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Student

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The discussion about traditional doors, topic121185.html, and the use of wood panels, made me think again about the relationship between art and woodworking skills prior to the adoption of canvas as a medium for painting. Early Flemish paintings were all painted on wood such as oak, beech, poplar and sometimes walnut. Whilst some were quite small, others were of a reasonable size e.g. this one by Hans Memling which is 51 inches by 63 inches

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File ... 8_1490.jpg

However, some of the altarpieces are huge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Alt ... s_open.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaune_Altarpiece

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File ... nheim1.jpg

Whilst much is, rightly, made of the artists, I’ve never been able to find out anything about the woodworkers who managed to create such huge panels which have perfectly flat faces and have to cope with the effects of wood movement. Admittedly, the majority of these works of art would have been in churches which, at the time, would not have much by way of heating and, consequently, not have the degree of temperature variations that we get in modern buildings but even so.
 

MikeG.

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Student":3wjlsq5c said:
........would have been in churches which, at the time, would not have much by way of heating and, consequently, not have the degree of temperature variations that we get in modern buildings but even so.
Hang on a sec. Are you claiming that a mediaeval church was more temperature-stable than a modern building? That's a seriously interesting conversation in itself. I'm not a services engineer, but I reckon that you'd be hard pushed to find a modern art gallery, for instance, that had more than 2 or 3 degrees difference between its highest and lowest internal temperatures over the course of a year..........and, the really big deal, they'll all have virtually unchanging humidity because of air handling units. Even if an ancient church maintained a fairly slow-changing internal temperature due to the thermal mass, it certainly couldn't maintain unchanging humidity. It is humidity, not temperature, which affects timber movement.
 

Jacob

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I guess they'd be normal panel construction: grain going lengthways, loose fit in slots with room for movement, heavily primed on the back to balance the paint on the front.
 

Nigel Burden

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I've just checked todays weather on the Met Office local weather and the humidity at present is 68% increasing by the hour to 87%, 94%, 98%, 100%, remaining in the high 90s until late evening.

A small oak box that I'd made certainly moved when I brought it in the house, stabilising when I put it back in the shed, but the lid still tightens up when the atmosphere is damp.

Nigel.
 

AndyT

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No need for guesswork.
Go to the TATHS Journals page here

https://taths.org.uk/reading/journals

and download Journal 2. There's a useful article at page 29 exploring construction of large flat panels for painting. The author describes the use of long sliding dovetail battens to keep the panels flat and shows the special tools developed to cut them.
Although this was a technique more favoured on the European continent, the next article describes an English dovetail plane.
 

AJB Temple

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I think this is hard to unravel. I have a large tome on English oak furniture dating back to medieval times. It is clear that by and large trades were separated so we had carpenters / joiners, turners, carvers, painters etc. Guilds limited crossover.

Panel makers were part of this set up, and presumably supplied the carvers. There was more access to wide panels then than now: for example there is evidence of a hall house dining table of 75ft long and (from memory about 40" wide) being made from a single plank. The table still exists but has been cut down to around 42ft over the years.

I have had a few old pictures painted on board. Usually two thin planks and often jointed with cloth backing glued on. The boards usually have a half lap joint or some other joint, which you can see when out of frame.

Most of the church tryptichs and such like would have been framed, and some research of Flemish ones that I have seen in Amsterdam suggests that they were painted whilst in frame.

There is a good deal of research on this, much of it published in Dutch. (I speak Dutch as it happens - my son is half Dutch). If you can get access to the Rijksmuseum library, (by appointment to academics), you can see there is quite a lot of research material available from Dutch and Italian restorations.
 

Jacob

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AndyT":12703hsj said:
..... The author describes the use of long sliding dovetail battens to keep the panels flat ......
Makes sense. Also means fixing without nails going through.
I've seen that dovetailed ledge on window shutters in France (Dinan) and always thought it was a good idea, not least because it makes a thinner shutter with less of a thick ledge getting in the way, and also weathers better.
 

ED65

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Student":wke9fa5o said:
...such huge panels which have perfectly flat faces...
Actually they often don't, at least the wood didn't. This is what the ground was for (primer in modern parlance).

Some early canvases – even the word canvas doesn't really give the right idea, some is nearly as coarse as sack cloth! – so irrespective of what the support's surface was like a dead-flat painting surface could be achieved, generally either with a gesso (suited more to panels) or with an oil primer of some sort (better suited to canvas).

Student":wke9fa5o said:
...and have to cope with the effects of wood movement.
Okay a couple of things. First the quality of materials available at the time could be almost unobtainable now, and with the greater abundance of really top stuff (all air-dried remember) you could afford to be very fussy indeed, if it suited your proclivities and you could afford to be. That said, artworks are known to have been painted on very sub-par stuff on occasion!

And in terms of build, there are unfortunately many examples of things that didn't fare as well as they could have precisely because of the way they were put together. While we like to think of skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen of old it's clear some were not at the same level as others; battens on the rear nailed, and sometimes glued, across their full length are not at all rare. And yes, this did often directly lead to cracks.

And we mustn't forget conservation. Old paintings can have had many a clean, retouch and stabilizing intervention between the time of completion and now. It isn't even particularly rare for a painted work to have had some attention within the lifetime of the painter. Unless it's known for sure something hasn't been touched it's safer to assume restoration work has been carried out at some point in a piece's life rather than the opposite. Now some 'restoration' could be more accurately described as vandalism by today's standards, but that's for another time!

Student":wke9fa5o said:
Admittedly, the majority of these works of art would have been in churches which, at the time, would not have much by way of heating and, consequently, not have the degree of temperature variations that we get in modern buildings but even so.
The thermal-mass effect of large stone buildings is perhaps exaggerated. If you spend much time in churches (and regrettably I have) then you know they are cold as a witch's proverbial in the winter and can be bakingly hot in the summer.
 

Student

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Forgive my ignorance about wood movement so scrap everything I said about old churches.

As for the techniques of making the panels, thanks to all those who provided information in particular AndyT for the link to the TATHS journal. However, I think that one point that I was trying to make is still valid. Information about the craftsmen who provided the panels for the artists and the skill involved in making them is not as widely recognised as information about the artists themselves. Not everyone would think of looking out for a 35 year old copy of the TATHS Journal to find the answer.
 

Rorschach

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Remember as well what survives today is nearly always an example of the best work. WE have no idea how many sub par canvases or panels simply cracked and were tossed out or lost.
 

ED65

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Rorschach raises a good point, but even quality works have 'issues' (some of which are down the vandalism I refer to above).

Also from the National Gallery and well worth a read, this about the Holbein's The Ambassadors, which I was fortunate to see just after its most recent intervention:

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/rese ... mbassadors
 

Cheshirechappie

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A thought that occurs is that sawmills were rare in the late medieval, and most boards would have been riven from the log and then cleaned up with adze and plane. That would give effectively quartered stock, which whilst not maybe a long-term controlling factor in stability, must have contributed somewhat.
 

AndyT

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For details on conversion from log to panel - by hewing then sawing - do have a look at the last essay in the Getty collection. It's by Philip Walker who was well known as a tool collector and historian and is a good place for a woodworker to start to answer the OP's question.
 

AndyT

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Cheshirechappie":2qyvwvvt said:
Ah.

Sorry. I'll shut up, then!
Don't get me wrong, this is just the sort of topic where we can all pile up information - and you are dead right about use of riving logs, adze and plane. I wasn't suggesting that anyone should shut up.
 

Cheshirechappie

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AndyT":2jicupw1 said:
Cheshirechappie":2jicupw1 said:
Ah.

Sorry. I'll shut up, then!
Don't get me wrong, this is just the sort of topic where we can all pile up information - and you are dead right about use of riving logs, adze and plane. I wasn't suggesting that anyone should shut up.
Oh - no offence taken, Andy - it was more a rueful comment brought about by my failure to properly read the links before posting!
 

Droogs

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In reply to the OPs original point of lack of craftsman info, from my experience this is probably down to the fact that the art world and its" bodies" have never considered anything created by a woodworker as a piece of art. Even now the offical art funding bodies all view pieces made in wood as Craft and not Art and this include sculptures. I know this from having been turfed out on my ear more than once when applying for arts funding for project over the years. Oh make it out of welded/riveted metal or chiselled stone and then it is Art but wood then NO NO NO its just craftswork and therefore not worth considering as worthy.

right rant over
 

Jacob

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Droogs":1s88f17l said:
In reply to the OPs original point of lack of craftsman info, from my experience this is probably down to the fact that the art world and its" bodies" have never considered anything created by a woodworker as a piece of art. Even now the offical art funding bodies all view pieces made in wood as Craft and not Art and this include sculptures. I know this from having been turfed out on my ear more than once when applying for arts funding for project over the years. Oh make it out of welded/riveted metal or chiselled stone and then it is Art but wood then NO NO NO its just craftswork and therefore not worth considering as worthy.

right rant over
David Nash? https://www.google.com/search?q=david+n ... 60&bih=511
Brancusi? https://www.google.com/search?q=brancus ... 60&bih=511
Barbara Hepworth? https://www.google.com/search?q=hepwort ... 11&biw=960
 

Droogs

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All the above have made stuff in either stone or metal or paint as well. My point is if you ONLY do wood then you aint an artist. Yet again Jacob read and absorb before you open yer gob

edit typo
 

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