Friday 12 February 2016

The furniture at the Engelanderholt 'klaarbank' - Part 1

While the outlines of the klaarbank at the Engelanderholt are more or less straightforward, the furniture within is based on much speculation and assumptions. However, keeping this in mind, Bram and I think that the furniture within the klaarbank could have looked like those presented below. We did have some clues, however, as the backside of one of the sketches made by the carpenter shows some side-views of the furniture pieces. For the rest, we looked at contemporary pieces of  furniture that might be similar to those of the klaarbank. One of the assumptions made was that the furniture pieces had to be constructed in a relatively short amount of time, and that they should easily be disassembled and stored for reuse.

A cross section of the finished klaarbank at the back of one of the sketches made by master carpenter Aelbert (Photo copyright Gelders Archive, detail of 529-003). The large chair with canopy for the Duke can be seen on the left, as well as five sets of benches. On the far right you can see a table.

The chair of the Duke (or Stadhouder)

Left: Detail of the chair from the outline sketch by Master Aelbert (Photo copyright Gelders Archive, detail of 529-002).

On the sketch containing the structure of the side walls (see previous post), the seat of the Duke is shown in more detail. It is a richly ornamented chair with a high panelled backrest and armrests. The top of the back rest has a pair of ornamented pinnacles. The backrest is horizontally divided into two parts; the lower part seems to consist of a linenfold pattern, while the top part has a carved appearance. However, the cross-section (see figure above) shows the chair having a canopy.

Chairs of a ruler (like the stadhouder or the Duke) that were used for official meetings needed to be representative and impressive. During the larger part of the Middle Ages this was almost always a throne or a sella curulis (a type of folding chair) decorated with lion heads at the ends. At the end of the 14th century and early 15th century the chair type changed to a folding chair with a high backrest, which in turn in the 15th and 16th centuries was succeeded by a box- or panelled high chair. It is probably this last type of chair that was used by the Duke at the klaarbank.

This kind of chair can be equipped with a storage compartment under the seat; most of the surviving examples have such a compartment. In such cases, the chair is called a box chair or in Dutch a 'sittekist'. The photos below show several extant examples of such chairs. Basically this chair consists of a frame, where the backrest, front and sides are filled with panels. In the late Middle Ages (15th century) these were often parchment and linenfold panels, while in the 16th century more figurative carved and X-shaped panels were used. The outline of the seat of the Duke (the detail from 529-002) shows a nice transition between the two panel styles: the bottom half uses a linenfold panel and the upper half a figurative carved panel. This figurative panel could for example be the heraldic shield of the Duchy of Guelders. The components of the frame itself are joined using mortise and tenons, secured by wooden nails. For the decorations on the top of the backrest we propose (Guelders) lions. The boxed/panel high chairs could also be fitted with a balcony at the top of the backrest (see photo below).

(Left) Oak box chair (1490-1500) from Chateau Martainville, France with a large carved panel in the backrest.  Two lions can be found at the top of the backrest. Height 186 cm, 74 cm wide. (Middle) Oak box chair with an attached canopy. Height 227 cm, width 71 cm. Image scanned from J. Boccador - Le mobilier Francais du moyen age a la renaissance. (Right) Oak box chair with linenfold panels from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Photo copyright Rijksmuseum). The chair is dated around 1500. Also here two shield bearing lions are found at the backrest. Height 143 cm, width 73 cm.

Such box seats were variable in size. The width varied between 60 and 90 cm and the height between 1.13 and 2.26 meters. The seat height is generally 45 cm and depth of the seat between 45 and 59 cm. However, the space for the ducal seat in the klaarbank is limited due to the restricted surface area of ​​the plateau on which the seat stands (4 by 2 feet). For a stable placement, the chair must have been smaller than the platform; a chair with a width of 75 cm and a depth of 45 cm with a height of 1.85 meters, like the one shown below, may well have been used at the klaarbank.

High-backed panel chairs from that time are invariably made of oak. Since the construction of such a chair relatively takes a long time, and since the chair has a representative and impressive function, it is more likely that the ducal seat was taken from the ducal inventory and not constructed on site. To make such a chair, one needs a good joiner, rather than a master carpenter who also needs to put together a klaarbank. Furthermore, spruce or poplar (the wood used for the klaarbank) is inappropriate and unsuitable for such an important seat.

The proposed seat of the duke at the klaarbank (© St. Thomas Guild).

The benches for the counselors, nobility, peinders and registrar

Left: The side of one of the benches; detail from the sketch by Master Aelbert (Photo copyright Gelders Archive, detail of 529-003).

The plan of the klaarbank shows six long forms meant for the counselors, the knighthood and the representatives of the Veluwe cities (peinders). The seventh, a much smaller stool behind a table, was intended for the registrar and the writer. The backside of the sketch of the floor plan shows the sides of the various benches, which all look similar. They consisted of (two) uprights that were connected to each other by two smaller boards (an sometimes a stretcher) where the seating board rested on top. This construction is called a 'wangenbank' or boarded stool, a type that was first seen in the 15th century and remained popular two centuries afterwards. This seating type existed in all sizes, from a single-seated stool to a bank for dozens of people, and was made in various types of wood. Examples of such banks from the 16th century can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (see below); a simple version of a boarded stool was fished out of the wreck of the Mary Rose.

The construction of a boarded form is simple and consists of five boards: the seat, two uprights (sides) and two cheeks on the length of the bench to support the seat. The boards [wangen] are fixed to the uprights with nails or could be hooked together cross-wise. The latter is most likely when the banks quickly had to be disassembled. For added reinforcement often there was also a low stretcher through a mortise and secured with  a wedge to the uprights. These banks could easily be extended by adding extra uprights and stretchers with wedges to support the longer seating. The scheme below shows a possible construction of the long forms. As mentioned previously, these benches are easy to make (by a carpenter), disassemble, transport and store, which also happened to the klaarbank.

Two 16th century oak forms originating from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK. The cheeks of these forms are hooked into the uprights. (Top) Object W.78-1924: Height 45.7 cm, 1.55 m long and 26.8 cm deep (Photo copyright V & A, London; (Bottom) Object W. 67-1921. Height 53.4 cm, length 2.36 m and depth 28 cm. Image scanned from C. Tracy - English medieval furniture and woodwork.

(Left) The elm boarded stool from the Mary Rose. The standing panels are slightly notched to accomodate the side boards. These are nailed to the uprights. Image scanned from 'Chapter 9 Plain and Functional: Furniture on the Mary Rose' by V. Chinnery in 'Before the mast: life and death aboard the Mary Rose'. (Right) The underside of an elm boarded stool dating from 1550. item no 1136. 22 inch wide, 21.5 inch height, 11.5 inch deep. Photo from Period Oak Antiques, UK

A boarded oak stool from 1600 joined by a stretcher and fixed with a wedge. 20.5 inch high, 21 inch wide and 13 inch deep. Item nr. 1046. Photos from Period Oak Antiques, UK.

The measurements of the benches are provided in the text on the sketch of the klaarbank [no. 592-0001] or can be deduced from these measurements. Thus, the height of the bench must be 1.5 feet or 45 cm, the same as the depth of the form. The length of all banks is given in the text:

De Bank van de Kanselier en Raden, lang 40 voeten;
Bank van de ridderschap, lang 52 voet;
Tweede bank van de ridderschap, lang in alles 40 voet;
Bank van de peindere, dr. etc. hoog 1,5 voet, lang 27 voet;
Elk van deze banken is breed 1,5 voet en staan van de andere 1,5 voet;
Bank van griffier (en) landschrijver etc. lang 8 voet.

[The Bank of the Chancellor and Council, 40 feet long;
Bank of the Knighthood, 52 feet long;
Second bank of the Knighthood, all 40 feet long;
Bank of peindere, Dr etc. 1.5 feet high, 27 feet long;
Each of these banks is 1.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet in front of the other;
Bank of the Registrar (and) writer etc. 8 feet long.]

The proposed form for the nobility at the klaarbank (© St. Thomas Guild).

Only the number of uprights for the long benches are unknown. The stool for the registrar probably had two, the distance between them is little more than 2 m. The number of uprights for the long benches were probably 5 for the peinders, 11 for the second bench of the knighthood, twelve (2 x 6) for the first bench of the knighthood and eight (2 x 4) for the bank of the chancellor and council. The nobles and dignitaries had to attend the entire session of the klaarbank. You can imagine that prolonged sitting on a hard wooden bench was not very comfortable. Probably the forms also  had cushions, whether or not taken with them by the delegates.

A next post will concern the remainder of the furniture in the klaarbank at the Engelanderholt.