Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Multilingual medieval furniture dictionary: storage furniture

This is the second part of the multilingual medieval furniture dictionary and it will cover medieval furniture types in which you can store things. The first part has been posted a while ago and covered seating furniture.

Several remarks can be made on storage furniture. First, there are many types of  medieval furniture that have a dual function, for instance the high armchair is primarily used for seating, but often has a storage compartment underneath the seating. This seating/storage combination furniture type can be found in part one of the dictionary, and will not be dealt here. Other combinations, like table and storage or writing and storage will dealt with in future parts of the multilingual medieval furniture dictionary.

A 'stepped' buffet with 4 stages behind the dais. Miniature from Les Faiz du Grand Alexandre, ca. 1469-1470. Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris, ms. fr. 22457, fol 1r.

The names for medieval furniture types is different in medieval times, than nowadays. Modern names are more often given based of a specific form (e.g. dug-out chest, slab-ended chest), whereas in medieval times name were given to the specific function (e.g. clothing chest, book chest) irrespective of how the piece of furniture looked like - with the exception of the number of locks, or if it was bound with iron. This is especially the case with storage furniture. Consequently many types of medieval storage furniture have identical names. The French terms Bahut and Malle are often found in connection with chests used for travelling. They are so-called "over"-chests, made of wicker, leather or cloth. They were used to protect the actual chest. They are not as such in the dictionary below.

Medieval chests commonly have a fitted till or a small box in the interior on one of the sides, which was used to store small items or documents in. The armoire, the cupboard and many other storage furniture - certainly the mural cupboards - had boards or shelves to divide them in parts. These shelves could be covered in canvas to protect the items on the planks. Also rods for hanging clothes were found inside armoires and curtains to keep the dust out. The latter is often found in connection with an aumbry in which food was stored. The following note from the inventory of the Philip the Bold from 1386 gives a good account of the inside of an armoire:
Andrieu de ternay, charpentier, demourant a Arras, donne quittance le 2 decembre, de 17 fr. a lui dus pour la vendue d'unes aumaires faites de bois et d'aix de chesnes de 14 piez long, a 4 estaiges, doublee dedens, de toille de canevas, pour mectra les bacinez et le harnoiz de Mgr.; et pour mectra une verge de fer et pour toille faire par devant lesd. aumaires une maniere de custodes.
(Andrieu de Ternay, carpenter of Arras, paid 17 fr. for an armoire made of wood and of oak planks, 14 feet long with 4 shelves lined inside with 'canevas' (a coarse cloth), for storing the Duke's helmets and armour; and for fixing an iron rod and for cloth for hanging in front of the armoire to serve as dust sheet.)

Medieval furniture could be gilded or painted (or both). This is often the case with early medieval furniture, where e.g. chests are decorated with heraldic symbols or armoires with religious scenes. The late medieval cassone are also famous for their painted decoration.

At the end of the room a stepped buffet can be seen with 5 stages, displaying silver and gold plates and jugs and on top some table jewellery. Chroniques de Angleterre, ca. 1470. Vienna, Osterreichische nationalbibliothek Cod. 2534 fol. 17r.

One of the types of furniture needs special mentioning: the stepped buffet or grande dressoir. This was one of the grandest pieces of furniture solely for display, and the importance of this type of furniture is due to the strict limitations and implications to its use and form. The stepped buffets with their precious load of gold and silverware were part of the elaborate and symbolic trappings at court, often had a prominent role during feasts. The number of stages of the buffet signified the rank of the owner (where it was placed if there were more than one): the king or the duke of Burgundy - 5 or 6 stages; counts - 3 stages; bannerets - 2 stages; and lesser nobility: 1. The stepped buffet at the marriage of Charles the Bold and Marguerite of York in 1468 numbered 9 stages. The stepped buffet of the feast given to the German Emperor by Charles the Bold in Trier in 1473 was even larger and had 10 stages and displayed 33 silver and gold vessels, 70 jugs, 100 plates with pearls and precious stones, 6 large silver spoons ... and 6 unicorn horns. A stepped buffet was large: one with 5 stages at the wedding of Philip the Good in 1429 in Bruges measured a length of 70 feet and a height of 20 feet. The stepped buffet was not restricted to a rectangular form, also descriptions are found of triangular, lozenge or round (Pour un buffet ront - 1350). Unfortunately no surviving examples of the stepped buffet have survived from the Middle Ages. The small image shown in the table below is after a drawing of Viollet-le-Duc.

Type Dutch German English French Latin

kist, kiste, clederkiste, wantkisteTruhe, Kistechest, chist, kyste coffrecista, coffra, coffro,coffrum, cistam
boomstamkistEinbaumtruhedug-out chest

Brettstollentruhe, Seitstollentruhe, Standseitentruheboarded chest, slab-ended chestcoffre à pentures

arkDachtruhe, Mehlkist, Haverkistark, arke
arca, archae, archarum, archam, granarium

Frontalstollentruhe, Frontstollentruhehutch, clasped-front chesthuche, hugehuchetorum, huchello

Kastentruhe, Sockeltruheplinth chest

cassoneBrauttruhe, Hochzeitstruhe, Cassonebridal chestcoffre de marriageCassone, cassa d’armi
frame and panel chestcoffre d'apparat

standard, truncbahut, coffre à dessus bombébarhut ?

war-chest, strongbox, chest bound with yrencoffre ferré
ladenkistLadentruhechest with drawerscoffre à tiroir
kofferken, gesiert kesken, kistjeMinnekastchen, Urkunden koffer, Kassetten, Briefladen, Ladebox, caskett, (small) boxcoffret, escrin, escrint, estaysbustis, scrinis, scrinario
spanendoosSpaan, Schachtel, Spanschaltel, Nasch

Hanging cupboards
scapprolken, scapreel, schapredekijn, schapradeHangeschrankchen, Wandkastenhanging cupboard, hanging aumbry


Standing cupboards
tresoor, tresoer, dressoirDressoir, Stollenschrankdresser, livery cupboard, narrow buffet, buffet, coppeborde, coparde
dressoir credenza
tresoor, tresoer, dressoirDressoir, Stollenschrankdresser, livery cupboard, dressoir, cubbord, vesselerdressoir,
dressoir de parament, dressoir encastre, dressoir à dossier,
dressoir à ciel,
grande dreceours,
credenza, buffetum
dressoir, pronkbuffetDressoir stepped buffet
grande dreceours
boeuetHalbhoher schrankcupboard, dressoir
credenza, dressador, buffeth dressado

archiefkastArchivschrankgrete almaryegrans armairès, aumoire par laiettes, aumoire par layettes, armoire, aulmeire au cajonarmarium, toregmata, armadio

kaste, klederkaste, hangende klederkastSchrank, Scranc, Scranch, Schappalmeyre, almariolum, almorysarmoire, armoire d'apparat, armairès, armérealmererio, almarii, aumariis
Giebelschrank, Dachschrank, Stollenschrank

Almer, Speiseschrank,
Gehalter, Behalter , Spind
aumbry, ambry, almaryecopardes, dreceurs
credenza, stipo, bufetum



Schenkschivedrop-front armoire
meuble de boiserie
sakristiekastSakristeischrank, Sockelschranksacristy armoire
armoire liturgique, armoire de sacristie

sakristiekastSakristeischranksacristy armoirearmoire liturgique, armoire de sacristieaumareolum, armariolum, promptuarium

kontoirPultschrank dressoir trone, pupitre
Mural cupboards

locker, mural cupboard, stone recess with wooden doorsetagier dans le mur, aumoire de pierre cousté, aumoire a l'autel

wantkast, muurkastWandschrankcabon, fixed armoire, cabinetarmaire
scap, legplankSchapp, Schaff
board, shelve, dressing bord, dressyng borde etagiere, estaiyes, ais, aes

The book of Penelope Eames, 1977. Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the twelfth to the fifteenth century.  Furniture history, Volume XII. was used extensively in making this list and for the quotes in the commentary.


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