Metal as Ornamentation
by Lord Richard of Woodenbridge
Long has metal been used for ornamentation and function on furnature. Since antiquity metal has been employed for
locks, mounts and hinges although very few examples presently survive. During the Roman occupation of Britian iron
was used for furnishings as well as weapons and tools. These objects came to be demascened or inlaid with patterns
of silver or gold. Construction on even simple chests used iron bands for strenth as illustrated by the 9th century
Osberg chest of Viking origin. By the 11th century the Anglo-Saxons and Scandenavians created complex hinges
exploiting the possibuilities as an art form on church doors and cathedrals. Inspired by the church, this style later
known as the Gothic style, featured round or pointed arches, carved tracery, pillars, and buttresses The chests themselves
were almost exclusivly carved and of woods such as oak and walnut which lent themselves to such craft. Hingework
based on English example began to surface in France, Germany and all through Europe a century later.
As a piece of furniture of great import, chests in the 13th and 14th centurys were decorated by elaborate wrought iron
scrolls,first by the French, to relieve the unexceptional appearence. The Museo de Artes Decorativas in Barcelona
contains one outstanding example of this type of scrollwork.
Chests too were used as chairs and beds. The former evolving into the bench seat and the latter became the footlocker
from the chest at the foot of the bed sometimes used as a bed by a women of noblity for their handmaiden to sleep.
Upright versons of these chests such as wardrobes and armoires, for the storage of clothing or armor, were also
elaborately decorated employing the iron strap-type hinges, oft times terminating in fleur-de-lis, hasps (from the
ME hLspe) and locks and cover plates.
Fourteenth century France also produced intricately carved chests of oak or walnut, the woods known for qualities
well suited for carving, with scenes depicting a variety of subject matter especially chivalric scenes such as jousting
knights or St. George and the dragon, fitted with iron hasp, hinge and handles. A fine 14th century example of the
carved oak chest is found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.