Friday, 8 December 2017

Christ as a 16th century woodworker by Hieronymous Wierix

Many woodworkers know the cover of the book 'The History of Woodworking Tools' by W.L. Goodman which displays a woodworking bench surrounded by all the possible tools that can be used with the woodworking trade. The engraving was the frontispiece of an early 16th century book by Hieronymus Wierix containing engravings of the Youth of Christ. Hieronymus Wierix (1553–1619) was a Flemish engraver born in Antwerp as the son of Anton Wierix, a painter, but also known as a cabinet maker. Both Hieronymous, as well as his brothers Johannes (1520-1572) and Anton II are knon as engravers. It is thought that Hieronymus and Johannes were trained as artist by a goldsmith, while the younger Anton II received his training by his  older brother. The Wierix brothers started their career making engravings after works of known artist like Albrecht Dürer (e.g. an engraving of Dürers Melancholica by one of the Wierix brothers exists). The Wierix brothers became employed by the Antwerp publisher Christopher Plantin. However, they had a notorious reputation for disorderly conduct. Plantin complained in 1587 that whoever wanted to employ the Wierix brothers had to look for them in the taverns, pay their debts and fines and recover their tools, since they would have pawned them. Plantin also wrote that after having worked for a few days the brothers would return to the tavern; the publisher regularly had to repay their debts. 

The frontispiece of the book 'The youth of Christ' by Hieronymous Wierix with a workbench and many woodworking tools. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1898-A-19903.


The youth of Christ

Despite their disorderly behaviour, they produced a large number of engravings of which the book 'The youth of Christ' (published around 1563, perhaps ordered by Joachim de Buschere) is of particular interest to us. As mentioned in the bible, Jesus grew up with Maria and Joseph, the last one being a carpenter. Not surprising that a lot of medieval 'holy family' images involve Joseph as a carpenter, Jesus as a young apprentice (sweeping shavings) and Maria doing some spinning or sewing.  Would a book on the early years of Christ perhaps also involve some carpentry? This is indeed the case. The book contains at least nine plates of Jesus with woodworking activities, excluding the frontispiece. As Hieronymous did know the woodworking trade from his father, all the tools and scenes are very - correctly - detailed. 

Thanks to the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) where the originals are kept, and the online versions can be found for free in the Rijksstudio. Here some smaller versions of the engravings are presented. As my knowledge of Latin is zero, I am unfortunately not be able to translate the the text below each engraving.

Starting with a felled tree, it is cut into shorter pieces by a two-handed belly saw by Joseph and Jesus. An angel holds a rule and an axe is found on the ground. The tree is resting on an X-frame. Maria is sitting at a spinning wheel. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-792. 

The tree is being squared by Joseph with an axe. Jesus collect the wood chips and almost gets his head chopped of if not for the protection of the angle. Maria is winding the spinned thread on a wheel. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-790.


Next, boards have to be sawn from the squared tree. Jesus and Joseph are sawing together using a large frame saw (the pit saw). Christ also keeps a large rule next to him. One the ground a variety of tools can be found: a mallet, a square, an axe, a chisel and a compass; and near Joseph a hammer and wedge. The angels check if the wood is straight, while Maria is spinning by hand. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-793

Now the house can be built. Joseph is hammering trenails into the frame of the house with a mallet (as does one angel). Jesus drill holes in the frame with an auger, wile another angel produces the trenails with a chisel. On the right a workbench can be seen with more tools: two planes, an axe, a rule and brace. Note between the plane and the brace is some almost undefinable tool. The form suggest this is a holdfast. Furthermore, the workbench has one leg set at an angle. Maria is winding thread spools. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1898-A-19907.


The house being built, it now needs a roof. Joseph is kneeling on a scaffold and hammering nails using a metal hammer. Jesus is bringing some lattice rails to him. On the bottom right, the same workbench as before with a frame saw, plane, axe, mallet and chisel. Note that the workbench has a hole (next to the axe handle) where a holdfast would perfectly fit. Under the handle of the mallet likely a bench dog or a holdfast can be seen. Maria is breaking flax. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1898-A-19908.


The house is ready, now the garden wall has to be erected. Joseph drives in the stakes with a mallet, while Jesus nails the horizontal rails with a hammer with help of two angels. One the left bottom, the workbench is seen with a frame saw, a chisel and a holdfast. One the ground a brace (piercer) is seen. Maria makes a flower crown. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1898-A-19909.



Inside the house, we now get a view of the workshop op Joseph. The top shelf contains numerous block and moulding planes and a box with some tools (pincer). The rail below holds a compass, and a set of gouges and chisels. On a pin beneath hang two different types of squares. On another pin on the right are two frame saws. Against the pile of wood, also the blade of a two-handed saw is seen. Joseph is working with a foreplane on the workbench. Also on the workbench, a holdfast and a gauge are seen. Meanwhile Jesus enjoys himself blowing soap bubbles and Maria and Anna are preparing cloth with a scissor. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1898-A-19905.


Another scene of the inside of house with Maria cooking and Jesus sweeping the floor. An angel is gathering the wood that Joseph is splitting outside with a maul and wedge. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-791.

 Finally, to be able to do some fishing a boat is made. Joseph is hamming nails into the board planks, while Jesus and the angles do some caulking. On the ground a two-handed saw and an spoon auger, while on the boat itself a brace and an adze are found. Maria seems to be knitting. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-OB-66.866.





Other engravings with woodworking tools

The making of the cross also needs some woodworking tools and they are frequently depicted in crucifixion scenes. The engravings of Hieronymous Wierix on this theme are no exception. Usually the tools are present or carried in a wicker basket/toolbox.

In these two engravings the child Jesus is already carrying the cross together with the tool basket.
 In it are a hammer, brace and pincer.
Images by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-OB-66.883 and RP-P-1926-686.

Three scenes from the crucifixion. The carpenter has a two-handed saw, brace, pincer, chisel, claw-hammer. The scene where the cross is prepared has two carpenters working with a brace. They use their breast to give pressure on the drill. Images by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-110, RP-P-OB-66.824 and RP-P-1911-492.

Other Saints

Hieronymous Wierix are made a series of engravings of Saints and Apostles, one of which is Saint Thomas. Unfortunately, Thomas does not carry a square or compass here, but only the spear. Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1984-26.

Johannis Wierix

Johannis, the brother of Hieronymous has a different style of engraving. Also he has made an engraving with woodworking tools.

The flight to Egypt. Joseph carries the tools of his trade with him in a wicker basket on a large two-handed saw resting on his shoulder. The basket contains a brace, chisel, square, compass and a mallet. 
Image by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-1904-1221.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Thomasguild live on radio at the Engelanderholt

Bram explaining the construction of the klaarbank at the Herenhul during the 'Gelredag'. 
Photo Omroep Gelderland (twitter Ridders van Gelre).

Remember the medieval 'klaarbank' or judicial court at the Herenhul or Engelanderholt on which we did a project for the 'Geldersch Landschap and Kastelen' or GLK (see some previous posts)?  Well we were contacted again by the GLK for this historical place. The local radio and TV channel (Omroep Gelderland) has a ongoing series called 'Ridders van Gelre' ('Knights of Gelre') on the history of our province. This time they made a TV show that featured the medieval judicial court at the Engelanderholt. This TV show is always followed by a live radio event the next Saturday at the premises, where several lectures are given and the site can be visited. We were the most likely candidates to visualize the klaarbank ...

The announcement on the website of Omroep Gelderland for the Gelredag at 
'the most important site of Gelderland during the Middle Ages.

Setting up a 'klaarbank' early in the morning for only a few hours and then dismantling it again is a daunting challenge - in medieval times it took at least 2 weeks to construct it. So what we did instead was making a live-size rope model of the court, which gives a good impression of size and height of the klaarbank. Omroep Gelderland (ridder Rene) was present when we set up the rope model, as well as when the first group of visitors arrived. The GLK provided some staff that helped with the construction, as well as some fresh cut saplings that could be used as stakes. A motor saw was used to cut the saplings at length, while a motor drill was used to dig the holes for the stakes. The layout of the klaarbank, however, was done using medieval tools: a rope with 13 knots (to make a 3-4-5 triangle with a 90 degree edge), a rule and a level. The  klaarbank model was ready before the visitors came; we even had some time for coffee.

The live-size rope model of the judicial court. The ropes are at the height of the seating or the platform. The rope ladders show where the stairs are. The stakes at the corners are 4 m high, the height of the walls of the klaarbank.

Clockwise: The side of the klaarbank with the stairs to the platform of the councillors and the Ducal seat. The registrar and the scribe are ready behind the table (with the medieval tools). Katinka with two staff of the GLK next behind the line where the accused stood. Showing the complete size of the klaarbank.

Interestingly, one of the visitors was a local who remembered that the stone at the Herenhul used stand on a different site some hundred meters away, and was moved  to its current place when the nearby motorway A1 was constructed. It appeared that this place was not so historically accurate after all...
Visitors at the Herenhul during the Gelredag. Photo Omroep Gelderland (Twitter Ridders van Gelre).
Photo Omroep Gelderland (Twitter Ridders van Gelre).

Monday, 30 October 2017

A 15th century oak chest panel

Two 15th century from a recent auction and another one bought several years ago at ebay.
The two panels are 45.5 cm high and 20 cm wide and around 1 cm thick.

It is interesting to look at medieval internet auctions and see whether they have some interesting pieces for sale. Mostly, they are above my budget, but this time they had some affordable pieces at Le Prunier Auction: several 15th century French oak panels were for sale. I did a bid for a pair of panels that originated from a chest and won it! Some weeks ago they arrived at home. One of them was in a bad shape - which I knew from the auction photo - with some woodworm holes. As I did not know whether the panel was treated or not, they went for a cure for some weeks into the freezer to kill the bugs.

Wrapped in plastic the panels just fitted into the freezer. 
A few weeks at -20 degrees Celcius is enough to kill any woodworm inside.

The best panel of the two.

A few details of the panels: the roses of the the top.

The gothic windows and the rose in the circle at the bottom.

Compare this with the rose details of my other 15th century panel.

Woodworm vandalism on the other panel.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Medieval furniture at Chateau Langeais: dressoirs and armoires

There is more to see at Chateau Langeais than tables, benches and chairs. For instance, cupboards, buffets, dressoirs and armoires (see medieval furniture dictionary). Below is the photographic tour of the castle concerning these furniture types.

This beautiful 6-sided early 16th century livery cupboard was luckily a bit damaged. That is, for me, because it allowed some views of the construction that would otherwise not be possible. The dressoir only stands on four legs.

The sides of the dressoir. The wooden nails in the frame are clearly visible. The top of the dressoir consists of three wooden boards.

The dressoir has only one door, with openwork hinges and lock. Above and under the lock are two faces of men with hats and ruffs, typically worn in the early 16th century.

 Left: The front of the drawer. The two front 'legs' end here in an ornamented knob. Right: The underside of the drawer. At the end a wooden block is placed as a stopper.

Left: Another view of the underside of the drawer. It rests upon two rails. Right: One of the lower side panel was broken, allowing a view inside. You can see the rail on which the drawer rests and the stopper block at the end. Also the groove of the side panel can be seen and the bottom of the cupboard above.
The top has a simple ornamented rim attached to it.

 A small but high six-sided  stepped buffet with a canopy and shelves that can be used to display silverware. 
The buffet is made in the late 15th century.

The canopy has a barrel-shaped roof  and the vertical stiles end in woman's faces

The stepped buffet consists of two loose parts: the display shelf with the canopy and the cupboard with the under shelf.  The backside has two heraldic shields which also appear on the cupboard below.

 The door of the cupboard with two heraldic shields.
 Also at the end of the drawer the vertical rails end in woman's heads.

The bottom shelf has six feet.

A four-sided livery cupboard with two doors and no drawers.

The side panels of the dressoir are carved in linenfold pattern.

 A small armoire with double doors. All panels are carved in linenfold pattern.
The top of the armoire consists of two boards.

A large armoire with two large doors and two smaller ones on top. The armoire only has linenfold panels at the front.

The armoire in a bedroom in the castle.

 A low livery cupboard / table with two small doors.

Likely not medieval, existing in medieval times: a baby walker and a cradle.