The study of medieval works of art still poses many unsolved problems for scholars and we cannot afford to neglect the most humble elements that might help us understand them better. It is from this angle that we undertook a methodical examination of the supports used for paintings. Modern research techniques from applied botany were required to shed light on certain questions.
What imperatives guided the artist’s choice of a support for his work? He might have sought a particular type of wood robust enough to resist the effects of ageing, or he might simply have made do with a common local variety that was in ready supply. A thorough analysis of all the supports used by the Primitives 1Editors’ note: See the Editors’ introduction.
will show that the same wood varieties are found within the same school or the same region. Does this phenomenon reflect the types of forests in these regions, or the existence of a timber trade? Did the artist seek his working materials locally, or did he turn to some foreign merchant for them?
Insofar as we have been able to answer these questions and to formulate rules, these are not so strict that anomalies do not occasionally arise to contradict them. Although we have attempted to be meticulous in our research, our conclusions will never be absolute. 2Editors’ note: Hoadley 1998: 21–38; Klein 1998a: 112–14.