Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Burden of Conjecture

Here I am in near full armor doing a lecture/demonstration of medieval weaponry
 for a seventh grade class from the area. 

I've been working on notes and writing pages for a book on Medieval furniture for a long while now. Nearly too long. The issues I've had were several including the subject matter itself. I am interested in writing the book on medieval furniture that I, as a reenactor/recreationist, have always wanted to read. That carries the weight of several burdens. 

The Biggest Burden: Conjecture. Conjecture is a necessary evil, short of installing a Flux Capacitor in my pickup and going back in time to see it done for real, you have to make assumptions on history based on personal experience. One of the reasons I wear armor that's as accurate as possible and have studied and practiced the combat techniques documented in period fight manuals, (they do exist) was to expand my personal experience and reign in many of those assumptions. 

The issue with building medieval furniture, at least the stuff I'm interested circa pre-1300's, is that most of it is simply gone. There are some examples around, held tight by the museums or private collections  that own them, but the chance to experience a piece in that state, well it's difficult for a man living on this side of the pond. 

I want to write a book about pieces that have a connection to reenactors today. There needs to be the right provenance. I feel uniquely qualified to write this book, but finding the right subjects to study and build has been a slippery slope to scale. What I needed was good source material and it was sitting right in front of me the whole time. 

There is a document known as the Maciejowski Bible (it also goes by the names the Morgan Bible or the Crusader's Bible) Basically it's a picture bible that dates to somewhere between 1240 and 1250 AD. Think Medieval comic book based on the Old Testament. The really cool thing is instead of depicting the figures as being from biblical times, all flowing togas and sandals, the stories are illustrated as contemporary figures, (contemporary for 1250AD). 


It has been studied and discussed ad nauseam by medieval scholars and enthusiasts It's been an accepted source material for representations of armor, weapons, table wear, clothing, and to some extent customs. As near as I can find, nobody has looked seriously at the document as a resource for the furniture. 

This then becomes my intention, my quest if you will. I've spent the majority of my free hours over the winter studying scans of the pages available online and looking for every scrap of furniture present and there is some cool stuff hidden in the pages, some with high detail. I've drawn out several measured drawings based on the images and what I know about furniture construction. Conjecture . . .yes, but guided conjecture with purpose. 

I've identified ten separate pieces in the pages. My goal for the next several months is to build at least eight of these pieces, document the process thoroughly, and write them up into a manuscript over the winter months. For certain I will be writing about some of the process and pieces here. But before I get into the furniture I wanted to show a couple things I found interesting. 


The first is Noah building the Ark. He is obviously hewing a riven plank and there is another axe and spoon auger in the foreground. The workbench he's using is of a variety I hear refereed to as Roman, but I believe was fairly ubiquitous in Medieval Europe until the upswing of full blown cabinetmaking. Two things are especially interesting to me here. The first is the saw bench supporting the Ark up off the ground. I like the simple design and I'm certain I've seen Chris Schwarz build one that could be mistaken for it. 

The second thing is the plank supported on edge to the workbench. I'd say its unclear for certain if Noah is hewing the board he has one leg proped up on or the board supported on the bench, but I have not seen a historical representation of a board supported for edge work on a bench such as this. I'm not sure if the upright bits are clamping the board or just dogs supporting the backside. 


The next is a scene of masons at work erecting a tower I like this because it shows workmen in their clothes and more tools. Including this beauty. . . 



While I was busy making squares I figured I should go ahead and make a copy of this one too. 


My first step on the journey complete. Now to simply continue to put one foot before the other. 


Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

9 comments:

  1. And here it is. The original. Nice.

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  2. Replies
    1. I am not SCA. I am part of an independent group. Some of us have been doing this since 1995. Almost 20 years of research.

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  3. Wow. You are one scary looking dude in armor - and it looks awesome! I love that sort of thing - did your make your own armor and sword or do you limit yourself to woodworking?

    And, in order to keep this on-topic, I had never noticed the small details of this or any other medieval manuscript. For example, the saw-bench-like appliance that is holding up the ark. Very illuminating - so to speak.

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    1. While I have woven maile together in the past it is a time consuming process. Besides the maile I'm wearing in this shot is riveted. That means every little round link has been joined closed with a small wedge shaped rivet. Too much work for me.

      The other parts of my armor have been collected from a couple of artisans.

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  4. What is the purpose of the carving on the handle of the stonemason's square? It looks a bit like a hook for dragging stones across one's bench but doubt it is.

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    1. I can't say for certain, but these types of decorative ends are not uncommon in representations of wooden squares I've seen. Often they seem to represent a cross section of moulding. But I don't think it's purely decorative. I think it's a way of exposing more endgrain which makes the wood more stable from seasonal movement. You see the same concept in both wooden straightedges that people make and in old wooden planes that needed stability to work well, like an old wooden coffin smoother.

      The end grain theory isn't mine, I've read about it in a couple places. It's really just me using the theory to apply to something else that seems related.

      The bevels around the hook are completely fabricated by me and my imagination, but they do look nice and help the square fit well in the hand.

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