Monday, December 12, 2016

The Utrceht Psalter and its furnishings - Part III

This is part three of a a series of posts in which we are examining the furniture from the 9th century Utrecht Psalter and comparing it to other contemporary illustrations, and actual objects. These posts have been going through an alphabetical listing of the various types of furniture depicted therein and we have now come to 'O' or, 'Ordinary Chairs', as I have termed them. I am here making the distinction between "ordinary chairs" and other types of chairs which are also depicted in this Psalter.

There are four such illustrations, two of them clearly depict wooden chairs with turned posts, one is too vague to be certain of its intended construction or material, and the last clearly depicts one made of metal. (bronze being the most likely candidate for this)


One of three depictions of a common  turned wooden chair in the
Utrecht Psalter


Ordinary chairs are here defined as those which have a form similar to a modern kitchen type of chair, namely having a back made from two "posts" extending up from the rear legs and connected to one another by one or more horizontal slats or rails. These connecting rails may have additional vertical elements inserted between them. Generally these chairs are further distinguished by a relatively smaller size and lighter construction. In one of my earliest posts on this blog I did an entire article on the topic of the "ordinary" chair, so do not need to repeat it all again, but I want to refresh a couple points from it.

Chairs were not solely reserved for persons of high rank and stature as is the commonly held myth; there are dozens of medieval illustrations which prove this. I go into some detail of this point in the above mentioned article, but I attach here one poignant example as evidence for those who do not have the time to read that article.


This picture alone should dispel most myths about chairs in the Middle Ages
especially regarding their supposed limited use to elite and prestigious persons

In June of last year (2015) I featured a group of furniture found in a grave site in Trossingen, Germany which included a simple turned wooden chair much like those depicted in the Psalter. Recently St Thomas Guild, a fellow website dedicated to things of the late Middle Ages, posted a recent archaeological find of a group of fragments comprising the remains of a chair which seems to have been discarded around the middle of the 13th century. This chair is again very much like the 6th century one and the 9th century illustrations; and such chairs continued to be made well into the 18th century in rural places


A piece of  chair discovered in an excavation in Shiedam, The Netherlands;
it seems to have been discarded on a farm sometime around 1250.

A pair of 18th century Dutch chairs. The main difference in these chairs, as
compared to the medieval examples would be in the profile of the turnings.
From about 1300 years earlier, there is a definite
connection between this design and that of the
18th century chairs pictured above

I think it would be fairly safe to assume that any given time throughout the medieval period a chair like these would have been found in most any but the poorest of houses. The key difference would be in the level of ornamentation. These two excavated examples give us actual objects to see, but they do not convey their original appearance; certainly any paint or other means of decoration they once exhibited has been lost, leaving a tattered ghost of their former selves.


A lightweight chair made of metal is represented
by this illustration



The fourth chair in this group is different than the others, and seems to represent a chair made of metal rods. Bronze was the primary material used for furniture in the Roman world, and it seems that the tradition of its use continued during the Middle Ages. The famed "Dagobert Chair" now in the Bibliotheque National Facnce is perhaps the most famous but not the only example still in existence. There are many surviving roman curule and and "X frame" roman chairs which exhibit the same sort of construction as is represented her but I have not, so far, come across any example of an actual surviving object of this form. There are however a couple other 9th century manuscripts which also portray this form of chair


In the complete version of this page from a 9th century manuscript are
pictured four metal frame chairs similar to the one in the Utrecht Psalter

Unfortunately, like all of the other furniture in this Psalter, and indeed in most medieval manuscripts, there is not any real details to go on, we simply see a form, and representation of a type. It would be most interesting to find further evidence of such chairs, but unlike the "Dagober" chair, these were relatively simple and their use as bronze material would have been much more valuable once they had become outmoded or worn out.


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