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Chest

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (Eastern counties (?), made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak, carved, with an iron lock

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Graham Rees-Mogg

  • Museum number:

    W.428-1922

  • Gallery location:

    On display at National Trust, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire

Chests were the earliest form of furniture used for storage and could easily be carried from place to place. They were used for storing clothes, linen, documents or money and often had locks for security, as in this case. This example is East Anglian, and was purchased by a former owner at Bury St Edmunds. It is constructed of six boards, one for each of the sides, bottom and top.The lid and back are of elm and not original.

On loan to Woolsthorpe Manor (National Trust).

Physical description

Chest constructed of six boards, the front, which has traces of the original red paint, is carved with two bands of ornament, the upper of quatrefoils and trefoils, the lower of a row of narrow arches. Below the front is a portion of a carved spandrel at one side; the corresponding spandrel at the other side is missing.

Boarded oak chest with geometrical panels of ornament on the front, on raised feet. With one spandrel attached to the front right foot (with loss). The back and lid (elm) replaced. With an iron lock (replacement) and iron lid hasp to match, with the square blank area originally intended for a lock visible underneath. Originally fitted with a till (proper right). With reinforcing oak strips nailed to the PL foot (inside face) and across the top of the PL end (to counter warp). The front has a wider left hand vertical border than the right side (58 vs 13mm), while the lock plate is centred at 55cm from the left end, suggesting that either the carver mis-measured his work, or that the right end has been cut down.
Note – although there are 3 empty holes where the front is nailed to the left end (possibly evidence of refixing), the nail and peg fixings appear to be original to the chest, and both ends contemporary. Its possible that the front was cut down (by 45mm) and reused to make a slightly smaller chest, but perhaps mis-measurement by the carver, or less good timber at the right end (that needed to be cut back) of the front is a more likely explanation.

The front nailed and pegged (from the front) into the ends and floor.
The bottom of one riven plank, and one sawn. The ends (20-22mm) plain sawn (fast growth) and the front quarter sawn (24-25mm). The lid held on two split ring hinges
With traces of reddish and white pigments over the front, and a large fern motif on the left end. The back panel with clear pit-saw marks.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (Eastern counties (?), made)

Date

ca. 1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Oak, carved, with an iron lock

Dimensions

Height: 51 cm, Width: 113 cm, Depth: 35.5 cm

Object history note

Bought on the Museum's behalf by Mrs Rees-Mogg, Clifford Manor, Stratford Upon Avon, from Frank Jennings (12 Holland Street, W.8), along with two chest fronts (W.429-1922 and W.430-1922). H.Clifford Smith noted that 'it still retains traces of its orginal red colouring.' They were delivered to the Museum from Walberswick, Suffolk, and the acquisition file records that it had been purchased by a former owner in Bury St Edmonds. A pencil sketch elevation (author unknown) is with the RP 22/7208.

On loan to Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire (National Trust), and displayed in the upstairs bedchamber, 2014.

Historical context note

Comparable chests: V&A W.98-1922 height 53.3cm (without V shaped feet), and W.69-1916 height 67.5cm), Mary Rose (c.1540), elm without carving but with simple spandrels; Burrell 14/348; DEF Chests entry fig. 15, 23 all tend to a similar height, and usually feature V shape cut-outs in the feet (missing on this chest) suggesting that if this chest has been reduced in height it is by a matter of no more than 5-6cm.

Descriptive line

Six board oak chest with carved ornament, ca. 1500, England ( Eastern Counties?)

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

Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), cat. no.302.

'CHEST, constructed of six boards; the front, which has traces of the original red paint, is carved with two bands of ornament, the upper composed of quatrefoils and trefoils, and the lower of a row of narrow arches of late Perpendicular character; below the front is portion of a carved spandrel (the corresponding spandrel at the other end is missing). The iron lock plate has been added. The lid and back, which are of elm, date probably from the 18th century (PL.18). Given by Mrs. Graham Rees-Mogg Oak. About 1500
51 x 114 x 35.5 cm
Mus. No. W.428-1922
East Anglian, purchased by a former owner at Bury St Edmund’s'.

H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture and Woodwork Voll II – Late Tudor and Ealy Stuart (London 1929), plate 45, no. 312.

‘CHEST, constructed of six boards; the front, which has traces of the original red paint, is carved with two bands of ornament, the upper composed of quatrefoils and trefoils, and the lower of a row of narrow arches of late perpendicular character; below the front is a portion of a carved spandrel (the corresponding spandrel at the other end is missing). The iron lock plate has been added. The lid and back, which are of elm, date probably from the 18th century. East Anglia. About 1500’.

Dictionary of English Furniture (Country Life 1924-7, 2nd rev. ed. 1954, 3 vols. See entry for Desks p.205
Fred Roe, Old Oak Furniture (London, 1908), p.194
Charles Tracy, English Medieval Furniture and Woodwork (London, 1988), no. 314

'DESK or CUPBOARD for books. Carved on the back and sides with two rows of Gothic arcading enriched with tracery Within a slightly moulded framework; the front is plain with the exception of two carved lions’ masks at the upper corners. The framed sloping top opens on hinges, and the interior is fitted with a cupboard with a hinged lid. The lower part of the desk is missing. The lock plate and the book ledge are post-medieval (PL.114a, b & c).
Oak. Last quarter of 14th century
97x 83.8x 54.6cm
Mus. No. 143-1898
This an extremely rare example of a medieval desk-cum-book cupboard. It is without doubt authentic and English, It is a great pity that it has lost the lower part of its panelling and its base. Two decorative features point strongly to England. The trefoil tracery in the super-arches of the back panel is stilted in the characteristically early Perpendicular Way (compare stall-ends at Lincoln Cathedral, See Fig.39). This same trait could also be found on a fragment of panelling from the York Minster choir- stalls in the Roe collection (illustrated in Roe 1910, PL.xvI) [sic] where the tracery pattern is sexfoil. The date of the construction of the York stalls is about 1390 (Francis Bond, Wood Carvings in English Churches: I. Stalls and Tabernacle Work and II. Bishops’ Thrones and Chancel Chairs, London, 1910, p.58). The treatment of the lions’ masks on the front of the desk is another parallel with Lincoln, in particular the same treatment of the hair in whorls and ear shape (Pics. 56a & b). The Lincoln stalls must have been manufactured in about 1370 (See CAT.67). The placing of these masks is reminiscent of the use of this motif on choir-stalls on the standards underneath the capping (compare Chichester Cathedral)'.

Helena Hayward, (Ed.), World Furniture. (London, 1965), p.34, fig. 85
H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork. Vol.II. - Late Tudor and Early Stuart (London 1930), cat. 320. plate 48

Books chests and desks of this kind (armariola), with lids set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read, are often represented in illuminated MSS, with St. Jerome or other Doctors of the Church, scribes at work, etc. Compare Laborde, 'Les MSS. à Peintures de la Cité de Dieu de St. Augustin,' 1909, pl. XCVII (1473), etc. A rare example of medieval domestic furniture.
William H. Lewer and J. Charles Wall, The Church Chests of Essex (London, 1913), p.17, illustrated in a line drawing on p.18

'Similar receptacles for books may often be seen in ancient pictures of the studies of medieval scribes and limners...another of the fifteenth century in the Victoria and Albert Museum has a framed lid set at an angle on which books might be laid whilst being read.'
DIETRICH, Gerhard: Schreibmöbel von Mittelalter zur Moderne. (Munich, 1986).
Oliver Brackett (revised by H. Clifford Smith), English furniture illustrated. (Spring Books, London, nd). [Originally published under the title of An encyclopaedia of English furniture, London : E. Benn, 1927]

Production Note

East Anglia

Materials

Elm; Oak; Iron

Techniques

Carving

Categories

Furniture; Household objects

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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