Wednesday, April 23

Medieval lecterns with turned supports, and how awesome they are.

I haven’t got the technical vocabulary for any of this, but I do spend too much time on the British Library web site and found a selection of images that might other wise have gone unnoticed . . . because of their obscurity. Never mind my geek points for this one. I’ve fulfilled my quota for the year already.

The following links are to images from the British Library, and depict lecterns and writing desks with wooden supports that I think are turned on a lathe. Ever since I found out about wood turning (chiefly through Robin and Robin) I’ve kept my eye open for artefacts in my research (archaeology and manuscript illustration, mostly), but I’m no expert and could easily be mistaken.

Writing desks were made in a variety of styles in the Middle Ages, some being very plain slanted platforms for secretarial work or dictation and some having elaborately carved panels, cushions, and even canopies. What I link to today are elegant but simple varieties of these; the type of stem used here was popular at least in manuscript illustrations if not in actual use.

Psalm 1 from the Breviary of John the Fearless
(Additional 35311, f. 8) Click on the picture to enlarge it. In this you can see the stand on the right, which is being written in rather then read from--in fact, it is a portrait of David writing the psalms, in 15th c. style.

Arundel 547 f. 94v Luke
This is Luke, who in liturgical tradition was Paul’s scribe, writing both the gospel according to Luke and the Book of Acts, which are full of adventures. The style is Byzantine, and it is from the late 10th century.

Harley 3061 f. 1v Author portrait
An ink drawing of a tonsured monk, who probably died c. 860 . . . you can see the stand has a cloth covering over the top, but it seems to be held by a frame of some sort on which is perched a zoomorphic inkwell. The spiral carving or decorative turning can only just be seen peeking out from under the cloth.

Yates Thompson 21 f. 69v Jean de Meun writing in his study
Late 14th c. portrait of the author; the story is Roman de la Rose. This is perhaps the clearest of all these images to display the form of the stand/lectern. I’d love to have one of these made one day.

And here is a page from a site called Medieval Writing, which incidentally has a nifty little exercise set for palaeography practice.

Anyway, thought that would be interesting to post. I might post a picture, too, if I can find the copyright stipulations in a genial mood.

5 comments:

TREEWRIGHT said...

The pictures of Jean de Meun writing in his study & Psalm 1 from the Breviary of John the Fearless are the ones I think you're drooling over?
I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have had had lathes to turn spirals in those days - the bases, maybe.
They would have been carved. Interestingly in the Stephen Fry documentary about making the Gutenberg printing press they hand-carved the screw and that was around 1439.
You might be able to persuade me to make a lectern as a commission sometime in the future but it will cost a fortune!

TREEWRIGHT said...

Re: Beekeeping
The different types of beekeeping I was referring to were really the laid back approach and the commercial.
We aren't beekeepers - we "have a few bees".
'The ABC of Bee Culture' by A.I.Root is an interesting book and touches most of the salient points. This is quite an old American book and written from the commercial point of view. They don't mention modern diseases like varroa. (Wiki hardly mentions it either)

Check out:
http://www.hive-mind.com/bee/blog/

The hive mind is an interesting concept - a bit like the www and all fuelled by Royal Jelly!

Hey thanks for the HTML tip.

Robin Wood said...

Hi Rika,
I had a look through those lovely manuscript illustrations. I don't think it is likely any of the reading stands are turned. Turned parts did not become common in furniture until the 16th century, earlier the few examples are heavy turned chairs usually of very high status. I have a few manuscript illustrations of turned candle stands too.

miss rika said...

Treewright, I am extremely jealous of the Fry documentary but find it an odd sensation to look forward to buying a DVD series. Perhaps they will be available at one of the bigger American public libraries when I get back.

I might end up trying to persuade you, when I am rich and famous and can afford such trifles . . . I've been trying to figure out a way to make a book stand like theirs but it is difficult to find local craftsmen who will build what I want, especially as I don't have a boatload of cash to spend. "Local" also means in Italy, though.

Yet. One of these days I will strike it rich and end up living with handmade furniture and utensils, keeping bees outside, in a small and obscure hovel.

miss rika said...

Thanks, Robin! Next time I order anything from you I think I'll just buy your book and save time asking so many questions . . . I'm dying to get a look at some of the other types of objects.