Today we’re going to have a go at the piece that inspired the Trompe L’oeil article from a couple weeks ago. Aside from the accession number this one doesn’t have a proper name, but we’re going to call it the Gonzaga Chest after one of the two coats of arms painted on the main case.
Being these chests are almost all about the profile, let’s start there:
Alright… but how does it scale?
The side of this chest follows an external proportion of 5:4. That is, 5 modules in height, 4 in depth. The bottom fifth of the height establishes the height of the pedestal (as in the Classical Orders). The remaining 4 module by 4 module section is then again divided into parts of five. Don’t mistake the “measurement” shown in the graphic for meters, a module is simply a segment of distance. The Gonzaga chest measures 55cm by 44.5c, on this face, but that includes the additional thickness of the lid and front and back panels. Historically, in designing by proportion, the space between “thicknesses” is the only part that is counted for this kind of layout.
Having found the center of the body above the pediment, a circle is struck with a diameter of 4modules.
Next, we need to establish the slope of the pediment. From careful measurement with a straight edge and compass, I deduced that the rise maps from the center of the circle to the bottom edge of the board at 1/5th from the front edge.
A secondary arc is then laid in with the spring of the arc being 1/5th from the top the panel, and being one sixth of a circle. Those who recall last week’s post may be noticing some common themes.
Let’s not forget the bootjack before we saw everything out.
With the coopered face panel, lid, and back panel in place, the chest looks something like this. From photographs of the original, the arc for the end battens of the lid were marked off of the body after the cladding was put in place (again, with a 1/6th chord) before the battens were added.
We know that the front, back, and lid are constructed of multiple boards joined on edge. Given that steam bending in this orientation is possible, but difficult, it would be more likely that the coopered front and lid were roughly joined on angle, then planed to consistency. We can even see along the back edge of the lid where the arcing became too aggressive on the lid and deformed the curvature.
The back side of this chest gives us a grand view of the construction. That is, three nails down the short sides, five nails across the bottom. …But where is the hinge?
And with this picture I’ll happily eat crow. Gimmal hinges are most commonly found on small boxes or as the hinge for dyptics and tryptics. A gimmal is essentially two cotter-pins joined at the eyes which are driven through holes in the case and lid of a box to function as an inexpensive and unobtrusive hinge (especially if you can hide the legs). Until this very chest, I had become very skeptical of the idea that gimmals were used on anything larger than a bible box. This very fine marriage chest (measuring Height: 55 cm, Width: 147.5 cm, Depth: 44.5 cm according to the V&A) is certainly much larger than a 16th century English Bible Box.
And if you want the lid to stay open, the craftsman included this little gem of innovation:
A little built-in lid catch, held in place by a nail. This view and the one previous also confirms the speculative design shown in the graphics above regarding the curvature of the end boards. Also, there are those applied false feet that continue the pediment from the side panels. As evident, they are nailed to the front edges of the side panels and (less apparently) toenailed into the bottom edge of the face/floor board.
Like the Medici, this chest is painted with egg tempera over two layers of gesso ground. There is evidence of a single keyhole and a lid latch that extends into a hole in the upper lip of the front, however no details are provided in the description.