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.


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