Thursday 28 January 2016

Multilingual furniture dictionary: sleeping furniture

A return to the multilingual furniture dictionary. After the previous posts on seating furniture and storage furniture (a few years ago) we now turn our attention to sleeping furniture. We sleep a large part of our life, yet very few pieces of sleeping furniture have been retained from medieval times. Most evidence provided here is pictorial based and originates from from miniatures, paintings, carvings and so on. When you want to define medieval sleeping furniture terms, one encounters a difficulty with the descriptions given in inventories: the actual furniture piece, the wooden bed-frame, is supplemented with mattresses, coverings, pillows and cushions, draperies, balconies, and so on, and the names for the beds, a bed with these items or the items themselves can be mixed (as often the case in medieval descriptions). Moreover, the words 'celour' (medieval: the canopy) and 'dossier' or tester' (medieval: the head board) have switched their meaning in the 17th century.

A painted bed from an Italian hospital dating from 1337. Museo dell'Ospedale del Ceppo, Pistoia,Tuscany, Italy.

What is apparent in the late medieval inventories (of the rich) is the excessive amount of money spend on the textiles, covering and draperies. According to Windisch-Graetz (1982) this is not only the case for the late medieval beds with canopies, but also for the early medieval beds. This was because the bed(room), next to its sleeping function, also fulfilled a role in the display of the hierarchy, wealth and social status of the owner. In contrast is the sleeping culture in the monasteries and cloisters. Here, everyone did have a simple bed, but with sparse and Spartan coverings. More on the sleeping rules in different monasteries in Sweden can be found in a recent post on the blog 'In deme jare Cristi'.
 Three footrest types at different heights around the beds. Top: An angel announces St. Hubert of Liège's approaching death. Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, the Netherlands, KB 76 F 10, folio 33v, dated 1463. Left: Pétrarca approaches Boccaccio on his bed. folio 294 in 'Cas des nobles hommes et femmes' by Giovanni Boccaccio. Ms. 3878, around 1470-1480, Bibl. Mazarine, Paris, France. Right: Giovannino de’ Grassi, La Natività della vergine, from the Offiziolo Visconti, around 1395. Biblioteca Nazionale, Firenze, Italy.

When you look at medieval illuminations or paintings of bedrooms you see very often a chest (hutch) at the footrest or at the sides, which is used for storing personal clothing and belongings. Another bed-related but non-sleeping type of furniture is the footrest, which can be found surrounding the bedframe at both long sides and the footboard. In the Italian platform bed this is combined and attached to the bed as a row of  low chests on three sides, which also serve as a footrest. A nice example can be seen on the a panel of the San Marco altarpiece 'The Healing of the Deacon Justinian by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian' by Fra Angelico (1143) or a similar scene by Sano di Pietro (1405-1481).

 An Italian platform bed, similar to that of 'the healing of deacon Justinian', dating around 1500. 
Formerly in the Volpi collection, Florence, Italy.

Regardless of the social status of the beds, like the previous posts, I have made some rudimentary sketches of the different sleeping furniture items and their names in the different languages.

Type Dutch German English FrenchLatin
Simple bedsbedBettbeddys, bedstead,
couchette, litlectum, lecto
gedraaid bed
turned bedlit de travers
bedde, bed, bedframeBett, Bettstelle, Bette, Bettlade, Spanninge
bedde de bords, bedframe, halfheaded bedstead
charlit, lit de planches, lit de corde (1), lit de boutsponda
(Italiaans) bed met omkasting, bed met kistkastenFruhrenaissance Bettplatform bed

rolling bed, truckle bedstead, trundle, wheelbedcouchette roulonnée, lit à roulettes, carriole
  ??veldbed, reisbed, vouwbed
trussyng bedde, folding bed, fyelde bedstedelit de camp, un charlit qui se ployetrussynbed
Bed with covering

baldakijn bed, bed met los baldakijn
Bett mit Baldachin,
Baldachinbett, Himmelbett
hung bed, bed
with celour, bed with
grand licts,
la couchette,
lit à baldaquin,
lit à courtines,
chalit, lit à plein ciel
lectus cum tapeto et selours
paviljoen bed
sparver, sperver, tentbedlit à pavillion,
tent bede

halfdak baldakijnbedBett mit
halbverdeck, Gotisches Bett, Bett mit halbes
halftester bedlit à demi celour, lit à demi ciel (plat / courbe)
hemelbedHimmelbett, Kastenbett,
tester bedstead, fourposter, bed
with celour, bed with
lit à colonnes,
chalit, lit d'angle

bedstede, beddestedeKastenbett

koetse, kuytsenbedeken, kuytsen, koetse, kuytsenstede, alkoofButze, Alkove, Wandbett, Koyenalcove, couch, cupboard bedsteadalcove, grand cousche enchassile, couchette toute
lit clos


mand wieg
wicker cradle, bassinetberceau, moïse

berceau-bas, bercer et nourrir
gedraaide wieg
turned cradleberceau, berceau à bascule
schommelwiegKufenwiege, wiegerocking cradleberceau, berceau-haut
staatsie wieg
state cradle, hanging cradle
swinging cradle
biers, bers, berseil, berceau de deux
tourillons, berceau suspendu,
porte-berceau, bers de parement, berceau de parade

rocking cradle

Other bedtypes
hospitaalbedKrankenbetthospital bedlit alignés
voetenbank (2)

(1) the lit de corde seems to indicate that the mattress support was made from rope (as opposed to a slatted mattress support).
(2) sometimes the bedframe was surrounded on the sides and the foot by a kind of footrest, like those found by chairs and benches.

The early medieval partially turned bed (550 BC) made from beech found in the Trossinger Grave 58 in Wurtemberg (Photo Archaeological Museum of Baden-Württemberg).

Some extra remarks can be made concerning the time-frame of above mentioned bedtypes. The turned bed is typically seen in medieval illustrations before 1300', sometimes with an opening in the middle to make it easier to access the bed, and disappear thereafter, while the Italian platform bed and the (half)tester bed are more typical examples of late medieval sleeping furniture (for the wealthy). The earliest examples of a beds with a canopy (a sparver or a celour)  appear in the 12th century, first separate from the bedframe itself, but later becoming one entity. Beds with a canopy remained fashionable for centuries after the middle ages. A canopy fixed on four posts (i.e. a four-poster) is not much seen during medieval times, most of the canopies were supported by headboard and extra lines from the ceiling (see 'the making of a hung celour' by Penelope Eames); this also allows to change from a full to a half-celour depending on the status of the visitors to the bedroom.

Left: an early 17th century wheel bed from Gelli, Glamorganshire in Wales, that also used to have a folding headboard  (image scanned from V. Chinnery - Oak furniture - the British tradition) . Right: 15th century image from 'Livre du très chevalereux, conte d'Artois et de sa femme, fille du conte de Boulongne'. Only a modernised (1837) b/w version containing the illumination exists, the original manuscript has been lost.

The earliest extant example of a trundle or wheeled bed stems from the 17th century (see photo below), but the bedtype is already mentioned in 1459 (one image of a wheeled bed is known from a 15th century manuscript). No examples or images have survived of the folding or travelling bed, only vague descriptions. Finally, not all did sleep in beds: houses in medieval Novgorod (Russia) had benches on which the inhabitants slept; and straw sacks could also provide a relatively comfortable resting place for the poor.

Anna rocking the baby Maria in a turned cradle. Book of hours, around 1400-1410. 
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, the Netherlands, manuscript KB 76 F 21, folio 13r.

Thanks to the Christian religion, many images of cradles were produced, showing scenes of the birth of Maria, St. John and Christ. An example of a state or ceremonial cradle, that of Philip the Handsome, has been presented in a previous post.

Hospitals were a special place, where many beds are placed into one room. This could be normal bedframes, but these could also be connected to each other, the footboard of one bed being the headboard for the  next bed, thus creating a long row of beds alongside the wall of the infirmary. A nice example of this (the medieval hospital in Beaune, France) can be seen on Kathy Storms blog 'Medieval arts and crafts'. 

 Left: The hospital beds in  the Salle de sion of the L'Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, France (Photo copyright Arnaud 25). 
Right: A row of beds shown in de 15th century manuscript MS Francais 12330, Rustican du cultivement et labeur champestre, folio 9. 


The books  'Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the twelfth to the fifteenth century'  by Penelope Eames, 'Huusraet' by B. Dubbe, Mobel Europas I Romanik- Gotik by Franz Windisch-Graetz, 'Schrank, Butze, Bett' by Thorsten Albrecht and 'Mobilier domestique vol. I vocabulaire typologique' by Nicole de Reyniès were used extensively in making this list, among others. Also interesting is the article by Penelope Eames (1997) on 'the making of a hung celour' in Furniture History 33: 37-42.

Friday 22 January 2016

A mysterious hood

Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin, c. 1435-1440. 137.5 x 110.8 cm on panel. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

A few weeks ago one of the Dutch newspapers commented on a painting by the Flemish medieval artist Rogier van der Weyden: St. Luke drawing the Virgin (1435-1440) (the original painting now resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Art; some medieval copies are in München, Bruges and the Hermitage in St. Peterburg). In the background of the painting a couple can be seen staring at the river. The newspapers wondered what the couple were looking at and what they were saying to each other. However my eye fell to the headdress of the man. The long liripipe suggests that he is wearing a hood. But is he also wearing a hat over it? Or is the black part actually the inside of the hood. And if this is the case, how does he actually wear his hood. I immediately rushed to my own hood to try this out, much to the amusement of Anne, Bram and Katinka. I must confess that I did not succeed in figuring out how the hood was worn.

The man wearing the hood in a mysterious way. Detail of the painting by Rogier van der Weyden.

Some days later I found another image in an early 15th century medieval manuscript of a man wearing the hood in a similar way. This suggests that this way of wearing the hood was more common. Has anyone an idea how this was done?

Les comédies de Terence. Ms Latin 664, folio 181v. Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Paris, France. Around 1410.

p.s. Some other ways of hood wearing can be found on the Tacuinum Medievale blog or alternative hood use on this blog.

Sunday 17 January 2016

A medieval cradle in Brussels

 The cradle of Philip the Handsome, made around 1478.

There are not much medieval cradles that have survived. Most of them concern the ornate ceremonial (estate) cradles. One of the surviving late medieval ceremonial cradles can be found in the Hallenpoort, one of the surviving medieval city gates, in Brussels (Belgium). The cradle has been known as that of Emperor Charles V, but the arms on the cradle depict that of his grandparents Maximilian I and Maria of Burgundy, so it is nowadays understood that it should have been the cradle made for Philip the Handsome (to become King of Castile and the father of Charles V) and his sister Margaret of Austria. This dates the cradle to June 1478, when Phillips was born in Bruges, Belgium; Margaret was born in January 1480.

Philip the Handsome and Margaret of Austria by Pieter van Coninxloo, c 1493-5. 
Betrothal diptych, oil on oak panels, each 23.8 x 16.5cm. National Gallery, London, UK. 

The cradle is made from oak and has a length of 1.45 m and a width and height of 73.5 and 77.5 cm, respectively. It is composed of boards held within a frame without mitred corners and with elaborate mouldings attached to the frame. The sides and ends have a horizontal division and there is a railing above the sides of cradle box. The corner posts extend above and below the box to support the railing and two open tracery panels  below. These tracery panels are at the ends only and serve as decorative sled on which the cradle can rest when not slung between the uprights. At the top of the ends also a (tracery?) panel existed, but only the grooves for it remain. The corner posts are each carved with a pair of buttresses, which likely would have reached higher as they are now. The box was originally double walled, presumably to give a good finish to the inside, but the (original) inner skin is almost entirely missing. The rounded bottom of the box has been restored with modern oak boards.

Left photo: The other side of the cradle. Much of the woodwork is renewed (the light-coloured oak); a few traces of the painting can be seen. Right photo: The underside of the cradle is rounded, but also  renewed.

The front and back ends of the cradle feature the double M (for Maria and Maximilian) on a gilded background.

 The corner posts where some parts are sawn off and an empty groove for a now missing top panel.

The (gilded - some traces can be seen) bottom panel with open tracery work. 
Some nails or dowels used to fix the panel to the post can be seen on the left.

The cradle used to swing between uprights, which also have not survived, although the iron spigots are still attached to the cradle. Each spigot is set in a circular sex-foil rose with a central domed boss. Also on one side of the cradle several staples were set into the railing. It is possible that these were used to attach a parver (a pavillion type canopy) to the cradle.

Left photo: The iron sex-foil rose spigot, where the cradle used to swing between the uprights. 
Right photo: the moulded rails are nailed to fix the panels.

This side has some staples set into the railing, probably to attach a domed canopy (sparver) to it. As can be clearly seen in these photos, the buttresses of the corner posts are sawn off and the groove for the top panel is empty.

Also much of the decoration has been lost. The entire surface of the cradle was once covered with paintings in colours (black and red) and gold leaf. Decoration for such state cradles used to be done by master painters (and more expensive that the construction of the cradle itself), which is evident by the quality of the decoration. The end panels are decorated with initials M and M (for Maria and Maximilian) intertwined with thistles and holly. One of the low panels on the sides contains the device of Maximilian 'HALT MAS IN ALLEN DINGEN' [moderation in all things]. The larger panel on the side contain remains of heraldic decorations with eagles and heraldic shields.

The Burgundian heritage is clearly shown by the sparkling fire-strikers. 
The first letters (HALT) of the device of Maximilian can also be clearly seen.

The gilded panel on the side showing the same arms as the panel of Philip the Handsome by Pieter van Coninxloo shown above. On the left side the imperial eagle is shown.

According to Penelope Eames, a furniture historian, noble families employed two cradles: the estate cradle - such as this one - in which the infant was displayed and in use during the day. But furthermore, a night cradle, that was much lower and simpler in construction, and in which the baby normally lay. The bills for the cradles ordered by Margaret of Flanders, Duchess of Burgundy in 1403 give some idea on the amount of money that was spend by the nobility on the 'baby-room'.

To master Jehan Du Liège, carpenter, living in Paris, for 2 cradles 1 of state and the other for rocking and feeding the said infant and for 2 stands for the said cradles; two tubs of riven oak for bathing the infant, and 2 round cases for keeping them in, 36 francs; and for a white wood case for the state cradle in order that it may be carried with greater safety from Paris to Arras ... 2 francs .... To Christofle Besan, painter and 'varlet de chambre' to the Duke of Burgundy, for painting and gilding with fine, burnished gold the large above mentioned state cradle for the said infant with the arms of Seigneur de Rethel and with those of the said Damoiselle de Rethel; and for a panel with the head of Our Lady to be placed behind the infant's head 50 francs.

If you compare this amount of money spend on the cradle itself, to the more than 800 francs spend only on the coverlets (more than 800 francs) and a sparver (40.5 francs), you might think that the itself cradle was very cheap.

The inside of the cradle. It would have been covered with more expensive 
materials than the cost of making this cradle. 

Sources used:

  • Penelope Eames (1977). Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. Furniture History, volume XIII.  
  • Franz Windisch-Graetz (1982) Mobel Europas I - von der Romanik bis zur Spatgotik. Klinkhardt and Biermann, Munchen, Germany, ISBN 3781402126.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

The 'klaarbank' of the Engelander Holt

Last year, Bram and I were asked by the 'Geldersch Landschap en Kasteelen (Gelders Castles and Countryside Foundation) to help with a part of their Engelander Holt project. The Engelander Holt is an estate near Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, managed by the Foundation. The project consisted of nature inventories as well as some historical investigations, mostly done by volunteers. One of the historic sites on the estate is the Herenhul, a small hill with the so-called 'gerechtssteen', a megalitic stone that marked the place of a 'klaarbank', a kind of open air courthouse. The Herenhul has a long history as a place of justice. It could even have been one of the first court places in the Netherlands (the Engelander Holt is already mentioned in 801), and perhaps the place was already in use as a Germanic Althing. During the 13th century to the 17th century the Ducal Supreme Court of the Veluwe Quarter resided here. This court or 'klaarbank' dealt with death penalty cases in the court of Gelre, and many of the case files of the 'klaarbank' have been preserved (and - from 1423 onwards - can be found in the Provincial Archive in Arnhem). The site was also used for the inauguration of a new duke, for meetings of the Hanseatic League, etc.

The 'gerechtssteen' on the Engelanderholt estate.

For instance in 1368, when representatives of Deventer, Zutphen, Harderwijk and Elburg held counsel here on the war between the Hanseatic League and Denmark. At least once a year the Ducal Supreme Court took place at this site with the Duke of Guelders and all the lesser nobility of the Veluwe Quarter (approximately 40 knights), as well as the representatives (the 'peinders') of the five cities of the Veluwe (Arnhem, Wageningen, Harderwijk, Hattem and Elburg) attending.

The accounts tell us that in 1432 Wijnant Leiermoell receives payment for painting a 'Airn' on a blue shield 'voir die herberch tot Engelanderholt' [for the inn at Engelanderholt] where the delegates resided. A bill of the city ​​of Arnhem mentions that on October 12, 1461 the mayor of Arnhem, Steven van Delden, with seven other delegates, is 'gereden en gevaren tot Engelanderholt ter clarynge mit tween wagenen' [went to the court at Engelanderholt with two carts]. They took their food with them, among others the following: 6 'molder' oats, some eggs, a Hamel, 28 pounds beef, 34 pounds hams and shoulders, five sizes of butter, a portion of salt, 3 pairs of chickens, a pot of mustard, bread and necessary 'spysekruyt' [spices], one bottle of old wine. And this all for a few days.

Bringing many delegates and defendants under one roof will also have caused housing problems. Delegates from Arnhem stayed at the 'Red Deer' inn during court, representatives of the smaller cities would have to find shelter in another nearby inn, such as 'The Golden Lion' or the 'Aap' [Monkey] in Beekbergen. The latter inn, also served as a prison for the suspects; and the Dutch proverb 'in de aap gelogeerd' ['stayed at the Monkey', or in other words: you are in serious trouble] originates from these times. Much of the Veluwe knighthood is likely to have camped in campaign tents. During a session of the Supreme Court also a large market was held and merchants set up their stalls in the neighbourhood to sell their wares to the public.

Portrait of Claes Heynenzoon, the Herald Guelders. Dated 1395.
M.S. 15652-56 Armorial Gelre, folio 122r, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

But things were to change for the 'uncomfortable' klaarbank at Herenhul: in the morning of 22 in September 1573 the Court was opened at the Engelander Holt, but afterwards the delegates went directly to Arnhem to continue the meeting there in a more comfortable environment. Having made all their decisions, they returned back to the Engelander Holt to pronounce them in the required order. After 1620 no more courts were held at the Engelander Holt.

The klaarbank of 1563

In the archives of the province Gelderland in Arnhem, some documents were found dealing with the construction of a new klaarbank in 1563. Also two parchment sheets with sketches of the klaarbank, made by the executive carpenter Master Aelbert, were found, as well as some drawings from 1875 based on these sketches (Caerte van de bancke van Engellanderholt; inv No. 592).

The overview sketch of the klaarbank of 1563 and the surrounding walls. Gelders Archief, No. 592-0002.

Besides these drawings, a few bills and orders given to the sheriffs of the municipalities of Apeldoorn, Ede and Velp to take actions serving the construction of the klaarbank were found as an appendix to the accounts of the Land Steward in 1563 (Gelders Archief, inv Nos 1729 and 1743). These accounts do not provide any measurements of sizes of the klaarbank, only that the klaarbank was made of poplar (Populus spp.) and spruce (Picea abies). The trees were likely hewn in the Arnhem area (both Ede and Velp had to arrange carts for transport). In addition to the trees, 26 boards that were already in the 'Bushuis' (the arsenal) were also used for the construction. The preparatory work (squaring and planing) was done by Master Aelbert in Arnhem, who assembled the klaarbank later with his servant at the Herenhul. The 'busmaker' [the cannon smith] of Arnhem supplied hinges for the doors as well as a new lock with a staple to close the principal door of the klaarbank. 

The klaarbank had a closed rear wall at which a 'sauvegarde' [asylum or safe conduct] was attached. The latter, however, was done by an artist, called Johan Houten. Finally, there is bill of a payment to a nailer for 1000 'lasnagels' and 5100 'zoldernagels' [two types of nails] for the klaarbank. As the ordered nails are not necessary for the construction of the furniture (the benches and chairs), they therefore were likely used for carpentry of the walls and floors. The klaarbank was made August 1563, assembled in early September 1563, and demolished after the trial and stored in the Bushuis at Arnhem.

The lay-out sketch of the klaarbank of 1563 with the sizes given in the text. Note that the benches on the sides have been shortened in comparison with the previous sketch. Gelders Archief, No. 592-0001.

The set-up of the klaarbank

So, what we were asked to do for the Engelander Holt project was to give an insight in what kind of furniture was used at the klaarbank. How did it look like and how was it constructed. But before we did, we first looked at the set-up of the court.

Roughly, the klaarbank consisted of a simple building (possibly only three walls) with a roof (the latter could even have been of canvas), some benches places at different heights for the knighthood, councillors and peinders, well as a chair for the sheriff and a high chair for the Duke. On the grounds, there was a bench and a table for the registrar and a scribe. The whole was surrounded by a wooden fence.The councilors reached their seats through side stairs, for which an opening is indicated in the side wall on the sketch of the construction. The set-up such that the Duke can only reach his high chair via the stairs at the banks of the councilors.

 Our model of the klaarbank, with doors at the sides for the counsilors.

Some measurements are given in the text scribbled on the sketches of 1563. The finished bank is made up of three layers, with each successive layer 1.5 foot higher than the previous one. The height and width of the banks was similar to the distance between two banks: 1.5 feet. Duke's chair was at the highest level, 4.5 feet above the ground. One foot measured at that time between 23 and 32 cm, depending on the place and country. For example, a Rhenish feet was 0.314 meters and an Amsterdam feet 0.283 meters. 1.5 Feet is also the height of a bench, and translates to approximately 45 cm, which is now also a common height for a seating. On the basis of the sketch of the cross-sections and the text, we deduced the arrangement as shown in our 3D model of the klaarbank. A next post will deal with the furniture involved at the klaarbank.

A 17th century Lit de Justice

 The raised dais for the chairs of the ruler and his cousillors of the Lit de Justice in Chateaudun castle.

Call it coincidence or luck; when we were on holiday in France last year we visited Castle Châteaudun at the foot of the river Loir and the city with the same name as the castle. In the basement of the castle we found that an (almost) complete 17th century court (Lit de Justice) has survived. There are several similarities but also differences with the klaarbank of the Engelander Holt. The court of Châteaudun is small and square and almost fills an entire room. In a corner against the wall is a raised platform for the ruler with a coat of arms above it, as well as a place for the councilors next to it. The knighthood (on the right side) and the representatives (on the left side) sat facing the ruler in two rows separated by a wooden partition. The court has no seating now, but there were probably benches; the space between the wooden partition is almost one meter; enough space for a bench. The crowned L (Louis) on the walls indicates that it was originally royal or princely court.

 The view from the dais towards the entrance of the court.

(Left) The two rows of seating for the layman (without benches). These would be situated on the left side of the ruler; on the right side the nobility would be seated. (Right) The rear seating row of the laymen is on a small wooden platform. Both seating rows are divided by a wooden partition. 

There are also a few images in late medieval and later manuscripts depicting a Lit de Justice in a royal setting. The most famous one is that by Jean Fouquet in 1450. What can be seen is that all show the square arrangement of the court with the ruler on a dais in the corner.

(Left) The Lit de Justice of Charles V in  Le Livre des propriétés des choses by Barthélémy l'Anglais.
Bibliotheque National de France, Paris, France, Ms. Français 22532, folio 9. (Right) Lit de Justice of Charles VII at the parliament of Paris of 1450.  Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, illumination by Jean Fouquet, dated between 1458 and 1465. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Germany, Cod. Gall. 6, folio 2v.

(Left) The Lit de Justice of Louis XIII held after the death of his father (1610). Archives Nationales de France AE-II-3890. (Right) Copper engraving showing a court case against an animal, a practice that was also common during medieval times.