Piece of the Month X

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


Collection: National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon (inv. 1382 Mov)

Dates: 1490-1500

Provenance: Unknown – donation from the José de Figueiredo collection (1938)

Local of Production: Portugal (?)

Dimensions: Estimated: ca. 150 cm in length × 80 cm in width

Weight: Unknown

Materials: Oak wood, iron fittings

Description: Carved oak door, made up of six panels decorated with a linenfold pattern, set in a plain frame. Small lock, possibly contemporary with the rest of the door.

Front view of the door. Photo © José Sena Goulão/Agência Lusa

During the Middle Ages, storage is paramount in any domestic space. Over the last month, I’ve shown that chests were the most frequent and versatile pieces of medieval furniture in any medieval dwelling precisely because of this; but they were far from being the only of safeguarding one’s belongings. One frequent solution was to create niches and cupboards in the thick walls themselves – all space-saving solutions without spending extra dosh on furniture.

Unlike standalone cupboards, dressers and armoires, which were large and expensive pieces of furniture – so rare, for that reason, that António de Oliveira Marques said there were no traces of them in medieval Portuguese documentation [1] – creating a compartment in a wall and closing it off with a door was relatively affordable. This ingenious solution lent itself to a myriad of spaces and uses: cupboards and shelves for personal effects in rooms large and small, cupboards for liturgical objects in churches, storage for books in a scriptorium or library, or even storing weapons in arsenals [2]…

A portrait of Simon de Hesdin, translator of the volume Facta et dicta memorabilia by Valerius Maximus, busy at work. In the background are two wall niches with doors, one of which is open and showing its contents. Detail of the manuscript Facta et dicta memorabilia (ca. 1479).

The door you see here, skilfully crafted in expensive wood, would’ve closed a niche in a wealthy space, though we do not know which exactly. Much like the chest I presented last month, this door shows linenfold panels, one of the most widespread decorative woodwork patterns between the late 15th and mid-16th centuries. It would have been closed with a simple lock, which does indicate that it would have protected valuable items, since locks weren’t always present in wall cupboards. This particular door, however, is fitted with two farming boards that extend downwards, forming what would have been legs in furniture – potentially hinting at the fact that this piece would have been part of a standalone cupboard and not a wall cupboard, contrary to what the National Museum of Ancient Art stated. Even so, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and maintain the designation the NMAA decided to give it.

As with other furniture, these pieces could be made of various woods, oak being the most fashionable choice. Unlike more, shall we say, ‘mobile’ pieces of furniture, these cupboard doors were placed directly against the walls, which meant that they had to be made of materials resistant to the humidity that often plagued medieval spaces – harder woods, therefore, which would bend less with time and use.

[1] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros, p. 107. Oliveira Marques must’ve forgotten a letter by D. Pedro, son of King D. João I and Regent between 1439-1448, in which D. Pedro denounced the poor conservation of weapons in Portuguese castles “for the lack of three or four boards with which to make a cupboard” in which to store them. In Monteiro, J. G. (2001). Armeiros e Armazéns nos Finais da Idade Média. Viseu: Palimage Editores, p. 25.

[2] As per the previous note.


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. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros


Facta et dicta memorabilia (ca. 1479). London: British Library,  Royal 18 E III


One thought on “Piece of the Month X

  1. Pingback: Peça do Mês X

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