Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Revisiting the medieval turned chair of Duchess Agnes

Recently, due to a comment on my blog, I have bought the article of Horst Appuhn that had appeared in the Aachener Kunstblatter band 48 of 1978/1979. The article, Beitrage zur geschichte des herrschersitzer im Mittelalter. I teil. Gedrechselte Sitze, concerned the medieval turned chairs that were in use as seats of authoroty or 'thrones'. It describes four specific examples of turned chairs: the chair of Duchess Agnes in Kloster Isenhagen (Hankesbuttel, Germany), a chair from Husaby (Sweden), the bishopsseat from Gammla-Uppsala in Sweden, and a chair from Gotland (also Sweden). Both the chairs from Duchess Agness and that from Gammla Uppsala have appeared in previous blogposts. However, the article from Horst Appuhn contains such interesting and additional information that they deserve to be revisited in a new blogpost.

The chair of Duchess Agnes from Kloster Isenhagen

Left: The back of the lectern/chair. Right: Front view of the lectern/chair with the door of the cupboard open. Inside you can see the original seating boards of the chair. Black and white photo from the article of Horst Appuhn.

The chair is now a lectern, but constructional evidence, such as open grooves and mortises, proves that it has been originally used as a chair. Conversion to a lectern presumably took place around 1610, when the chair (and the choir stalls) were painted by Master Hanss Godecke from Walsrode. Also the lock of the lectern chest is of later date than the chair. The turned rail that now holds the front of the lectern desk, likely was the front bottom rail of the chair. It has the same marks of use as the the bottom rails.
The four posts of the chair are made of oak and have a diameter of 10 cm. The back posts are 1.425 meter long, the front posts 1.18 meter. The other turned parts are made of ash, except half of the small rungs, which are also oak. The large ash rails that connect the posts have a diameter of 5.5 cm. The rungs measure 6.4 cm and have a diameter of around 2.8 cm. The original chair had 6 fields of 3 x 8 rungs = 144 rungs for the back, and for the sides 1 field of 4 rows with 12 rungs and 1 field with 3 rows of 12 rungs = 84 rungs each.

The boards are all oak, as well as the seating (now the board in the lectern chest). The outside of the chair is painted in grey-green, green and red, but the inside of the lectern is unpainted. Here the original, unpainted decoration can be seen. The rows of rungs are either ash or 'blackened' (using fire) oak. The turned ash rails have browned rings at the places where the rungs connect. Also the ash rungs have two browned rings at the top and bottom balls.

Three rows of rungs from the inside of the chair. The top and bottom rows are oak rungs, 
the middle ash. You can see the darker (browned) rings on the rails where the rungs connect.  
Black and white photo from the article of Horst Appuhn.

The construction of the chair holds a surprise: beneath the seating is a chest! The lid of the chest, however is not the seating, but the front panel. To open the chest, it slides upward (with the top front rail). It explains why there are no mortise holes for the seating rail in the front posts, and why there is a groove in the front posts.

Rungs, left original rungs, right restored rungs in the back of the chair. 
 Black and white photo from the article of Horst Appuhn.


The bisshopsseat of Gammla Uppsala

The so-called bisshopsseat of Gammla Uppsala church (Sweden) is dated between 1156 and 1164. The chair has place for two persons, and therefore is also called (and used as) a marriage bench. However, the date of the chair and the location in Gammla Uppsala, a royal place, suggest that this chair may have been a coronation throne for King (Saint) Eric IX.

Left: The bisshopsseat in Gammla Uppsala church. The alternating coloured rungs can be clearly seen. Right: The nearly identical seat from Vaksala kyrka in Uppsala. Black and white photo from the book 'Studier i Sveriges medeltida mobelkonst' by W. Karlson.

The chair measures 118 cm wide at the front, and 112 cm at the back. The depth of the seating is not given, but as the number of rungs is twice the amount of the side, this should be around 66 cm (112 cm - 20 cm for the posts)/2 = 46 cm + 20 cm posts). Height of the posts are 80 cm (front) and 105 cm (back). The posts are connected by flat boards sawn as arcades. The pillars of the arcades are turned.

In total there are 8 rows of 15 rungs (3 x 2 at the back, and one at each sides). Rungs are made of turned ash and are 7 cm high. Half of the rungs are dark brown coloured, the other half blank, in pairs of three in a row, giving the chair a charming appearance.

Interestingly an almost identical 'bisshopsseat' exist in Vaksala church in Uppsala, just a few kilometres away from Gammla Uppsala. Due to the striking similarity, it is likely that both seats were  made by the same workshop.

King and Saint Eric IX of Sweden (reigned 1150, undisputed from 1155 – 1160). 
Image from internet.
The turned throne of Gammla Uppsala. A good view of the side of the chair is given. The armrest consists of a turned ribbed rail. The photo also gives a good view of the seating boards. Black and white photo from the article of Horst Appuhn.

For those interested in the German article, which contains many black and white photo's of similar medieval turned chairs, you might have a look at the sources-other page, or consult second-hand internet book-shops.

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