France, 14th century
Oak and wrought iron, butt jointed boards, mortise and tenon assembly
89 x 165 x 79 cm
Bequest of Émile Peyre, 1905
Inv. PE 982
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance
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Medieval chests were mainly used to store everyday objects. During the Middle Ages when people tended to move frequently – and sometimes urgently, for political or financial reasons – chests were useful containers for all kinds of items: folding or demountable beds, wall hangings, tapestries, clothing, precious or personal objects. They needed to be sturdily built, and were usually fitted with handles on the sides. In addition to their role as storage trunks, they could also serve as seats, beds or tables. The chest was therefore the earliest “multi-purpose” furniture item, the ancestor of the dresser and armoire à deux corps (cupboard on chest). Medieval chests were made of thick, dowel-jointed planks; the bottom was tongue-and-grooved. The metal pieces which gave the chest its strength and rigidity were fixed to the wood by means of forged spikes; they were also used as decorative elements that embellished the flat surface of the chest. Few medieval chests have survived to the present day: most of them, undecorated and covered with fabric, were burnt or broken up. This superb chest, of unknown origin, is decorated with five rows of iron scrollwork in the form of stylised stems arranged irregularly on the front and side panels – organized vertically in the middle of the front panel, and horizontally on the sides. Beautiful scrolls of foliage end in small buds, creating a decoration of great quality. This chest is one of the three oldest pieces of furniture in the French public collections; the other two are a very similar chest held by the Musée Carnavalet in Paris and an armoire held by the Aubazine Abbey in the Corrèze region of France.
M. B. -* Robert Delort, Le Moyen Âge, histoire illustrée de la vie quotidienne, Lausanne, Edita, 1972.