in Vienna for a conference (not related to anything medieval) and also able to visit some interesting places in this beautiful city. One of these places is the Schatzkammer in the Neue Burg. In this museum are some early medieval garments on display, as well as some religious relics (such as a piece of the holy cross and the holy lance). As a modern woodworker, the holy cross fragment did not impress me; but in my re-enactment incarnation, of course, was awed by these fine relics.

Furthermore, there were several items on display that were related to the order of the golden fleece (instated by Charles the Bold). Two of them were liturgical vestments (antependium) of the order of the golden fleece dating from between 1425-1440. The vestments are made of linen, embroidered with precious metal and silk threads and adorned with pearls and glass pastes. They show images of the apostles, saints, prophets and other biblical persons, but also some pieces of furniture of the late fourteenth - early fifteenth century. Interestingly, you can see a transition of older types of seating furniture to newer versions. Not all names of the biblical figures were discernible on the vestments, and not all figures could be photographed due to the lighting on the display of the vestments.

On the right is a writing desk with open shelves. The apostle Bartholomew sits in a chair with a high back, with likely a chest under the seating. This is a 15th and 16th century type chair. Some kind of bookshelves. 

 A saint (Jacobus?) sitting on a chair with a high back.

The apostle Matthew sits on a rounded back chair. This type of chair first appears in the 15th century. 
Also here a lectern is shown. 

Prophet Daniel is sitting in a chair with a high rounded back.
 On the right a simple chest with a lock is seen, on the left a movable lectern.

King David sits on a throne like chair. Next to him is a lidded chest with a lock.

This saint is sitting on a small bench with a lectern next to him. 
These benches were common during the 15th and 16th century, but also known in the 14th century.

 The prophet Ezekiel is sitting in a chair with a high backrest. 
On the right is a bench and on the left a writing desk.

Job is sitting in a chair with a rounded back. 
The other furniture shown here is a small chest on the right and a lectern with a movable piece.

The prophet Joel is sitting on an X chair with a high back. 
This type first appeared at the end of the 14th century and remained in use into the 15th century. 

 The prophet Zacharias sits on a chair with a high backrest. 
A lectern for writing is shown on the left.

The apostle Judas Thaddaeus is sitting in an x-chair with a turned armrest. 
This type of chair is typical for the second half of the 14th century. It is old-fashioned at the time of the vestment.

Apostle Matthias sits on a high-backed square chair is a chair found in the second half of the 15th century. 
A very modern chair for the vestment. Also a lectern and bookshelves are shown.

 This poor saint does not have any furniture.

 Apostle Andreas.  He sits on a chair, but it is hidden by the clothes of the saint.

The apostle Philippus sits in a square chair with a high backrest.

Apostle Simon sits in another chair with a rounded back. 
An armoire to store books stands next to him.

Last, apostle Thomas sits in a square chair with a high backrest. It looks as if the backrest is turned, making it an old-fashioned chair. A small armoire with bookshelves is next to him.