medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
From: Genevra Kornbluth <[log in to unmask]>
>a 14th/15th-c. wooden reliquary with attached pilgrim and secular
> The last object was brought to my attention by Sarah Blick, who will be
publishing it soon. The curator at Tournai suggested that some of the
badges might illustrate the Roman de la Rose. Any comments?
i know nothing of iconography, which i recently heard was a BORING subject
--though my natural proclivity towards Caution would make me reluctant to
characterize any of those metal artifacts depicting a woman engaged in
conversation with a tonsured monk as "secular" (unless, of course, her name
the fabrication of the box is something which i do know a bit about, however,
and i would best characterize that as "rather crude," certainly not the work
of a professional cabinet- or box-maker.
it appears to be of sawn --rather than "riven" (split)-- oak.
the type of wood is just a guess, suggested by the color and grain of the wood
--as oak ages the tannin in the wood darkens it (even if it rather light
"white oak") to that lovely warm brown color.
at first glance i just assumed that those are "rays" --the darker colored,
smooth "bands" running across the main grain-- which are particularly visible
on the inside of the back wall
if i were to make a box like this from scratch i would begin with a "bolt" of
wood --a small "log" cut to the length i needed and with its "heartwood" well
more than twice the diameter of the widest pieces of wood i would need (here,
the bottom and top of the box).
for a box this size, a piece of the main trunk would not be needed --a large
tree branch of sufficient size and straight enough would be sufficient.
i would then "rive" (split) the bolt through its center and down its length
into successively thinner "shakes" (which would be triangular in plan) until i
got down to about the thickness i wanted.
then i would split off both the (outer) "sap wood" and the inside corner of
the triangle (closest to the center) until i got, roughly, the thickness of
board i needed at the thinnest end of the.
i would then plane the boards down from their trapezoidal (formerly
triangular) thickness shape to a rectangular one.
(this takes a lot longer to describe this process than it does to actually do
but i don't think that is what our "craftsman" here did.
he seems to have *sawn* the boards from the bolt *length wise.*
this is a rather tedious process (since the wood "likes" to be split down its
grain rather than laboriously sawn).
the saw was worked at a diagonal to the grain of the wood, as can be seen here
in the more-or-less regular diagonal "kerfs" (marks made by the teeth of the
saw), running from upper left to lower right:
the longitudinal striations are a bit puzzling --the only thing i can think of
is that they were made with a plane "bit" (blade) which had quite a lot of
nicks in it.
[Note Genevra: "raking" light is best for catching surface details like
those nicks would leave rough striations like that; but there sure are a *lot*
of them. no professional box maker would have a plane bit in that condition
(in addition to the crappy finish it would leave, it would be hard as the
devil to use, since the edges of the nicks are *dull* and don't cut the wood,
only tear it, hence the roughness of the striations).
in any case, no professional would leave a piece of wood looking like that.
the general roughness of the surfaces of the wood suggests to me that it was
originally intended to have been covered with something --colored cloth
(think: Red velvet) i should suspect, which would provide a nice background
for the open work of the "badges" and, particularly, the roundels-- which
would have the added advantage of covering up the roughness and irregularities
of the surfaces visible on all the boards.
the multiple (identical, note) "badges" and the roundels (identical, note) are
all attached by nails which are "clinched" (bent over) on the inside --a
somewhat crude method of attaching them.
are of the simplest type imaginable --just bent nails or pieces of thick wire
strung through two holes in lid and back.
the corners of the box are not "joined," i.e., joined together with cut joints
(such as "dovetails") or even set in rabbits/rebates
but the ends of the boards of the ends are just "butted" against the sides and
held there with small nails
in at least one case a nail has "run out" into the interior of the box
that particular shot of the inside also shows very nicely that the box was put
together when the wood was still "green" --wood shrinks as it drys out and it
shrinks more in its width than it does in its length.
which is why the bottom no longer "fits" --note the wide "cracks" running down
the bottom as it (now) fails to meet with the sides.
again, no self-respecting box maker would put together something like that
--and if his apprentice did, that hapless young fellow would get his ears
"boxed" (hence, the little-known origin of the phrase).
the (rather crude) vertical rabbets (groves) in both ends
would appear to have been intended to receive a thin board which would have
partitioned the interior into two parts, of unequal size (the narrowest in
what the devil the groove in the bottom (of only one end) here
was intended for, i haven't the foggiest clue.
the less said about the pathetic attached mortice for the "lock"
the 10 identical (pewter, i assume) "badges"
and the 2 identical roundels
are typical of the genre --stylistically-- and can be seen in the overwhelming
majority of artifacts of this type.
this ain't "high art," folks, neither in its conception nor in its execution
--it is no more the work of a professional "ymaginier" than the box is that of
a professional box maker.
indeed the general crudeness of its manu-facture and the style, fabrication
and repetition of both the tin "roundels" and "badges" suggest to me that we
are in the presence of an ad hoc piece of "Folk Art," rather than any sort of
seriously thought-out artifact.
certainly not one commissioned by any substantial ecclesiastical institution
but, what do i know?
not one with enough sense to wait for Sarah's article to come out, obviously.
To join the list, send the message: join medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: leave medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site: