Piece of the Month IX

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

PIECE OF THE MONTH IX – CHEST

Collection: National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon (inv. 387 Mov)

Dates: 1490-1500

Provenance: Convent of the Saviour (Braga)

Local of Production: Portugal (?)

Dimensions: 68 cm in length × 148,5 cm in width x 79,5 cm in height

Weight: Unknown

Materials: Oak wood, iron fittings

Description: A large oak carved chest, with a front carved with four ornate ‘linenfold’ panels framed within moulded rails, and both sides with twin panels in the same style. The back is plain, as are the feet and the top. The lock-plate is sadly missing.

Front view of the chest.

Chests are the most ubiquitous, versatile, and useful pieces of medieval furniture, bar none. The wealthy owned dozens of different chests, for every type of use; the poor would own at least one, if they owned furniture at all.

In the Middle Ages, chests served simultaneously as storage units, as luggage, and even as tables, benches, beds and footstools. In some households, it wasn’t uncommon for people to sleep on top of low but long chests – apparently called almafreixes or almofreixes in Portuguese [1] -, in which their bedlinen, blankets and clothes were stored during the day [2].

How a chest was designed had much to do with its intended purpose. Chests made for travelling usually had no feet (sapatas), showed little decoration or ironwork, and could be covered in leather and feature domed lids to ward off the rain and the elements. Trunks and chests with legs, such as this one, were primarily suited for storage, since they kept their contents away from the dirty floor and any sort of vermin crawling about. Their flat lids would also make them useful for seating or other purposes, and their larger surfaces were ripe for decoration and embellishment. This partircular specimen is soberly decorated with ‘linenfold’ panels, an extremely popular pattern in furniture during the last quarter of the 15th century and well into the 16th century.

Side view of the chest, showing the side panels.

This chest’s size and provenance – a former female monastery – suggests that it would have been used to store linens and towels, and probably some liturgical objects as well. It was common to place herbs and flowers in the chest, to keep the linens smelling nice and fresh for longer.

As for building materials, oak was the perennial favourite all across Europe, including Portugal, due to its extreme durability. Other woods, such as walnut or poplar, were also frequently used for chestmaking, as was pine – in the mid 15th century, Lisbon’s Royal Arsenal had several pinewood chests for storing weapons [3]. Not particularly surprising, considering the large amounts of pine cut from Leiria’s Pinewood and smaller copses along the Atlantic coast.

[1] Santa Rosa de Viterbo, J. (1798). Elucidario das palavras, termos e phrazes, que em Portugal antigamente se usaram, e que hoje regularmente se ignoram, vol. 1. Lisboa: Na Officina de Simão Thaddeo Ferreira, p.. 99

[2] Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, p. 124.

[3] Monteiro, J. G. (2001). Armeiros e Armazéns nos Finais da Idade Média. Viseu: Palimage Editores, p. 69.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eames, P. (1977). Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century. Furniture History, 13. London: The Furniture History Society

Monteiro, J. G. (2001). Armeiros e Armazéns nos Finais da Idade Média. Viseu: Palimage Editores

Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press

Santa Rosa de Viterbo, J. (1798). Elucidario das palavras, termos e phrazes, que em Portugal antigamente se usaram, e que hoje regularmente se ignoram, vol. 1. Lisboa: Na Officina de Simão Thaddeo Ferreira

2 thoughts on “Piece of the Month IX

  1. Pingback: Peça do Mês IX

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