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Painted wood

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  • Tatjana
    In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was mostly painted in period. (I know I am paraphrasing.) I ve heard this for a long time, and even have passed
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 31, 2006
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      In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was mostly painted in period.
      (I know I am paraphrasing.)

      I've heard this for a long time, and even have passed on this bit of
      knowledge, but recently I've been wondering just how prevelent the practice
      was. I was looking through illuminations (researching period beds,) when I
      began to notice very little of the wood depicted was painted. Beds, chairs,
      tables, benches, chests, all these things in the background of paintings and
      illuminations. Now, granted, most of the stuff I was looking at was, say,
      13th century or later, and were paintings not the actual objects.

      So, I'm just curious. Has anyone studied this in depth? I'd hate to
      reinvent the wheel if someone has looked into it already. Otherwise, I
      think it would be fun to research!

      Mir!
      Tatjana

      "It's never too late to be what you might have been."
    • Don Eisele
      I did a bit of research when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a persona, and what I found was there was quite a bit of variance, depending on
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 31, 2006
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        I did a bit of research when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do
        for a persona, and what I found was there was quite a bit of variance, depending
        on the exact time, area, and fashion trends.

        Here are a couple pages that have some items of interest:
        http://www.his.com/~tom/sca/finishes.html
        http://www.florilegium.org/files/CRAFTS/wood-finishes-msg.html


        On Fri, Mar 31, 2006 at 12:59:49PM -0600, Tatjana did say:
        >In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was mostly painted in period.
        >(I know I am paraphrasing.)
        >
        >I've heard this for a long time, and even have passed on this bit of
        >knowledge, but recently I've been wondering just how prevelent the practice
        >was. I was looking through illuminations (researching period beds,) when I
        >began to notice very little of the wood depicted was painted. Beds, chairs,
        >tables, benches, chests, all these things in the background of paintings and
        >illuminations. Now, granted, most of the stuff I was looking at was, say,
        >13th century or later, and were paintings not the actual objects.
        >
        >So, I'm just curious. Has anyone studied this in depth? I'd hate to
        >reinvent the wheel if someone has looked into it already. Otherwise, I
        >think it would be fun to research!
        >
        >Mir!
        >Tatjana
        >
        >"It's never too late to be what you might have been."
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >Yahoo! Groups Links
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >

        --
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      • Bill McNutt
        Actually, this is a field that has been fairly well tilled by a number of us, and to sum up: we haven t really found squat. There are a number of problems
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 31, 2006
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          Actually, this is a field that has been fairly well tilled by a number of us, and to sum up:  we haven’t really found squat.

           

          There are a number of problems with the question as it stands, the foremost of which is that the SCA “period,” or even more formal definitions of the middle ages and “medieval period” simply covers too much of a time period to make generalizations from.  Then add the definition “western Europe,” and you cover so many different cultures that anything other than a sweeping generalization loses all meaning.

           

          Questions that can get a more meaningful answer are more like “Did they tend to paint furniture in 10 century Scandinavia ?”  “Was boiled linseed oil an acceptable finish in 16th century England ?”  The more specific the question the better the answer.

           

          The question gets worse because artifacts are dangerous.  They lie.  We can take a bench with unquestioned provenance from a 14th century monastery in Yorkshire to the electron microscope and prove beyond the shadow of any doubt that the egg-tempra paint deep in the crannies of the bench is the closest layer of paint to the wood.  But we can’t be sure it’s original.  It could be the work of some well-meaning Victorian “restoration” project that involved lye, vitriol, and enthusiastic scraper, and a bucket of paint, to “fix it and make it look right.”  So artifacts lie.  You can examine a LOT of artifacts, and if the results are similar, you can begin to make a case for “furniture was ‘often’ painted.  After all, how many berserk Victorian conservationists could there have been?  (The answer to that one is “a lot,” incidentally.)

           

          We can turn to paintings, but this is also fraught with danger.  Painters lie.  That stool the teacher is sitting on?  It is painted yellow?  Is it unfinished pine or birch?  Or is it gilded with gold?  All are shown as “yellow.”  Oh, wait, no, the varnish on this painting has yellowed.  That’s all actually white.  Or we might have to throw it all out because the artist was painting an allegorical scene or just cramming his own preconceptions onto the scene he has been hired to re-create, 240 years after it actually occurred.

           

          The only documentation you can have a really, really high confidence in is paperwork.  Inventories, invoices, shop manuals and the like.  A listing of a “large coffer, painted green with a blue vine pattern” is documentation GOLD.  If you can find it.  And if you are willing to assume it’s not a 18th century counterfeit created to force a change in someone’s title or lands.

           

          I’m going to stick my neck out.   Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome correction if I am wrong, but I am about to attempt to sum of the “conventional wisdom” of this form regarding finish furniture in the middle ages.

           

          There are exceptions to the statement below, but I think it is a reasonable summation of the current state of research.

           

          “When finished at all, furniture in the middle ages was often, but not exclusively painted.  Furniture, particularly those of the middle and lower classes may be presumed to have often been unfinished.  There is also plenty of evidence that even the furniture of the upper classes was left unfinished.   Several oils, stains, and compounds used in finishing wood in the post medieval eras did exist and were used for other purposes in the middle ages, but definitive proof of them being used to color and preserve furniture is scattered and hard to come by.  There are quite a few examples, particularly late in the middle ages and renaissance that are finished with gesso and paint or are gilded.”


          From: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com [mailto: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of Tatjana
          Sent: Friday, March 31, 2006 2:00 PM
          To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: [MedievalSawdust] Painted wood

           

          In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was mostly painted in period.
          (I know I am paraphrasing.)

          I've heard this for a long time, and even have passed on this bit of
          knowledge, but recently I've been wondering just how prevelent the practice
          was.  I was looking through illuminations (researching period beds,) when I
          began to notice very little of the wood depicted was painted.  Beds, chairs,
          tables, benches, chests, all these things in the background of paintings and
          illuminations.  Now, granted, most of the stuff I was looking at was, say,
          13th century or later, and were paintings not the actual objects.

          So, I'm just curious.  Has anyone studied this in depth?  I'd hate to
          reinvent the wheel if someone has looked into it already.  Otherwise, I
          think it would be fun to research!

          Mir!
          Tatjana

          "It's never too late to be what you might have been."



        • AlbionWood
          Overgeneralization alert! ... Wait - what period? What kind of wooden objects? Wood _sculptures_ were almost invariably painted, until very late period (end
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 31, 2006
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            Overgeneralization alert!
            > In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was mostly painted in period.
            >
            Wait - what period? What kind of wooden objects?

            Wood _sculptures_ were almost invariably painted, until very late period
            (end of c15). Wood ceilings were _sometimes_ painted from at least
            c13. Wood chests were often partly painted for decoration (especially
            by Italians), but also were often left unpainted. Tables, hardly ever
            (they were almost invariably covered with cloths). Same for beds.
            Benches in later period, rarely painted; but in early MA, hard to tell.
            X-frame chairs look painted in some illuminations.

            Really high-end objects were usually decorated with paint (or covered
            with cloth), except toward the end of the MA.

            It's fertile ground for research, I think, but you first need to narrow
            the focus a little. You can drive yourself crazy trying to compare c14
            Italy with c13 France, much less c10 Denmark or cAnytime Russia...

            Cheers,
            Colin
          • Conal O'hAirt Jim Hart
            ... to be more clear, I think it should be.... If they applyied any finish to the wood they usually painted it. Sometimes they used no finish at all. Baron
            Message 5 of 6 , Apr 1, 2006
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              --- Tatjana <tatjanatiger@...> wrote:

              > In another thread, someone mentioned that wood was
              > mostly painted in period.
              > (I know I am paraphrasing.)
              >
              to be more clear, I think it should be....

              If they applyied any finish to the wood they usually
              painted it. Sometimes they used no finish at all.


              Baron Conal O'hAirt / Jim Hart

              Aude Aliquid Dignum
              ' Dare Something Worthy '

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            • Iain Odlin
              ... This works great for positive evidence, true, but have a care not to take this documntation source too far from its area of usefulness either. Yes, you get
              Message 6 of 6 , Apr 1, 2006
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                "Bill McNutt" <mcnutt@...> wrote:

                >The only documentation you can have a really, really high confidence in is
                >paperwork. Inventories, invoices, shop manuals and the like. A listing of
                >a "large coffer, painted green with a blue vine pattern" is documentation
                >GOLD. If you can find it. And if you are willing to assume it's not a
                >18th
                >century counterfeit created to force a change in someone's title or lands.

                This works great for positive evidence, true, but have a care not to
                take this documntation source too far from its area of usefulness either.

                Yes, you get rock-solid documentation that there once existed a 'green
                chest w/ the passion of our lord paynted thereupon,' but some of
                these inventories ended with an entry that read "And the rest of the
                items, none of note" and therefore cannot be trusted to also mention
                the unadorned, nearly worn out three-legged stool sitting in the corner
                next to Father's deathbed.

                [It's the same today, of course. "Man Kills Six With Car" is FAR more
                likely as a newspaper headline than "Man Drives To Store Without
                Incident," regardless -- if not because -- of which is more usual in
                reality.]

                Obviously, they aren't all like this. Several royal household rolls are
                obsessively complete, for example. But you can no more accept an
                average medieval inventory as "evidence of absence" -- or indeed
                relative frequency -- than you can anything else.

                -Iain of Malagentia
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