A Brief Description of Some Medieval French Woodworking:

The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes de Cluny

Gary R. Halstead
(Ranulf of Waterford)

What follows is a brief description of some pieces from the Musée de Cluny in Paris.   I apologize for the poor quality of some of the pictures, but the lighting was dim and I didn't have a tripod with me.  The pieces are mostly French and mostly from the 15th Century.  Later pieces formerly at the Cluny have been transferred to the Musée national de la Renaissance at Ecouen.  The pictures are all hyperlinks to a full size version of the photo.

The Musee de Cluny

I am still in the process of retouching some of the photos and redrawing the sketches from my notes; these will be added as they are completed.

For each piece I have tried to give a general description as well as any technical or construction details that I found interesting.  I have supplemented my notes with information from the other works listed at the end of this article.

Cl 318 - Chest, 15th Century

Frame and panel construction.  The lid is of breadboard construction with mitred front corners (see figure).  There are cove and bead moldings around the panels and a square ovolo molding around the edge of the lid.

chest2.jpg (12040 bytes)

Cl 160 - Chest, 15th Century

Frame and panel construction.  The same lid design as the previous chest.   This similiarity makes me wonder if the lids are  modern replacements.   Cove molding under the lid with cove and bead molding around the panels.  The moldings around the panels use mason's corners (see figure) instead of mitres.

chest3.jpg (11056 bytes)

Cl 20400 - Chest, late 15th Century, Italian

Of dovetailed construction.  Side runners on underside of lid.  Lapped pediment.  The front is carved with court scenes.  The wood is listed as "cypress(?)".

Cl 22795 - Collapsible Table, late 15th Century

The museum lists this as a "Table Pliant" (Folding Table) but it appears to disassemble rather than fold.  The octagonal  top is held on to the supports via brackets and removable pegs.  The supports lap over each other and are pegged into the feet.  The wood is listed as "oak(?)".

Table Pliant - Top View Table Pliant - View of Support

Cl 8919 - Chest, 15th Century

Dovetailed construction.  The top is of breadboard construction (without the mitred front corners this time) with a deep cove molding around the edges.

? - Chest

Arms of France on the center panel.  Flat ovolo molding around the lid.  This chest is hinged on the top, about 3/4 of the way back.

chest1.jpg (25079 bytes)


Coffers, 15th Century

A series of small coffers.  They are of fairly crude dovetail construction (2-3 tails per side) and highly carved.  The wood looks to be between 1/2 and 3/8 inches thick.

coffer2.jpg (11941 bytes) coffer3.jpg (10805 bytes)

Combs, 15th Century

Carved wooden combs - some with built-in mirrors.  The wood appears to be about 1/2 inch thick in the middle, tapering to 1/8 at the tips of the teeth.  At least one of the combs is of boxwood.

comb.jpg (19445 bytes)

Cl 20419 - Dressoir, 15th Century

Applied top, base and corner moldings.  Applied carved decorations.  The panels have a double cove molding around them with mason's corners.

Cl 39 - Chest, 15th Century, Flemish

Possibly of dovetailed construction.  The corners are covered with flat laths to simulate frame and panel work.

Cl 21545 - Chest, c. 1300, French

This one is at least eight feet long and built of oak.  The lid is split into two pieces.  The front is frame and panel with applied decorative arcading.

Cl 3434 - Game Box, late 15th Century, French

This is a really neat folding game box with boards for glic (a card game), fox and geese, merrils, backgammon, and chess.  The material is listed as walnut and ebony.  The catalog says that the green parts are dyed walnut, but I have my doubts about dyeing something as dark as walnut a bright green.  The white parts are certainly not walnut - my guess would be holly or sycamore.

gameboard.jpg (36224 bytes)

Cl 3421 - Inlaid Chest, late 15th Century, Italian

A good example of Italian intarsia work.  The construction of the chest is hidden by the inlays.

Cl 9711 - Chest, 15th Century French

Another frame and panel chest.  The second photo shows where the bottom of one of the frames has rotted away to reveal the tenon of the connecting piece.

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Blanc, Monique.  Le Mobilier Français: Moyen Âge, Renaissance.  Paris: Massin, 1999.

Eames, Penelope, Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the 12th to the 15th Century. London: The Furniture History Society, 1977.

Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain, Pierre Yves Le Pogam, and Dany Sandron. Musée national du Moyen Age - Thermes de Cluny: Guide to the collections.  Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993.

© 1999 by Gary R. Halstead, All rights reserved.