Any attempt to identify the origin of a painted panel by analysing the wood from which it was made presupposes that artists only used locally sourced wood for their works. We would have to reject such identifications if local deforestation or substantial trade flows meant that they procured their wood from more distant regions. However, the first of these two hypotheses remains unlikely during the Middle Ages, despite the 12th- and 13th-century forest clearances, while the second would require the purchaser of the wood to have been an influential merchant, rather than merely a village craftsman as was frequently the case. Proof therefore needs to be shown for either hypothesis. Although the documentary evidence available to us is scarce and much of the information it contains is fragmentary, we can still make certain hypotheses. Further research is nevertheless desirable to supplement the survey we have completed for a few regions of France.
We need to know who made these supports and under what conditions. The nature of the commissions is such that the works in question can only have been produced for prominent individuals or wealthy communities. They therefore cannot have been sufficiently frequent to support a workshop financially, and so the woodworkers who made the supports must also have engaged in everyday jobs. Specific trades are hard to pin down, as they ranged from very fine work to the most basic carpentry. To label is to restrict, and the activities of these resourceful handymen were only bounded by their customers’ wishes. Consequently, in spite of the meticulousness with which medieval crafts were regulated, the description and status of these workers varied from one town to another, and even within the same community.
We know how these trades were organised into masters, journeymen and apprentices, and we are aware of their statutes and customs.1Interesting information is furnished in this regard by Abbé Requin’s study on ‘Les Artistes d’autrefois, études de mœurs’, published in Mémoires de l’Académie de Vaucluse 1895, pp. 196–208. Cf. ordinances relating to the Paris trades (1467) Ordonnances des rois de France, vol. XVI, pp. 609–12.
Artists were viewed merely as skilled workers in the Middle Ages – simple manual labourers, whose situation was far from elevated. Moreover, until the 16th century, woodworking mostly lacked any element of originality: the craft was linked with that of the ‘image-makers’ (woodcarvers), and it was only during the Renaissance that the art of the sculptor began to take on an individual character.2Gay 1928, II: 41.
Despite this lack of precision, we have sought to identify the different designations under which panel-makers appear.
Carpentry ought in theory to designate a fairly modest activity – a purely technical form of work. While we find carpenters (charpentiers
) engaging in more intricate joinery, they rarely painted the objects they made. They did all kinds of work: interior panelling, partitions, doorways and windows, cabinetmaking, carriage and wagon work, and even sculpture. The craftsman who repaired a wooden statue at the church of Saint-Waudru in Mons in 1310, for instance, was referred to as a charpentier
.3Dehaisnes 1886, I: 193.
The chapter of Cambrai Cathedral had a regular charpentier
called Jean de Soignies, who is recorded in 1371 receiving his annual wages.4Dehaisnes 1886, I: 503.
In Dijon, the splendour-loving Duke of Burgundy (known as Philip the Bold) (1342–1404) was a powerful patron who supported a whole army of craftsmen and artists. In 1367 he selected Belin d’Anchenoncourt from among the local craftsman to act as his ‘master of carpentry works’. Belin was succeeded in 1394 by a certain Hugues d’Aunay.5Prost 1902–1913, I: 58, no. 5.
For finer work, the duke could afford to employ an established artist. In 1376, Jean Poncet held the title of charpentier des menues œuvres
(carpenter of small-scale works) to the duke.6Prost 1902–1913, I: no. 2679.
Philip the Bold brought the Paris-based craftsman Jean de Liège (ca. 1330–1381) to Dijon in 1390. Jean was a renowned sculptor, yet the sources refer to him as charpentier des menues œuvres
. He was responsible for much of the woodwork at the Chartreuse in Dijon. Jean de Liège turns up again a little later as charpentier des menues œuvres de Monseigneur à Paris
(i.e. in the service of the Count of Orléans).7Dehaisnes 1886, II: 509.
The artisans described above were therefore not so much carpenters (charpentiers
) as joiners (menuisiers
Jean Nicot (1530–1600) defined menuiserie
in the following terms in his 1606 Trésor de la langue française
: ‘Although this word refers to all manner of fine work in all materials, it is commonly applied only to woodwork done by the joiner [menuysier
], who only works with small pieces of wood for doors, windows, chests, and similar objects, to which he adds such carved flourishes as may be desired.’8‘Combien que ce mot signifie toute chose et détaillée en menu ouvrage en toutes matières, si à l’usage commun tant gagné on n’entend que l’ouvrage en bois du menuysier qui ne besogne qu’en détail de menues pièces de bois, comme pour huis, fenestres, caisses et semblables pièces en icelles fait les fringoteries qu’on y veut mettre.’
Haquinet Dousi, a menuisier
of Avignon, made and painted a walnut altarpiece in 1464 for the city’s Celestine abbey.9Labande 1932, I: 105.
Similar work is recorded by Jacquet Jelin, menuisier
in Avignon in 1488,10Labande 1932, I: 240.
Guillaume Tiénard of Marseille (ca. 935–1004) in 1497,11Labande 1932, I: 130.
and Pierre Godefroy of Avignon in 1505.12Labande 1932, I: 100, 236.
We should also mention the Bigle family. Jean was a menuisier
in Avignon from 1487. In 1514, he produced an altarpiece for Monteux, which was painted by his son-in-law Nicolas Dipre (1495–1532). Another relative, Pierre Bigle, prepared the wood in 1534 for an altarpiece destined for the church of Saint-Martin in Caderousse.13Chobaut 1939: 102.
We also have records of Antoine Chapuis, menuisier
in Avignon in 1543, and Jean Jolhantis in 1549.14Labande 1932, I: 86, 96, 237.
All these craftsmen produced altarpieces, and in many cases also painted them.
As we will see, the term fustier refers to a similar type of activity. The fusterie trade consisted of wood of every type: beams, planks, barrel hoops, and so on. The word is common in the latter sense in wine-growing regions. There were numerous fustiers in Avignon and Marseille, for instance, hence the ‘rue de la Fusterie’ in both cities. All the same, the fustiers do not appear to have been more merchants than artisans.
The Carpentras fustier
, Mathieu Croset, made an altarpiece for the church in Cairanne in 1481.15Chobaut 1939: 91.
Jean Virgile, a fustier
from Orléans living in Avignon, produced an altarpiece for the high altar at the church of Saint-Geniès; his method served as the model for the Barbentanne altarpiece made in 1487 by the menuisier
Jean Bigle.16Chobaut 1939: 94; Labande 1932, I: 236.
In 1488, the Arles-based fustiers
Jean Le Duc and Jacques Le Rond were commissioned to produce a walnut altarpiece for the Saintes-Maries chapel17Labande 1932, I: 233.
in their town. Henri Satissor was active in Marseille in 1500,18Labande 1932, I: 131.
and Jean Vial was well known in Cavaillon in 1505.19Chobaut 1939: 99.
Jean Godet made a walnut altarpiece around 1520 for the Poor Clares of Marseille.20Labande 1932, I: 121.
The altarpiece for the church of Saint-Michel in Caderousse, painted by the artist André de Tarel, who lived in Pont-Saint-Esprit, is believed to be the work of a local craftsman, the fustier
Pierre Valet (1575–1650) from Caderousse.21Chobaut 1939: 131.
working in the Rhône valley or Provence produced intricate woodwork, but did not for the most part merit the description of ‘artist’.
The same holds true of the huchiers
– the name given in Paris to woodworkers specialising in jobs requiring precision and finesse. They were part of the carpenters’ trade, the statutes for which were drawn up in 1254 by Étienne Boileau (1200/10–1270), provost of the Paris merchants, bringing together all the ordinances relating to the city’s trades. The huchiers
did not separate from the carpenters to form an independent guild until 1467.22Champeaux 1885: 55–5.
The same term is found in Dijon and Chalon; they did joinery work, such as tables, doors, and benches.23Prost 1902–1913, I: nos. 1,523, 1,834, 2,467.
The building accounts for the castles of the counts of Artois also refer to huchiers
We therefore ought not to attach too much importance to the nomenclature applied to woodworkers: as we have seen, usage was imprecise. Nor was there a clear distinction between artisan and artist – indeed they were often one and the same. Antonio Ronzen, born in Venice and living in Marseille around 1510, made and painted a walnut altarpiece for the chapel of Saint-Vincent.24Labande 1932, I: p. 137.
Manuel Genovese constructed the Gucurron altarpiece, before painting it in 1520.25Chobaut 1939: 105.
François Cher, a menuisier
in Permes around 1540, assembled and painted the Altarpiece of the Holy Spirit
for the merchants of Carpentras.26Chobaut 1939: 134.
There are even firmer grounds for identifying the craftsmen referred to as ymagineurs
as both artisans and artists.
Évrard d’Orléans (1292–1357) – a citizen of Paris, where he was recorded as an imagier
or image-maker – was employed in 1314 at the Hôtel de Conflans of the Countess of Artois, as was Jean de Rouen in 1315.27Dehaisnes 1886, I: 210 and 212.
Jean Guiramand made the altarpiece in 1507 for the Dominican church in Toulon.28Labande 1932, I: 123.
He later moved to Aix, where he produced the altarpiece of the Fraternity of St Sebastian in 1519.29Chobaut 1939: 119.
These sculptors made altarpieces but did not paint them; they also made crucifixes, crosses, and even effigies.
It appears therefore that the artist himself often did the joinery required for his work.30Editors’ note: More recent work: Tångeberg 1986; Dijkstra 1990.
On the other hand, when these tasks were assigned to different individuals, the artist was frequently an outsider, travelling the country looking for work, while the craftsman was more likely to be a local artisan. According to Chobaut, painters in Provence tended to live in Aix, Avignon and Marseille. Far fewer of them resided in secondary centres such as Carpentras, Tarascon, Arles, Cavaillon or Pertuis, although these towns did produce quite a few altarpiece-makers. Customers had to look for a painter or sculptor in a large town,31Chobaut 1939: 84.
but they could find their wood supplier locally.
Price agreements and contracts: use of local wood
Price agreements and contracts between the patron and maker are extremely important when seeking to identify the origin of the wood. In some cases, it was the customer who provided the raw materials. In 1480, for instance, the artist Étienne Chantecler from Carpentras agreed to make an altarpiece for a bookseller in Avignon, who undertook to provide the wood, canvas and paint. However, when Chantecler received a commission from a resident of Sault, he had to supply the wood himself.32Chobaut 1939: 96–8.
There was no such thing, therefore, as a standard contract – simply a private arrangement reflecting the possibilities of the two parties.
Most often, however, the craftsman provided the wood and was recompensed for its purchase price in addition to his labour. In 1489, Jean Changenet (active from 1485) made an altarpiece with Christ on the Cross
for Antoine Bourguignon from the village of Sault. He was responsible for providing and assembling the walnut support.33Chobaut 1939: 95.
The painter Nicolas Dipre likewise provided the support for the Caderousse altarpiece in 1534.34Chobaut 1939: 102.
Where a contract involved three parties – a patron, a painter, and a woodworker – it was always the latter who supplied the raw material. The contract was not, however, limited to this aspect: it often specified the patron’s wishes in some detail, describing the subject, providing a model, fixing the craftsmen’s pay, specifying the dimensions of the work and its support.35There are many examples of contracts like this. They can be found in the excellent compilations of documents published by Chobaut and Labande, which we have already cited at length (cf. ‘Extracts from painters’ contracts’).
The contract also established the nature and even the quality of the wood to be used. Examples are provided by the price agreements published by Chobaut and Labande. These relate to southeast France and all refer to walnut and occasionally white poplar, but never oak. This contrasts with northern France and Flanders, where altarpieces are always made of oak.36Labande 1932, I: 52–5.
Since it was local artisans who made the supports and provided the necessary wood, and since it was common varieties that were required, the craftsman was obviously able to source his wood from the nearest forest. Where the patron supplied the wood, we might expect certain wealthy individuals to have sought out some particularly rare or exotic species. This was not the case, however, as the work was routine and the techniques used empirical. The craftsman needed to be familiar with the wood he was going to use and in particular to be certain that it was sufficiently robust and durable. For that reason, he only used tried and tested local wood that could be worked most easily. And even if he had wanted it otherwise, his limited needs constrained him. The indigenous character of the types of wood employed is confirmed by text sources.
The major building work undertaken by the dukes of Burgundy in Dijon only used wood from the forest of Argilly, 60 km to the north. Jean Poncet, the duke’s ‘fine works carpenter’ ordered ‘several round oaks and a large quantity of bois d’Illande
’, from there in 1376.37‘plusours chesnes rons, ploz et grant quantité de bois d’Illande’; Prost 1902–1913, II: no. 2,679.
For the palace at Riom, fifty-five dozen fir beams, purchased at Meringues, 20 km away, were brought to the palace at Riom,38Gay 1928, II: 326.
while the wood used for the framework of the Duke of Berry’s castle in Poitiers came from the Colombier forest, roughly 30 km to the north.39Arch. Nat., KK. 256–257, 3rd account, folio 34.
Jean de Paris (1483–1526), the king’s painter in Lyon, sourced the material for art-related joinery in the forests around Roanne, about 90 km away, or from the even closer Bourgneuf, 30 km to the south.40Rolle 1861: 37, 75 and 78.
Species of wood used
Certain species of wood lent themselves better to particular types of joinery. In his Dello specchio di scientia universale
of 1584, Fioravanti wrote that chestnut is excellent for wine barrels, walnut for large furniture, rowan for mill grinders, and white willow for window and door frames.41Fioravanti 1584: 54.
Guild regulations went so far as to specify a particular type of wood for a particular type of job. ‘Coopers working in Paris may only make barrels in one of four ways ... that is to say, using heartwood oak without sapwood, pear, whitebeam, or maple.’42‘Nul barillier ne peut ouvrer à Paris que de quatre maniéré de fus … c’est à savoir de fin cuer de chaisne sans aube [i.e. aubier], de périer, d’alier et d’érable’; Gay 1928, I: 164.
The descriptions used have sometimes proved deceptive, as a result of which commonly found varieties have been assigned to some distant origin.
This refers to a species of oak common in Flanders and once prized for its resistance to rot. It was reserved for intricate or robust work: the cases in which the charters of the castle in Rupelmonde were kept, for instance, were made of this ‘Allemarck wood’.43Prost 1902–1913, II: no. 1,988.
In chapter VII of his Chroniques
, Molinet boasts that ‘near the chapel of Saint-Ladre, by the great river Rhine, there is a very beautiful and large forest, all of Allemarck
, which is excellent for building homes, barricades, and fortifications’.44Éditions Buchon, Paris, 1827, p. 58.
This type of wood is even more common. Also known as bois d’Ollande
or bois d’Irelande
, together with every possible spelling variation, the term simply designates a wood that is resistant to rot. It could be a softwood such as fir, larch or cypress, preserved by immersion in salt water while it was rafted to its destination. But that would suppose a maritime origin,45Editors’ note: Bois d’Illande is today understood as wood from the Baltic region.
and we actually find wood of this kind being sourced from the forests of Argilly46Prost 1902–1913, II: no. 1,992.
and Colombier.47Gay 1928, I: 165.
It is more likely to consist, therefore, of oak planks cut in a special way, namely sawn in the direction of the medullary rays.48Monget 1898, I: 59.
The value placed on oak is plainly expressed in the ordinance of 22 May 1539 issued by King Francis I (1494–1547) to conserve supplies of timber for carpentry.49The spread of oak is also explained by the use of acorns in medieval pig farming (Fig. 66).
The king wished to ‘avoid the waste of oak used for vine-poles, whereby the healthiest and most whole wood is chosen, which however ought to be retained for use in carpentry in the buildings of our realm’. The ordinance instructed citizens to plant softwoods such as poplar and willow in order to conserve ‘oak and chestnut and other hardwood varieties, which ought to be reserved for construction’.50Fontanon 1611, I: 979.
Charles IX (1550–1574), in an ordinance dated 25 September 1563, once again denounced the use of oak for fixtures in vineyards. The same preferential employment of oak is frequently stressed in the Inventaire mobilier des ducs de Bourgogne (‘Inventory of moveable property of the dukes of Burgundy’) drawn up by Prost, which refers constantly to chests, cases, cabinets and altar tables made of oak.
Beech and lime
Beech too was held in high regard. Craftsmen appreciated the ease with which it could be worked. It was recommended to the Paris woodturners, for instance, alongside lime and aspen,51Bibl. Nat., Impr., F. 46,824 (3). Reg. des Bannières, Arch. Nat., 7, folio 78, cited in Gay 1928, I : 167.
and was used to make chests, boxes and cases. Lime would have been especially sought after for its homogeneity and low shrinkage.52C. Jacquiot, Bois commerciaux (Extrait du bois, cat. 1949).
Beech only figures exceptionally among the varieties we found being used as painting supports.53The pronounced shrinkage of this wood no doubt explains why it was rarely used as a support for paintings (information provided by C. Jacquiot).
Walnut was employed even more widely. Pierre des Grescens noted in 1538: ‘Its wood is used to make very good, beautiful, and sturdy boxes, and other containers in which to store things, and durable, robust cartwheels.’54P. des Grescens, De Agricultura, 1538, p. 244.
Fioravanti considered it ‘suitable for making chests, beds, dining tables, chairs and pulpits and other objects of similar importance’.55Fioravanti 1584: 54.
We know, moreover, how important walnut was on the southern French coast, as many painting supports from that region are made from it. It was not until the end of the 15th century, however, that walnut really established itself in furniture-making.56Macquoid 1904–1908, II: 5.
Fir and miscellaneous woods
In theory, use of fir was confined to shipyards and for rough carpentry. It is also found, however, in furniture such as tables and chests.57Prost 1902–1913, I: nos. 751, 1,834, 2,467, 2,470, etc.; Gay 1928, I: 326.
Lastly, we ought also to mention the much less frequent use of white poplar from the Rhône valley and Provence; alder, the tree of the moist valleys; cherry for doorways and windows; the hardwoods rowan, cypress58Editors’ note: Cypress is a softwood.
and box for cabinetmaking; willow in rustic carpentry; and lime and aspen.
Rare or exotic woods do not feature in this list: barely four or five varieties were in common use. This is borne out by the limited number of surviving historical texts on joinery, theoretical treatises, and merchants’ and entrepreneurs’ accounts, and also by the statistics for all the wood types used in painting supports.
Does the fact that these supports were made of common, indigenous varieties of wood mean that no significant timber trade existed in this period? Evidently not, since wood was the indispensable raw material in the Middle Ages, affecting every industry and craft. Even so, its primary use at the time was still as firewood.
Internal French trade
Firewood for the towns
The importing of this type of wood (ligna combustibilia
) into Paris in the form of logs prompted the king to issue detailed ordinances regulating the market, most notably in 1299 and particularly in February 1415. Trade in firewood was overseen by the Town Hall. All wood passing down the Seine was reserved for use in Paris: it was unloaded at the Port des Barres, downstream from the Celestine abbey. Merchants from outside the city were required to sell their entire consignment as soon as it was landed: they were not permitted to delay its sale or to stockpile it.59Editors’ note: This is similar to what is known, for example for Bruges. See Sosson and Didier 1970; Sosson 1977; Sosson et al. 2007; Stabel 2004.
The latter was a privilege reserved for the merchants of Paris.
Taken together, these measures highlight the fear that Paris might run short of wood. The trade was not sufficiently large in scale to meet the city’s needs for both timber and firewood. The wood in question could only come from the forests of Île-de-France or Champagne; it was carried on boats towed from the bank or was floated downriver, as we see in article 24 of the ordinance of 1415.60Moreau 1840: 1–13.
It should also be remembered that the city to be supplied was Europe’s largest at the time.
Trade in wood could also arise around other substantial communities, such as wealthy noble houses with a large retinue. Few demands were made regarding the quality of firewood at the time and it could be gathered in the nearest forests. Regardless of the region, these were never far away in the Middle Ages. As the accounts for purchases of wood by the Papal Palace in Avignon between 1330 and 1362 have survived, we know all the markets to which the papal commissioners turned for supplies.61Schafer 1911–1914, II: 111; III: 255, 351, 683, 822–3.
Logs and faggots were sourced from the nearby Vivarais and Dauphiné areas, and from no further away than Savoy. They were unloaded at Avignon on the bank of the Rhône, opposite the Porte de la Ligne, where they were weighed before being taken inside the palace walls.62Colombe 1923: 58.
Paris and Avignon are, of course, unusual cases and the firewood in question could not have been used for other purposes, as it had already been cut or was at least of very poor quality.
Transport of wood
These were by no means the only movements of wood that occurred in the Middle Ages. We ought nevertheless to be wary about identifying a modern regularity in the trade flows we identify from surviving documents. The economic structure of the period meant that these were necessarily sporadic, as the vicissitudes of the age made every commercial undertaking uncertain.63Editors’ note: While piracy and conflicts created continuous obstacles and challenges for merchants, a number of economic historians would disagree with this statement. For example, Sosson (1970, 1977), Sosson and De Munck (2007) and Stabel (2004) and others have created a far clearer picture of the behaviour of merchants and buyers since the early 1960s.
Wars and epidemics could prevent all travel, and even during times of peace, roads were in poor condition – travel along main thoroughfares was hazardous, and sandbanks and rapids formed obstacles to river transport. These factors did nothing to help merchants, who were further paralysed by all manner of toll houses and customs posts along the principal commercial routes. The price of even the most modest of traded goods was therefore multiplied disproportionately by the costs and risks of transport. To ensure a profitable trade, merchants had to focus on those rare or crucial commodities that would be guaranteed a buyer, even at a high price.
Wood could only be carried by cart or on the backs of donkeys over short distances.64Jacques Chevalier referred to ‘ancient cartage’ (antiques charrois) in the transport of wood. He noted that ‘the problem of transport has always been most intractable for a voluminous, heavy, and cumbersome commodity like wood. The cost of haulage can partially or even wholly negate the market value, to the point at which commercial exploitation is rendered impossible.’ He added that (French) forests were still criss-crossed as recently as a century ago with log roads suitable for ox carts or mules; Chevalier 1932: 108, 115.
Transport by water was preferred for longer distances, as it was faster, more reliable and cheaper. Consequently, all the wood of whatever type destined for Paris arrived via the Seine. The records kept by the city’s bureaucrats are full of permissions granted to merchants to bring in wood via the river.65Arch. Nat., Z1 H20.
The earliest legislation on the timber trade comprised an edict of King Philip II Augustus (1165–1223) in November 1212, which placed responsibility for dealing in wood at the forest of Retz in the hands of its wardens.66Traité général des eaux et forêts, chasses et pêches, Paris, 1821, vol. I, pp. 1–2.
The usefulness of the trade was underlined soon afterwards by another edict, issued in December 1223 by King Louis VIII (1187–1226), which exempted consignments of wood from Retz from all duties and tolls. The frequency with which ordinances continued to appear is clear evidence of both the trade’s existence and the vital economic role it played.
Medieval France was still mostly forested and regions that have nowadays been entirely cleared still produced wood at the time. There was no area that was not capable of supplying itself with sufficient wood
or even of fulfilling the needs of the nearest ports. King Henry V (1386–1422), for instance, ensured that the shipyards of Rouen were supplied with timber not from England or Ireland, but simply from the forests of Lower Normandy. The Viscounts of Verneuil, Conches, Orbec and Laigle were asked to supply wagons to carry the timber as far as the Seine, down which they were then floated to Rouen.67Mollat 1952: 340, no. 21.
Rafts of tree trunks were likewise carried to Rouen via small tributaries of the Seine in the Vexin Normand, principally the Andelle river.68Mollat 1952: 162, 296.
Nantes was supplied with planks from the southern Loire ports, while cask wood came from Maine and Anjou.69Tanguy 1956: 35.
The coopers of La Rochelle used cask wood from the Poitou and Saintonge marshes, and even from the forests of Périgord and Limousin, transported via the Charente river. The hoop pole (feuillard
), which was highly valued for barrel-making, came exclusively from Lower Poitou and Saintonge.70Trocmé and Delafosse 1952: 139.
Marseille drew its wood from nearby Cassis, La Ciotat and the Argens valley. The city was sacked by the Aragonese in 1423 and had to be almost entirely rebuilt. Fir logs were transported by river for that purpose from the Haute-Durance area tied together into large rafts. These were landed at Pertuis, where the wood was cut and sold. Other rafts were held at Avignon or Beaucaire for collection by boats from Marseille. These ‘Boscodon logs’ – named after a low Alpine forest – were stored in Marseille near the Plan Fourmiguier. The market was controlled by three inspectors (prud’hommes
) elected annually by the fustiers
. Analysis of notary documents shows that this wood was used for carpentry.71Valuable information is provided in the section on woodworking in Baratier and Reynaud 1951, II: 813–19.
Moving beyond the French context, we also detect the first attempts at a European trade in wood. These consisted of large-scale maritime shipments, which could only be justified by the needs of the very biggest construction projects, and so these commercial circuits too were very much limited.72Editors’ note: Knowledge of trade activities, particularly those of Hanseatic traders, has since been greatly expanded. See Dollinger 1970; Litwin 1980; Asaert 1985; Klein et al. 1987a, 1987b; Verougstraete-Marcq and Schoute 1989; Wazny 1990; Jenks 1992; Bonsdorff 1993; Stabel 2001; Haneca et al. 2005; Daly 2007, 2011; Fraiture 2007; Wubs-Mrozewicz 2008; Tyers 2010; Klein 2012; Sohar et al. 2012; Streeton and Wadum 2012; Streeton 2013; Wubs-Mrozewicz and Jenks 2013.
There is no evidence of a Mediterranean trade in wood. Oriental timber was not shipped to either Genoa or Venice,73Pernoud 1948: 48, 74.
with the result that Provence was supplied entirely by French wood. By contrast, the Flemish ports lay at the hub of an extremely active timber trade. Northern wood – almost entirely from the forests of Norway – was landed there. There is no record of timber being shipped from the Russian trading post in Novgorod, which means that Norway must have been the principal exporter.74Editors’ note: Marette was unaware of the situation at that time. For discussion of Hanseatic trade in Baltic oak see Dollinger 1970; Litwin 1980; Klein et al. 1987a, 1987b; Verougstraete-Marcq and Schoute 1989; Wazny 1990, 1992; Jenks 1992; Bonde 1992; Bonsdorff 1993; Haneca et al. 2005; Daly 2007, 2011; Tyers 2010; Streeton and Wadum 2012.
It should be noted, however, that the Swedish company Stora Kopparberg Aktiebolag75Now Stora Enso (since its merger with the Finnish company Enso in 1998).
still has a contract dating from 1288, and a charter from King Magnus Erikson (1316–1374) confirming its privileges for the export of timber, which was signed on 24 February 1347.76La Mâche 1936: 1–2.
The Hanseatic League assumed control of the Baltic trade from the 14th to the 15th century, considerably expanding its trading post in Bergen, the timber’s port of departure.77Editors’ note: The origin of the vast majority of timber coming from the north to the Hanseatic trading cities (Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Amsterdam etc.) came from the Baltic ports of Riga, Köningsberg and Gdansk; see Daly 2007; Haneca et al. 2005: 261–71; Eckstein 1986: 465–6.
Even at this port, however, herring and cod were more important commodities than wood, trade in which ought not therefore to be overstated.78Pernoud 1948: 261; Lacour-Gayet 1951–1955, IV: 131; Editors’ note: Wubs-Mrozewicz and Jenks 2013.
Hanseatic traders shipped these cargoes to Flanders. In his Antiquitates ducatus Brabantiae
of 1610, Gramaye describes the arrival in Antwerp of lumber for building (ligna architedonica
) from ‘Germania’ or the countries of the north.79Book 3, chapter 9, Commerce extérieur, p. 24.
In his Descrittione di tutti I Paesi Bassi
(1567), Lodovico Guicciardini wrote: ‘Fine wood, good for all joinery and also for building ships and boats is brought to us here [in Antwerp] by sea ... it is sent on from here as far as Italy.’80Guichardin 1613: 155.
Bruges, which attracted similar traffic, was primarily a trans-shipment centre. Baltic merchants shipped in salted fish, tar and Scandinavian timber, which the Flemish then re-exported to French ports as ‘Flanders wood’.81Mollat 1952: 103. Fraiture 2009: 602–62, maps. Editors’ note: Interpretations of the function of Bruges have changed since the 1960s. See for example, Sosson 1977; Stabel 2001.
A letter dated May 1362 from the Archbishop of Rouen set the customs duties to be charged on goods arriving at Dieppe; it includes ‘1 denier
on each piece of furniture – 1 denier
, per hundred pieces of English and Flemish wood’.82Freville 1857, II: 128.
The same applied in Rouen, Saint-Malo, Nantes and La Rochelle, and as far south as Bordeaux, where the Dutch unloaded fir planks from Scandinavia. The Duke of Berry procured wood from La Rochelle to build a boat for use on the river near his castle in Poitiers. The beams and planks he needed came via Flanders.83Arch. Nat., KK. 256–257, 1er compte, folio 5v°.
Norwegian fir84Editors’ note: According to P. Klein, this was not fir, but rather spruce and Scots pine (personal communication 2014).
trees were transported across Europe to supply naval dockyards. Only large-scale enterprises of this nature could afford the cost price of such materials. Demand from the ports was immense: there were buildings to be constructed, and shipwrights consumed large volumes of fir planks to build their ships and galleys. Timber was also needed for decking, masts, oars, yards and spars. Meanwhile, countless barrels were required to provision the ships for the omnipresent wine-makers, the fish-salters and for transporting goods of every kind. Barrel staves were mostly made of poplar, birch and larch, which had to be supplied by the hinterland. In other words, the imported wood was used up entirely within the ports themselves. Nothing found its way into the neighbouring provinces which, on the contrary, were themselves required to supply the port with their own local varieties of wood.
The existence of a certain trade in wood means that the identification of a work of art based on the origin of its support is open to challenge, since a local artisan could have picked up a remnant of stock from a distant country. This would, however, be a chance occurrence from which no general conclusion could be inferred. Let us consider, for instance, the diptych by Hans Memling in the Louvre, showing a Praying Donor with St John the Baptist
on one side and The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria85Painting index, nos. 393 and 394.
on the other. This Flemish work is executed on walnut – a species not found in the region at the time. We would conclude from this that the panel is an anomaly and that further research is needed to determine the circumstances under which the painting was done. Although brief, this survey of the medieval wood trade is sufficient to demonstrate that artists had virtually no raw materials from which to construct their supports other than local wood. This is fully borne out by the scientific examination we performed on the panels.86Editors’ note: In the case of oak panels, dendrochronological analysis has subsequently shown that oak from the Baltic region was used in most cases; Fraiture 2009.