Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Medieval Leather Caskets

This beauty turned up in my feed today, from the Cleveland Museum of Art:


This is a gorgeous casket that dates between 1350-1400.  It's a French casket made of wood but decorated with iron mounts and incised leather.  Needless to say that as a leatherworker myself, I find it really interesting to see some of the techniques I use in my workshop now being put into practice by folks centuries before!  I've often thought about making something similar, but this is definitely giving me the shove to.

It's dimensions are h:  4 1/8" (10.5cm), w: 9 7/8" (25.2cm) d:  7 7/16" (19cm).  This particular box would have been commissioned by someone who had money -- probably aristocratic in nature.  It has a scene of romantic love stamped into the surface, which means it was likely given as a love token or betrothal gift.  The box features banderoles, with text written in Old French with mutual expressions of love.  On the lid of the box, the lady asks "Hold my heart".  The man on the lid replies "But you already have it".  On the front of the box, the man is shown holding a heart saying "have it once more".

These boxes were usually created for the secular market and used for storing personal items such as books, documents, letters or jewelry.  Often wooden cored boxes were guilded or covered with ivory or leather.  In Germany, they were referred to as "minnekastchen" or "minneskästchen".  Below is a similar minnekastchen  from Germany, dated between 1351-1375.


The picture is from http://www.jmrw.com/Chess/Tableau_echecs/pages/198.htm, but it doesn't have a whole lot of info on the page.  It simply states that the box shows a man and a woman playing chess.  This box looks like it's been carved from wood with a cutaway wood layer over the top, which itself has been painted.  The site does, however, provide a closeup of the detail:


We can see in close up that both carry birds, which are noble signifiers, though I've no idea about the chap's strange green outfit.  Answers on a postcard, anyone?

Either way, these boxes are awesome little things.  If you'd like to read more about them, there's a really good site for it (with lots of pictures) over here:  http://thomasguild.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/kolner-minnekastchen.html

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