Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When life hands you fish...

Ok, I suppose a post on medieval glue isn't the most fascinating thing for most of you, but it's useful and I think people forget how easy it is to make! Carpenters, painters, bookbinders and shoemakers all needed various glues to ply their trades as, I imagine, did housewives and those (like myself) with a tendency to drop things rather often. There are already many sites out there which discuss the various practical uses of medieval glue, so, rather than reinventing the wheel, my aim here is simply to provide you all with some primary sources.

So without further ado, the recipes:

From Petrus de S. Audemar (13-14th century):

"Of Certain Kinds of Gum or Glue: If you have not the air-bladder of a sea-fish, cut up thick vellum in the same manner, and wash it. Also wash carefully three times in warm water the dried bones of the head of a pike, and boil them. Whichever of these you boil, add to them one-third part of very clear gum, that is, gum arabic, and boil a little; and you may keep this as long as you will"

"How Glue is Made from Cheese: Fresh cheese is first to be washed in hot water, until the milk is washed out, and then ground with lime and water, in a little mortar or on a marble slab; and a little before this is done--namely, while the cheese is being ground--the colour is soaked in water again. Then, when the cement is prepared, so as to be as white, clear, and shining as milk, it is put into a small vase, and the colour is scraped into it with a kife, and care must be taken not to let the air have access to the mixture; and when the colour is seen to be good, it may be used for writing at pleasure."

Source: de S. Audemar, Petrus. "De Coloribus Faciendis". From Mrs. Mary P. Merrifeld. "Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting, Original Texts with English Translations". Dover Publications Inc., New York. 1967.

From the Marciana Manuscript (16th Century):

"A Most Excellent Glue for Damp and Moist Places which always becomes Harder, but only Fears the Heat, and Fixes Everything to Wood and Stone, which must be as Smooth as Porphyry: Take one pound of good yellow wax, nine ounces of liquid varnish, and one pound of black naval pitch. Put the varnish into a pipkin over a slow fire, that is hot enough to liquefy without burning it; then throw in the wax, liquefy it in the same manner and incorporate it well with the varnish; then do the same with the pitch, having previously pounded it, etc. Then take Armenian bole ground to a fine powder, and stir some of it into the other ingredients until the whole material becomes liquid, and yet so tenacious that it fixes and holds together firmly the things which you wish to glue together; and you must stir the ingredients well together and use them warm, because in a short time the cement hardens so that xou cannot glue with it. And when you have applied it where you please, and wish to make the surface smooth and polished, take a firebrand from the fire and bring it near to the glue until the heat causes it to liquefy and spread; you should also move about the firebrand over the surface of the glue, and melt it so that it at length becomes smooth and beautiful &c. And on putting the work which you have cemented into water, it will immediately become very hard."

Source: Divers Secrets (Extracts from a manuscript in the Marciana Library at Venice). From Mrs. Mary P. Merrifeld. "Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting, Original Texts with English Translations". Dover Publications Inc., New York. 1967.

From Cennini (15th Century):

"To make a Glue out of Lime and Cheese: There is a glue used by workers in wood; this is made of cheese. After putting it to soak in water, work it over with a little quicklime, using a little board with both hands. Put it between the boards; it joins them and fastens them together well. And let this suffice you for the making of various kinds of glue."

"And there is a glue which is known as leaf glue; this is made out of clippings of goats' muzzles, feet, sinews, and many clippings of skins. This glue is made in March or January, during those strong frosts or winds; and it is boiled with clear water until it is reduced to less than half. Then put it into certain flat dishes, like jelly molds or basins, straining it thoroughly. Let it stand overnight. Then, in the morning, cut it with a knife into slices like bread; put it on a mat to dry in the wind, out of hte sunlight; and an ideal glue will result. This glue is used by painters, by saddlers, and by ever so many masters, as I shall show you later on. And it is a good glue for wood, and for many things. [...]"

Source: Cennini, Cennino d'Andrea. "The Craftsman's Handbook (Il Libro dell'Arte)", trans. By Daniel V. Thompson, Jr. Dover Publications, Inc., New York. 1960.

From Theophilus (13th Century):
"Glue from Hide and Stag Horns When this has been carefully dried out, take some cuttings of
the same hide [horse, ass, or cow-hide], similarly dried, and cut them up into pieces. Then
take stag horns and break them into small pieces with a smith's hammer on an anvil. Put these
together in a new pot until it is half full and fill it up with water. Cook it on the fire without
letting it boil until a third of the water has evaporated. Then test it like this. Wet your fingers
in the water and if they stick together when they are cold, the glue is good; if not, go on
cooking it until your fingers do stick together. Then pour this glue into a clean vessel, fill the
pot again with water, and cook as before. Do this four times."

Source: Theophilus, On Divers Arts (De Diversis Artibus), trans. By Hawthorne, J., and Smith, C., Dover Publications, Inc, New York. 1979.

and if you are very, very interested in fish glue, absolutely everything you need to know is here:


Also, if any of you have other period recipes, please post them here!

Friday, February 20, 2009

La plus ca change...


"The Flag of the Mad Mother" (15th century). Dijon.
Source: Eco, Umberto (ed.). On Ugliness. p. 139

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy St. Valentine's

Charicature by Bartolomeo Passerotti

16th-17th century, private collection

Source: Eco, Umberto (ed.). "On Ugliness". Rizzoli International Publications, 2007. Milan, 2007. P. 130.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blue Laws

Woad was one of western Europe's most important dyestuffs, which makes it no surprise that the woad industry was a powerful one. So when dyes like indigo (which produces more dye than Woad) and Logwood (which looks like woad at first, but fades quickly) were introduced in the late middle ages, there was some backlash. Pretty soon, laws began to be passed prohibiting them. Indigo was made illegal in what is now Germany in 1577 (and repeated in 1594 and 1603), saying it was the "devil's dye", and Nürnberg dyers had to take an oath promising not to use the dye every year.

The deceitful use of Logwood (selling cheap knock-offs is nothing new!) was made officially illegal in England by Queen Elizabeth I. Here is part of the text:

“Act of Queen Elizabeth I prohibiting the use of Logwood 1567
Anno vicesimo tertio Reginae Elizabethae
Cap. IX Logwood and Blockwood shall not be used in the dying of cloth, etc.
Whereas of late years there hath been brought into this Realm of England, from beyond the seas, a certain kind of Ware or Stuffe called Logwood, alias Blockwood, wherewith divers Dyers, Clothiers, Hatmakers and others have and do die daily, divers broad Clothes kersies, Woolls, Pennestones, Bayes, Cottons, Hose, Yarn, Hats, Caps, Flannels, Docadoes, Rashes, tuft Dockadoes, and other things, forasmuch as the colours made with the said stuff called Logwood is false and deceitful, and the Clothes and other things wherewith dyed, are not only sold and uttered, to the great deceit of the Queen’s loving subjects within this her Realm of England, but also beyond the Seas, to the great discredit and slander, as well of the Merchants, as of the Dyers of this Realm.
For reformation whereof, be it ordained, enacted and established, by the Queen our Sovereign Lady, and by the assent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and by the authority of the same, that all such Logwood, alias Blockwood, in whose hands soever the same shall be found, after the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel next ensuing, shall be forfeited, and openly burnt by authority of a Mayor or other head officer of the City or Town Corporate, or of two Justices of the Peace of the County where it shall be found, and that from and after twenty days after the end of this session of Parliament, no person of what degree soever be he, shall dye or cause to be dyed any Cloth, Wooll, or any of the Premisses above mentioned, or anything whatsoever, with any of the said Ware or Stuff called Logwood, alias Blockwood, upon pain that the Dyer of every such thing so dyed, the one moity to the use of the Queen’s Majesty, her Heirs or Successors, and the other moiety to him that shall sue for the same, by action of debt, bill, plaint, or information, in any Court of Record, in which suit, no essoyne, protection, wager of Law, no writ of privilege for the defendant , shall be admitted or allowed; and the party offending, being thereof convicted, to remain in prison without bail or mainprize, till he have satisfied the same value. […]"

Source: Edmonds, John. “Historic Dyes Series No. 3: Medieval Textile Dyeing”. John Edmonds, 2003. Pp. 79-80.

Other sources:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Medieval Automata

Heres a link to a great intro to medieval automata


I do have to say, though, that automata really freak me out...as cool as they are, there's something unnatural about them. I also think we forget that mechanics in the middle ages wasn't as backwards as many people think. There are several descriptions of various automata at the Byzantine court. Unfortunately, many of them were melted down for their precious metals long ago. Also, in the 13th century, Al-Jazari wrote the Kitáb fí ma'rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices), which describes over 50 mechanical devices and how to build them. 200 years later, Leonardo da Vinci continued the craft, creating many automata himself.

Crouching Tiger...

These two Chinese pillows were at an exhibit at the Museum for East Asian Art here in Cologne, and the tiger one really made me smile :-)
The top one is stoneware, 13.3 cm high by 38.1 cm long, and dates to the 12th century.
The second one is earthenware, 14 cm high by 29 cm long, and dates from the 12th - 13th century.
Both photos are from the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln copyright the Reinisches Bildarchiv Köln