Sunday 11 October 2020

The backside story

Normally, when you visit a castle or a museum and look at the furniture, you will only see the front and sides. Only rarely you will see a glimpse of the backside of a chest or an armoire, or equally rare, the inside of the storage compartments of the said furniture pieces. I was therefore happy to discover that some of the medieval furniture on sale at the Prunier Auction of 11 October 2020 in France also did show the backsides. Aside from these auction pieces, I will also show some medieval furniture where I was able to examine the backsides myself.   


The front and back of a 15th century high-backed bench-chest. The back is crudely finished. Interestingly, the vertical stile on the back of the chest is placed asymmetrically to prevent compromising the strength of the horizontal stile. The suggested small horizontal stiles on frontside of the panels of the backrest are in fact part of the panels themselves. height 143.5 cm, length 120 cm, depth 48 cm. Sold for 2100 Euro.

The front and inside of a French 15th century armoire with linenfold panels. The inside also allows us to see the construction of the back of the armoire, which has a similar frame construction as the doors and sides (but undecorated panels, as the sides). The armoire had three shelves, of which one is remaining. You can see two holes where the horizontal supports for the missing shelves were placed. Also a slight discolouration on the backside shows where the shelves used to be. height 191 cm, length 128.5 cm , depth 52 cm. Sold for 6500 Euro.

While the front of this early 16th century oak south German marriage chest is highly decorated, the back is not. Contrary to the frame construction on the front it consist of several slats of wood fixed to the sides with dovetails. Also the hinges are fixed on the back. height 99 cm, length 174 cm, depth 56 cm. Sold at 2000 Euro.

 This late 15th century oak chest is similarly to the previous one, with a highly decorated front and sides, and an undecorated back. The backside consist of one single plank. The hinges are simple, consisting of hooked metal rods. height 78.5 cm, length 154 cm, depth 59 cm. Sold for 1100 Euro.
One of a set of two chests dated around 1500. At the back several repairs have been made, probably including the small low horizontal plank. Likely the backside earlier consisted of one wooden plank, fixed with dovetails to the sides. The construction of the underside, together with the decorative rail at the bottom is typical, suggesting that it is somewhere nailed. Height 68 cm, length 140 cm, depth 59 cm. Both sold for 800 Euro each.
Armoire R.B.K. 1954-7 in Castle Muiderslot, Muiden, the Netherlands dates from the 15th century. The chest is made of two parts that are added on top of one another. During a study, the top was removed, making hidden details visible.
Left: the top part of the armoire. Right: The lower part of the armoire is still in use. A historical spoon was found in it.
Not all restorations have been done according to the latest views. 
Here a wooden block was screwed on the inside to hold the door.
The rail holding the top in place can easily be seen now on the bottom part of the armoire. 
The rail is fixed to the bottom with wooden pins (easily seen on the left photo). 

The top panels are fixed onto the upper part of the dressoir with wooden pins.

At one end the panels are chamfered so they fit into the groove of the next one.

A beautiful armoire from Chateau Bois Orcan, Noyal-sur-Vilaine, France, with four doors and two drawers.
Left: The triangular front panel is nicely carved, but when I looked at the back and beneath the armoire (Right) some interesting thing could be seen: For instance the side triangular panel has some carving on the inside. Apparently the intended carving went wrong and was never completed. Instead, they re-used it by reversing the panel (black arrow). The back panels of the armoire are roughly sawn off and layered with a half lap joint (blue arrow). At the edge stile the groove continues into the legs (red arrow) and the back panel is secured in the groove with a wooden pin (green arrow).