Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Furniture of the nonnenchor of Kloster Wienhausen

The highly painted nuns choir of Kloster Wienhausen. At the far end the seat of the abbess can be seen. Image from internet.

The nun's choir of Kloster Wienhausen in Germany is famous for the medieval paintings that cover the complete walls and ceiling. They date from thirteenth century. In contrast, the choir stalls look very humble, but they are certainly impressive as well. The choir stalls were dendrochronologically dated to 1277 and are still in use. They are even thought to predate the current choir, and have moved into it when the 'new' medieval building was ready. Indeed, at some places the choir stalls seem ill fitted in the room. The stalls consist of two rows of seats opposite each other at the north and south walls of the choir. There are no misericords present at the stalls. The armrests and backrests of the lower stalls consist of one piece of oak with a thickness of roughly a hands width. On the top of this oak piece at (ir)regular places holes are drilled. A few of them have an additional piece of wood with a drilled hole and some have remaining candle wax in them, providing a clue for their function: adding light at late or early hours of prayer. At some places the wood is darkened; here the candle was directly placed on the wood and burned it.

The armrest/backrest of the lower stalls is very thick and consist of one piece of oak. Image from internet.

The green arrows point to the irregular holes for the candles. The orange arrow shows a wooden candle still in place. The blue arrows show the beams supporting the backrest/armrest as it slightly leans backwards.

The higher stall chairs are all separated from each other by wooden boards - just like the boards that separate public men's urinals. The boards are set in a groove in the arms rests. In the wall behind the stalls small alcoves with a shelve can be found, one for each stall seat. The alcoves can be locked with a door. This provided a space were some personal belongings of the nuns, e.g. prayer books, glasses, etc. could be stored. It was under these storage spaces and choir stalls that many of the cloisters small (lost) treasures were found: several complete medieval glasses with leather and wooden frames, reliquary images, song-texts, weaving tablets and more.
 Left: The front row choir stall seats have been repaired to remain in use - below the seating some modern adaptation has been made. The back of the stall consist of roughly hewn pieces of oak. Image from internet. Right: A drawing of the back stall row with the dividing screen - decorated with a floral leaf. Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The boards and alcoves are 'washed' in dull white and grey, a baroque style, and stands in sharp contrast to the colourful walls and ceiling. Most of the boards have been maimed, their floral decoration sawn off. The stalls next to the stall of the abbess still have their decoration.

The seat of the abbess, also from the same period as the choir stalls. Directly behind it, 
some whitewashed board that still have their floral decoration can be seen.

One of the short sides holds an altarpiece and a woodwork screen with latticework openings to the adjoining church. The nuns were thus able to follow the mass, without being seen by men. The other short end of the choir has a single row of seats. This one includes the high chair of the abbess, with a small armoire next to it. Five years ago this chair stood in a smaller chapel, now it has been restored to its original place. The armoire next to it is newly made, after a 19th century illustration of the original.

The chair of the abbess and the new armoire next to it. The emblem in the chair has been embroidered in klosterstich by Frau Daenicke. Directlty left to the chair of the abbess and above the first stall chair, a small door to a personal alcove can be seen. Each stall chair has such a storage space.

Left: At the back of the seat are two 'mickey mouse' ears, a type of decoration often found in this period on armoires. Right: The roof with a 'light' door in it. On the other side is a similar door.

The top decoration of the abbess chair with pinnacles and foliar leaves.

The stall of the abbess is much more ornate than the other stalls. The sides are decorated with foliar motifs. But most interesting is the 'roof' of the chair. This roof consist of two hinged doors, which can be opened, to allow for more light for liturgical reading. As far as I know, this is a rather unique feature for a abbess/abbots seat.

Left: the eternal lamp. Right: the Eastern lantern in the nonnechor of Kloster Wienhausen. Images scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The nonnenchor also contains two wooden medieval lantarns - one six-sided dating  and one eight-sided - hanging with an iron chain from the ceiling. Both date from just before 1400. The six-sided lamp is a so-called eternal lamp with images depicting scenes from the resurrection. The octagonal lamp is a processional Eastern lantern. The bottom part shows angels playing various musical instruments painted on a gold background.

Angels playing music at the bottom of the processional Eastern lantern.
Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

Sources used:

  • H. Appuhn. 1986. Kloster Wienhausen. Pick Verlag Pfingsten, Celle, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-0-2.
  • K. Maier. 2001. The convent of Wienahusen. An introduction to its history, architecture and art. Kloster Wienhausen, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-7-x
  • Website: http://flotwedel.dorfspion.de and http://kloster-wienhausen.de

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A new visit to Kloster Wienhausen

Yesterday we went for our second visit to Kloster Wienhausen in Germany. This cloister - one of the six protestant female convents around the Luneburger Moor - hosts the famous Thomasteppich dating from the fourteeth century. During our first visit, five years ago, we saw the Thomastapestry for the first time and Anne and Katinka hatched the plan to embroider a (bit smaller(but still large) replica of this tapestry. Several blog posts have shown the progress of their work and now we wanted to show and compare the tapestries. We also had some questions on the tapestry which we hoped to solve as well. Like the previous time one of the konventualinnen - Frau Daenicke, who is also an expert on the tapestry stitchings - showed us around and answered our curiousity.

Our tapestries at the entrance of the cloister together with konventonalin Frau Daenicke.

The rows of the original tapestry were embroidered separately, just like Anne and Katinka are doing. However, the linen shrinks during the embroidery process, so both our rows likely end up having a slightly different width. Did this also happen with the original tapestry? This is quite possible. The end scene of the second row shows Thomas in prison. Next to the prison is a tree with a cut-off branch, but there are still some lines of blue and green next to it, which could indicate an extension of the row. On the other side of the same row, the space next to the throne is relatively large.

Another of our questions was how the rows were fixed to each other. This could probably be seen from the backside of the tapestry; however, as the tapestry nowadays is fixed in its showcase, this was not possible to see. There was however a part of another tapestry where the method of attachment could be seen. For this fragment, a 'hexenstich' was used, which is used for instance for seams and is a bit elastic. With this knowledge we again had turned our attention to the original Thomasteppich. What we then noticed was that the rows of text were neatly attached to the rows with the images. Likely the sewing together of both image-rows was hidden beneath the text row; and the added text row thus provided extra strength to the tapestry.

Some parts of the Thomastapestry have been cut off, most notably the top decorative row and part of the left decorative row that surrounds the tapestry. According to Frau Daenicke, there are still some fragments of the tapestry in the museum depot, e.g. a dragon that used to be part of the top row. The top row would thus have looked more or less similar to the bottom row.

Another thing we noticed was that the wool the nuns used to embroider the Thomasteppich was much thicker that the wool used by us. The spinned threads also looked more rough, having thicker dots of wool at places along the threads. Such unequal thickness of the thread have made embroidering more difficult for the nuns.

The 'old' and 'new' Thomastapestries together in the museumroom. 
From our tapestry 2 rows are almost ready (lying on the table).

After the meeting of the Thomas tapestries, we also received a small tour of this inspiring convent were we were shown some additional Thomasses, as well as some unique and interesting medieval furniture.

 'Unbelieving' St. Thomas on the ceiling of the nonnenchor of the chapel. The complete walls and ceilings of the chapel are covered with paintings dating from the 1325 (of course restored as can be seen by the bright colours). It is an impressive sight, showing the wealth of colour in medieval buildings.

'Unbelieving' St. Thomas putting his finger into the ressurected Christ. It is one of the images on the inside of the doors of the 'holy grave' reliquary shrine of Kloster Wienhausen. The shrine itself dates from the late thirteenth century. The inside shows 30 scenes of the Vitae Christi. The paintings on the shrine seem to be of a later date, more likely 15th century, according to the type of clothing the figures are wearing. The texts on the Thomas image are: D(omi)n(u)s meus et deus meus. [My Lord and my God] by Thomas. Mitte manum tuam et cognosce loca clauorum  [Take thy hand and know the place of the nails] by Christ. A complete description of the scenes and texts can be found on this site [in German].

Monday, 20 March 2017

The scapradekijn for the Muiderslot, part 3: the bottom ridge, shelves and back boards

This post continues with the story of the making of a hanging cupboard for Castle Muiderslot. Part 1 and Part 2 considered the carving of the panels. This part will show the carving of the bottom ridge of the panels and the making of the shelves and back boards.

The bottom ridge

Also the bottom ridge made use of a jig. Fortunately the size of the jig rounds was similar to one of my Forstner bits, so it was easy to make the jig. However, using a jig and router with a guide ring adds extra material to the points, and therefore the pinnacles of the ridge had to be filed sharp. Also the half-depth part of the ring could easily be drilled with a Forstner bit. The centre point in the wood created by the Forstner bit would be removed anyway, so this created no aesthetic problem. After that the central hole was drilled with a smaller Forstner bit, and the remainder was carved with a carving knife.

Bottom ridge as in the second scapradekijn from Cologne.

The jig and the result of the jig. The pinnacle points had to be filed sharp at a later stage. For stabilisation the panel was larger; the lower part was cut off  later.

Left: The result after routing and the first drilling steps. Right: Holes drilled with a Forstner bit.

Left: This was followed by carving of the lower ridge. The pinnacles had to be filed sharp as the routing jig was not able to do this. Right: The carving finished. The fitting of a hinge is tested here.

The back boards

The backside consisted of three boards with the same thickness (11 mm) as the front boards. In fact they were the boards that remained after the best looking boards were used for the front panels. The backs boards were fitted into grooves on the side panels and on top (shelve) board. They were a bit chamfered at the sides to create a tight fit into the 10 mm groove. The three boards were fitted to each other by a V-groove. Using a V-groove was commonly used to attach boards to each other in the construction of medieval furniture. For instance many of the medieval chests in the Lüneburger convents use V-grooves (see K.H. von Stülpnagel - Die gotischen Truhen der Lüneburger Heidekloster).

The three boards were clamped in the double screw vise. A modern clamp was used to hold the boards together at a higher point. The three boards together provided a stable platform for the router with a routing fence and fitted with a V-bit.

Left: The ends of two of the boards were extended, so that routing would go smoothly towards the end/start of the board. Only two of the three boards need a V groove. Right: The corresponding V-point was planed. A marking gauge was used to denote the three edges (top, left and right) of the V-point. The top was then rounded, so it would fit  perfectly in the groove.

Left:  The V-groove and V-point. Right: The three boards together.

As the boards were too large for the backside, the left and right backboard had to be sawn to fit. Then the edges had to be chamfered by plane to 10 mm - the size of the grooves in the side panels.

The backboards fit into the back of the scapradekijn. However, they were also too long and some sawing was needed here too. On the right photo you can also see the holes at the top for the iron rings to hang the cupboard on the wall.

The shelves

The scapradekijn contains three internal shelves and an outer (top) shelve. The shelves, like the side panels are thicker than the front and back panels (16 mm instead of 11 mm). This was done for several reasons: some panels and shelves contained grooves for the back boards and shelves; the shelves would need to carry the weight of the objects; and furthermore, the shelves needed to be large enough to contain the pins fixating the construction. The three internal shelves were less deep as they ended at the back boards, whereas the top board was as deep as the side panels.

The shelves test-fitted into the grooves. They have to be sawn to their correct width and length. 
You can also see the grooves for the backboards.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

17th century oak from Harderwijk

A view of the city Harderwijk around 1600. Two sea-bridges stretch into the Zuiderzee, the left one leads to the Vischpoort.

Until the 20th century, the city of Harderwijk, located in the middle of the Netherlands, was directly connected to the sea; moreover, during middle ages and and renaissance the sea (Zuiderzee) came directly to the city walls. Not surprisingly, Harderwijk was an important trade town in these days and a member of the Hanze League. Many remains from this past can still be found in the city today, and even more still remains hidden underground.   

A map of Harderwijk by Frederik de Wit, 1698, from the 'Theatrum ichnographicum omnium urbium et præcipuorum oppidorum Belgicarum XVII Provinciarum peraccurate delineatarum', Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague, the Netherlands, digital edition free access.

Instead of a harbour, Harderwijk had two mooring dams or sea-bridges for the ships, the 'Grote Brug' and the 'Lage Brug'. Larger ships could not be moored at these sea-bridges as the water was too shallow. They had to anchor further away, and the goods needed to be transported by smaller ships to the city. As the current city council had some plans to change the site of the old city waterfront, the firm Econsultancy became involved to do some archaeological research at the site of the old sea-bridge/dam (de Lage brug - the low bridge) at the Vischpoort [Fishgate]. Previous archaeological digs also had reported a suspected wreck at the site. Work started in in October 2016.

 A detail of the previous map with the Fish gate (and the fish-market behind it) and the sea-bridge (called Laage Brugge).

Part of the wall of the sea-bridge, numbers are added to the individual wooden pieces. 
Photo copyright Archeologie Noord-Veluwe.

Left: the complete 'punter' excavated. Right: part of the 'punter' with three bollards of the sea-bridge. Photos copyright Archeologie Noord-Veluwe.

Indeed, a wreck of a small ship could be found.  Likely, this was a boat (called a 'punter') that was used to haul the goods from larger ships to the harbour. The sea-bridge itself was an artificially constructed dam, consisting of two rows of  wooden bollards, driven deep into the bottom of the sea, covered with planks at the sides and filled rubble and more randomly places stakes. The (remains of the) bollards were between 40 cm and 2.5 metres long. The ends that were driven into the ground were pointed or wedged and sometimes reinforced by nailed iron plating.  The wooden posts were mostly oak or pine, either squared or round, and measured around 20-25 cm. They have been dendrologically dated to the early 17th century. The width of the sea-bridge was around 3 metres, the Hoge brug had a length of 100 metres, the Lage brug was somewhat shorter. Some engravings of the city of Harderwijk of the 17th century also shows a small crane on the sea-bridge, useful for hauling the goods from the boats.

A 16th century engraving of the sea bridges at Harderwijk; the Hoge Brug (right) has a small crane visible.

Salvaging one of the 17th century mooring posts. Photo copyright Archeologie Noord Veluwe.

After the archaeologic research was finished, the city council had no interest to preserve the wooden bollards of the sea-bridge that had been dug up. And to be honest, they just look like tree stems and are only of interest because the structure they form; as individual pieces they are not special to the general public. So the bollards were cut up into smaller pieces by chainsaw and transported to the grounds of Econsultency in Doetinchem, their final destination probably being someone's hearth. However, we got notice of them and could salvage some pieces that could be useful for us.

Some excavated and cut-up parts of the sea-bridge at the grounds of Econsultancy.

 A few 17th century bollard pieces in my car.

We now have five 1.8 metre pieces of a 17th century oak tree standing in our shed, each weighing between 80 to 100 kilos, waiting to be sawn into boards. The centuries old bollards were remarkably good; only the outer few centimetres have deteriorated during their sea-bridge service and stay in the ground. It would be quite interesting for us to make some historical furniture from this historical (more) correct oak.

Left: the metal covered point of the bollard. Right: four of the bollard pieces, the archaeological ID number is still attached to one piece.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Medieval iron ornamented chests from France

Last year, on our trip to Paris we visited the Musee des Arts Decoratif. This museum hosts a number of medieval furniture, one of which is a trestle table - discussed in a previous post -, another is a chest that is held together by ornamented bands of forged iron. The front of this chest features in many books on medieval furniture and its iron decoration is well commented and praised. Other features do not appear in these books but are nonetheless interesting as well. From the search for more information on this chest, I encountered similar medieval iron decorated chests of French origin, which are presented here as well.

Musee des Arts Decoratif, Inv. No. PE 982

The chest is dated from the early 13th  century. It is a hutch-type chest made from oak where the mortises are secured by wooden dowels. The iron bands add to the strength of the construction; they also go underneath the trunk, securing the bottom of the chest. The spiral ends in a flattened flower-bud. Square nails attach the iron bands to the chest. The chest is large and has a height of 89 cm height, 165 cm length and 79 cm width. The lid of the chest is of later date and consists of two parts over the length of the chest held together with a hinge.

The front of the chest. There are two-and-a half horizontal bands of iron and three vertical bands going underneath the chest.

It is easy to see that the lid is a later addition (but no clue for the date): the oak is not as deteriorated and worm-eaten as the decorated oaken parts of the chest. A hinge can be seen half-way the lid of the chest.

There is quite a variety of nails used to attach the iron to the oak - also not all nails have survived the ages. The oak shows a severe amount of wear, including the ubiquitous woodworm holes. Sadly a lot of the medieval furniture in this museum is in this worn state.

The lock-plate and lock are gone. A piece of wood had replaced it. Only the holes for the nails of the lock-plate can be seen.

A complete view of the chest, including the lid.

All spirals are slightly different from each other.

A view of both ends of the lid of the chest.

The side of the chest is as decorated as the front and similar in construction. Unfortunately, I could not see the backside (due to the chair of the museum guard).

The trunk of Saint Denis, Inv. Nr. MB 113

This hutch type chest dating from 1220 is also found in a museum in Paris, the Museum Carnavalet, which we did not visit. This oak trunk is similarly decorated with wrought iron spiral bands ending in a flower-bud, which could hint on the involvement of the same 'huchier' (chest-maker) or smith for the construction. The lock and original lid are still present. Different from the chest in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs is that the lid is in one piece and the use of extra decorative nails unconnected to any iron band. Height: 79 cm, length: 169 cm, depth: 67 cm.

The hutch from the Abbey of Saint Denis, the spiral and flower motif is similar to the other chest. Image from the collection website of the Musee Carnevalet, Paris, France.

This photo also shows the side and lid construction of the chest. The iron bands continue from the front to the back of the chest. Image scanned from the book 'Mobilier domestique, volume 1, vocabulaire / typologie' by Nicole de Reyniès.

The Noyon cathedral chests

Three large wooden chests with iron hinges exist which date from the twelfth and thirteenth century and originate from the Cathedral of Noyon. They can now be seen in the Le Musee du Noyonnais. All three chest are made of oak.

One of the three chests from the Cathedral of Noyon, dating from the late 12th early 13th century. Each side of the chest consists of a single oaken board, that connect to the other by rabbets and are secured by about 1mm thick iron bands. The chest has three locks of which two are of later addition. The fittings are made of flat iron about 1 mm thick. The decoration by the bands consists of circles, squares and split and curled ends. Both sides form a cross of Saint Andrew interrupted by a circle at its centre. The lid is made up of three layers of oak assembled with a flat-joint kept together by three hinges and two flat end irons. The chest has no feet. It has a length of 194 cm, a height of 5 cm.

A late 12th century oak chest with similar type of decoration as the chests from the Carnevalet museum and the Museum of Decorative Arts, but more sparsely added. The chest rests on four high feet between which horizontal boards are fitted. The sides of the chest are fastened by flat-joints and dowels. Only the bottom of the trunk, made up of three planks, is constructed with nuts and grooves.Three sets of horizontal ribbed hinges surround the four sides. The lid consists of three boards, fitted to the chest by different types of hinges. The central iron band is made up of volute stalks spread out widely. The trunk closes with three locks.The central lock, likely original, has two secret mechanisms that hide the keyhole. Two of the nails are push buttons; the first slides about 5 mm, and releases a part of the lid that clogs the entrance of the lock; The second push button then releases the keyhole in a similar way making it possible to insert the key. The two other locks with hasps, fastened on the outside of the chest, have no such noticeable peculiarities. Width 124 cm,  height 87 cm, and depth 74 cm.

This two-lidded chest dates between 1227 and 1254. The chest has a rectangular shape flaring towards the ground on low feet. The panels are thinned in the middle on the inside to lighten the trunk. The upper and lower ends act as crossbars and are two to three times thicker (45 mm on average). The panels assembled with flat joints and dowels. The feet hold the chest together with deep mortises secured by pins. The chest is divided into two equal volumes by a panel that fits in a vertical, slightly dovetailed groove made in the interior of the back and front panels. Each lid consists of two flat boards stiffened by two transverse bars. These bars are traversed by a metal pin functioning as a hinge. The lids stay open with the help of a bar that pivots in the thickness of the front foot. A locker originally existed on the left side; evidenced by two grooves and the axle holes of its lid. The base of the feet are decorated with two rows of chip carving. Two ribbed iron fittings develop in symmetrical curls below the locks. Width 187 cm, height 61 cm 61, and depth 57 cm.

Musee de Cluny Inv. No. CL 9323

The Musee de Cluny in Paris has a heavy oak chest that is completely covered (also the underside) in iron plates and fortified with iron bands. Most bands end with a flower motif. Also many of the nails have a decorative flower-head. On the sides of the chest are rings that help carrying the chest. Such a chest is reminiscent of the later war-chests that contained the money to pay the soldiers. The chest dates from the 14th century.

Front view of the iron chest. Height 90.5 cm, width 155 cm, depth 67.8 cm.

  Front and side view of the iron chest. 
Photo from the French museum photo collection website.

There is a double hasp for the lock. Most bands end in some flower motif, as well as some of the nails.

 The rings for carrying (or securing) the chest are visible from the side.

Finally, this manuscript shows how such an iron-bound chest (the ark) was transported and placed upon a pedestal (if it did not have legs of its own). Hs 2505 Speculum humanae salvationis, folio 20v. Universitats und landesmuseum Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany, early 14th century.