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Lectern

  • Place of origin:

    Aosta (made)

  • Date:

    1490-1500 (made)
    ca. 1882 (restored)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walnut, carved and joined, with traces of red paint

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting

  • Museum number:

    W.159-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50b, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case FS

This lectern was probably commissioned for the church of Sant'Orso di Aosta in Italy, soon after 1487. It would have stood in the choir, and supported a large missal from which the clergy chanted during services. Two round holes in the base would have supported tall candlesticks. The lectern was sold in about 1882 by the church authorities to a local antiquarian and collector Vittorio Avondo, who placed it in the chapel of his property, the Castello di Issogne in Valle d'Aosta. In 1906 the collector George Salting purchased the lectern from a London dealer. In 1883 the church authorities paid the celebrated carver-sculptor Giovanni Commoletti for a reproduction of the lectern, with some slight differences, which survives in the church.

Physical description

Lectern, consisting of a pierced, tracery panel book-rest with book-ledge, on a solid octagonal pillar retained within a triangular base; each of the three sides with a horizontal pierced tracery panel above a pierced tracery panel with ogee arch ornamented with quatrefoil leaves; the whole base supported on three legs, the central leg with a carved finial torso figure of a man playing a set of bagpipes (as if facing the reader), wearing a tunic, hose and shoes, wearing a knife-sheath from his belt, and with his legs curved up behind him in an acrobatic pose. The whole set on a shaped, triangular solid plinth with two round, lipped holes for candlesticks, and three mortises underneath for low feet (now lost). Traces of red paint survive on some of the carving.

Parts judged to be original:
Bookrest tracery panel
Cornemeuse player, close to surviving misericord carvings, nice feet
3 arched panels, match surviving woodwork in choir
one of the three 3 horizontal panels

Parts probably added during the 1890s restoration:
Edging to bookrest, and angle bookrest
Horizontal table around main stem
2 of the horizontal panels
Vertical fixing strips for main panels positioned behind legs

Parts possibly replaced during 17th or 18th century
Main stem (spliced a few inches from top, to an older piece perhaps?)
Triangular plinth (with mortises for feet), with candlestick sockets; consists of 2 planks, some worm
3 feet (lap-jointed a few inches off floor)

Place of Origin

Aosta (made)

Date

1490-1500 (made)
ca. 1882 (restored)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Walnut, carved and joined, with traces of red paint

Dimensions

Height: 156 cm, Width: 66.2 cm, Depth: 58.5 cm, Weight: 24 kg

Object history note

The lectern was originally commissioned for the abbey church of Sant'Orso di Aosta by the prior Giorgio di Challant between 1487 and his death in about1500 as part of the furnishing of the choir. Like the woodwork of the choir, the lectern was produced in an unknown workshop of the western Alps (Savoy-Geneva). The lectern appears in a photograph (taken before 1882) in the choir of the church. The lectern was sold in 1882 by the church authorities in straitened financial circumstances, to a local antiquarian and collector Vittorio Avondo, who placed it in the chapel of his property, the Castello di Issogne (Valle d'Aosta). In 1883 the church authorities paid the celebrated carver-sculptor Giovanni Commoletti for a variant-reproduction of the lectern, which survives in the church, and which appears to differ from W.159-1910 in that it has a double book-rest, the central pillar is carved and the plinth is more rounded. By 1906 Avondo sold it, possibly to George Donaldson of 106 New Bond St, from whom it was purchased Aug 14th 1906 by George Salting for £140 (as part of a multiple purchase), as 15th century and coming from the church in Aosta (information from Salting's papers in the Flowers archive at Guildhall Library, London ref.19,473. In 1909 Pietro Toesca (see Pagella p.139) noted the Aosta lectern (in a recently restored form) on loan from Salting in the Museum. Salting died in 1909, and bequeathed it to the Museum. It is assumed (Pagella p.139) that the lectern was restored by Avondo soon after 1882, though the triangular base is visible in a drawing by Lacroix made in 1874 (Pagella p.139), and as it seems likely that this is not original.

Historical context note

Carved figure detail on medieval lecterns is not unknown. The lectern at Ramsey (Huntingdonshire) is carved with four standing figures, presumably representing the four evangelists. The bagpipe player prominent on the lectern would apparently have been visible to the reader, and not to those in front of him. During the middle ages bagpipes appeared in various media of the decorative arts, and were generally symbolic of all the bodily vices, with the resemblance of the instrument to male genitalia often exploited (a scrotal sack and erect pipe). The fool (or an ass, musically incompetent) might be shown playing the bagpipes, making bawdy and lustful music - encouraging boisterous, uncouth and indecorous dancing and behaviour, as opposed to more decorous courtly music performed on the lute or harp. Bagpipes were deemed to arouse the passions. As such images of bagpipes on church carvings go alongside numerous comic scenes from everyday or proverbial life. Clergy humour could be bawdy, but it often seems to have dwelt on the sinful nature of human beings and therefore the battle of good and evil, and it has been argued that the humour was thus consistent with piety, and that laughter could lead to humility.

The bagpiper player carving on this lectern is more decorous than many representations, but the usual connotations were probably understood. As the figure was visible to the reader, in fact just underneath the text itself, it might provide a gentle, silent mockery of human pretension, and serve as a carefully positioned reminder to him to act as a mouthpiece for holy melody and meditation rather than the 'hot air' of base instinct.

See Malcolm Jones The Secret Middle Ages (2002), p.269, and GRÖSSINGER, Christa: The World Upside-down. English Misericords. (London, 1997), p.112, 171, pl.33

Other Aosta church woodwork of the 15th century is known to have been painted (eg Chapel stalls from Castello di Issogne (Museo Civico di Torino), with red and green on the backs; other examples in "Stalles de la Savoie médiévale", Genève 1991).See Corinne Charles, "Stalles sculptées du XVe siècle. Genève et le Duché de Savoie",
Paris 1999.

Another example of a carved wood bagpipe player is found in the salone of the castello Sarriod de La Tour near Aosta (c.1435), where 174 brackets of sculpted wood support the wooden ceiling, and show grotesque heads, masks, true and fantastic animals, figure types and obscene figures similar to those on the misericords of the Aosta cathedral stalls, more earthy in style than the refined lectern figure.

Descriptive line

Lectern, consisting of a pierced, tracery panel book-rest with book-ledge, on a solid octagonal pillar.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Anna La Perla, Il coro e gli arredi lignei voluti da Giorgio di Challant in Sant'Orso di Aosta, Il Complesso Monumentale, vol. I, edited by Bruno Orlandoni and Elena Rossetti Brezzi (Aosta, 2001)
Corti e Città. Arte del Quattrocento nelli Alpi Occidentali, (Enrica Pagella et al. Eds.), exhibition at the Palazzina della Promotrice delle Belle Arte, (Turin 2006) pp.128 & 139
Sandra Barberi, Declino e rinascita nel corso del XIX secolo (pp.77-94) in Il Castello di Issogne in Valle d'Aosta, a cura di Sandra Barberi (Allemandi, c2000).

Production Note

Made by an unknown workshop of the western Alps (Savoy-Geneva); restored c.1882

Materials

Walnut

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Bagpipes; Musicians

Categories

Ceremonial objects; Christianity; Furniture; Musical instruments; Religion; Woodwork

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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