medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
In answer to Christopher Crockett's post regarding the reliquary
I became quite interested in the construction of the box while
photographing it-- hence the number of interior and technical shots.
Sarah Blick refers to the thing as 'home-made', and it is certainly much
cruder than the average museum fare. Many tool marks normally polished
away are still visible, and since I was (most unusually) allowed to open
and move the box around, I photographed them.
Iconography: Secular iconography was suggested on site. I believe that
the possibility was raised in part because of the shield badge. I saw no
scratching on its surface that would give hints of a former device. I do
not know terribly much about badges-- were they sometimes painted? If
so, perhaps a device was painted on. The man who confronts the female
figure on another badge (row 3 no. 1) is not in fact visibly tonsured,
though he wears what appears to be a cowl. (Henk, is that correct?) His
hair is unarticulated at the top of the head, but there is no sharp edge
setting off a shaven area (as on row 3 no. 3), and the hair is just a
There is actually another iconographic issue among the badges. The
display label in Tournai identifies the scenes depicted in the lid
roundels (row 2, nos. 3 and 4) as the Annunciation, Nativity,
Visitation, and Mary at the foot of the cross: 4 scenes from the life of
Mary. The lower left scene, however, clearly shows the bearded Christ
embraced by a profile figure with lips pushed out. I interpret that
scene as the Betrayal, not the Visitation.
CC: it appears to be of sawn --rather than "riven" (split)-- oak. he seems to have *sawn* the boards from the bolt *length wise.* 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
I decline to identify the wood on my web page because I do not have
authoritative information on it. It looks like oak to me as well, and
the file at Tournai specifies oak, but the display label there talks
about cypress wood. I too noticed the marks of the saw, precisely what I
was documenting in those close shots of the lid interior (row 4, nos. 4
CC: [Note Genevra: "raking" light is best for catching surface details like this.]
Yes, raking light is needed to show them: I used sharply raking light
here, and made a composite of 3 different exposures for each image to
get a reasonably large area of the wood. That raking light of course
exaggerates the roughness of the wood, which is actually smooth to the
touch. This is rather like documenting drypoint marks on parchment,
which are normally just barely visible but can be made quite prominent
in a photo.
CC: 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.
If you compare the close views with the more comprehensive shots of the
whole inside of the lid (row 4, nos. 2 and 3), you will see that the
striations are simply the long grain of the wood.
CC: 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.
Interesting idea! But I did not see (and do not now see in my photos)
the extra holes that the nails/tacks holding such cloth would surely
CC: the multiple (identical, note) "badges" and the roundels (identical, note)
Yes, the roundels are (or rather were before damage) identical. There
are 3 versions of the 2-figure group, in multiples:
row 2 no. 5: left figure with profile face and 3/4-view body; right
figure with arms extended out from body
row 3 nos. 2 and 3: left figure with profile face and 3/4-view body;
right figure with arms held close to face
row 3 no. 1: left figure, clearly female, fully in 3/4 view; right
figure fully in 3/4 view, arms both visible rather than one hidden by
The architectural framework around each 2-figure group is a separate piece.
CC: are all attached by nails which are "clinched" (bent over) on the inside --a somewhat crude method of attaching them....in at least one case a nail has "run out" into the interior of the box
Yes, quite a few nails penetrate all the way through the wood, and many are bent over-- again, hardly high-quality professional work!
CC: the "hinges" ...are of the simplest type imaginable --just bent nails or pieces of thick wire strung through two holes in lid and back.
Yes, "wire hinges" as I label them. If you look at the back/lid view (row 1, no. 5) you can see the twisted wire on the outside.
CC: 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 front).
Actually, the groove on one side (row 5, no. 1) is at the front of the box, and on the other side (row 5, no. 2) at the back, so they cannot have made a partition as you describe it. I think that those grooves, and the one on the interior of the base, may well be evidence of a previous use of the boards. That idea would, of course, depend on reading the gaps on the bottom as the result of something other than the shrinking of green wood.
CC: the less said about the pathetic attached mortice for the "lock" the better.
I found that wood-work quite interesting precisely because of its unofficial appearance. It seems to me that a non-professional has come up with a rather ingenious mechanism for keeping the box closed, one that uses an absolute minimum of metal (as do the wire hinges). The latch is a thin metal bar that slides from one side to the other (row 5 no. 5/row 6 no. 1). When slid over the notch in the box's front panel, it probably went into the metal catch on the lid (row 4 no. 5), which you can see through a break in the wood when the box is closed (row 1 no. 4). (I did not have quite enough chutzpah to force the lid all the way down, to see whether it would still work.) The thin bar has a small protrusion on the bottom (more visible in row 5 no. 4) that would have allowed it to be pushed to either side. There is a small hole through the wood of the box's front panel, within the borders of the center badge, the dark shadow above the right figure (row 3 no. 1); from above, you can see how it lines up with the interior catch mechanism (row 5 no. 3). No terribly elaborate key would be necessary, but something had to be inserted into that hole and turned in order to move the thin bar to the 'open' position.
CC: this ain't "high art," folks
No, indeed, but for me that is one of the things that makes it interesting. After all, when the grand prelates were commissioning reliquaries of gold and jewels, and the rich lay folk were wearing elaborate reliquary pendants, what was everyone else doing? During this last trip I photographed several reliquaries made with wood rather than metalwork and horn rather than rock crystal-- all to be in my archive once processed.
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