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Article

Alexander Nagel

[Fr. postautel, retable; Ger. Altar, Altaraufsatz, Altarbild, Altarretabel, Altarrückwand, Retabel; It. ancona, dossale, pala (d’altare); Sp. retablo]

An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar (see Altar, §II), abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum [retabulum, retrotabularium].

The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. Since the altarpiece was not prescribed by the Church, its form varied enormously. For this reason, it is often impossible, and historically inaccurate, to draw neat distinctions between the altarpiece and other elements occasionally associated with the altar apparatus. For example, movable statues, often of the Virgin and Child, were occasionally placed on altars according to ritual needs, and at those times fulfilled the function of the altarpiece....

Article

Mark Firth and Louis Skoler

Silvery white metal. The third most abundant element in the earth’s crust (after oxygen and silicon), aluminium is found only in the form of its compounds, such as alumina or aluminium oxide. Its name is derived from alumen, the Latin name for alum, and in the 18th century the French word alumine was proposed for the oxide of the metal, then undiscovered. The name aluminium was adopted in the early 19th century and is used world-wide except in the USA, where the spelling is aluminum, and in Italy where alluminio is used. Following the discovery of processes for separating the metal from the oxide, at first experimentally in 1825, then commercially in 1854 and industrially in 1886–8, aluminium rapidly came to be valued as an adaptable material with both functional and decorative properties. Thus in addition to being used in engineering, transport, industrial design and household products, it was also widely adopted in architecture, sculpture and the decorative arts....

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Bronze  

P. T. Craddock

Alloy of copper and tin. In the West bronze was largely superseded by Brass, the alloy of copper and zinc, by the 5th century ad; many brass artworks, however, are commonly described as ‘bronze’. In early times Classical languages had just one term for copper and copper alloys, thus for example the Chinese had the word tang, the Tibetans li, the Greeks khalkos and the Romans aes. (For copper–zinc alloys produced by cementation (see Brass, §II) the Greeks had the term oreikhalkos and the Romans the related term aurichalcum, but these were not often used in general literature.)

The equivalent Anglo-Saxon general term was ‘brass’, and up to the 17th century this simply meant copper or one of its alloys. Various terms for copper–zinc alloys, such as latten and maslin, were in use in the late medieval and early post-medieval periods (see Blair and Blair, pp. 81–106). At about this time the term ...

Article

Cast  

Tim Smare

Reproduction of a three-dimensional object produced by means of a mould.

While moulds can be fashioned directly, for example by carving wood or stone, both mould and cast are usually made in a pliable or amorphous material, such as plaster of Paris, wax or clay. The model is encased in the chosen material, so as to hold an impression of its shape and surface in negative: the mould is then carefully removed and the hollow interior filled to make the positive cast. A piece-mould, a mould constructed in numerous sections, is used to facilitate removal, the small sections sometimes held in place by an outer ‘case’ mould. The modern process of casting has been simplified by the use of synthetic rubbers that can be peeled away from undercut forms and reused. Other, less versatile, flexible materials for moulds include wax, gelatin and latex rubber (see Plastic, §1). Alternatively, a one-off cast can be made with a waste-mould. If the original form is modelled in soft clay, a plaster mould of few sections is easily removed, but if there are undercut forms the mould is ‘wasted’ or chipped away from the cast. ...

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Jutland  

Harriet Sonne de Torrens

Mainland peninsula of modern-day Denmark and one of the three provinces (Jutland, Zealand and Skåne, southern Sweden) that constituted medieval Denmark. The conversion of the Danes to Christianity initiated a reorganization of the economic, social and legal structures of Denmark that would change the shape of Jutland dramatically between the 11th and 14th centuries. Under Knut the Great, King of Denmark and England (reg 1019–35), Jutland acquired a stable diocesan system (1060) that enabled a systematic collection of tithes and the growth of religious institutions between 1050 and 1250. During this period, agricultural practices changed as manor houses and landed estates were established, producing wealth for the ruling families. Under Valdemar I (reg 1157–82) and Knut VI (reg 1182–1202), Jutland witnessed a great building activity; on Jutland more than 700 stone churches were constructed, some replacing earlier wooden churches, each needing liturgical furnishings. Workshops, such as that of the renowned sculptor Horder and many others, were actively engaged in carving stone baptismal fonts (e.g. Malt, Skodborg, Ut, Stenild), capitals, reliefs (Vestervig, Aalborg) and tympana (Gjøl, Ørsted, Stjaer, Skibet), wooden cult figures, Jutland’s golden altars (Lisbjerg, Sahl, Stadil, Tamdrup) and wall paintings. Evidence of the earliest wall paintings in Jutland, ...

Article

Latten  

Gordon Campbell

Mixed metal of yellow colour, either identical with, or closely resembling, brass; often hammered into thin sheets. Latten brass, which is also called black latten, is milled brass in thin plates or sheets; shaven latten is thin latten brass, and roll latten is latten polished on both sides. White latten is tin plate....

Article

Name given to the 76 specially commissioned devotional paintings given, one each May, from 1630 to 1708 by the goldsmiths’ corporation of Paris to the cathedral of Notre-Dame (none was commissioned in 1683 or 1684). The paintings were approximately 3.50×2.75 m in size and usually drew their subjects from the Acts of the Apostles. The commissions were awarded to established artists or, occasionally, to younger painters, indicating their rising reputation. Until the ‘Mays’ were dispersed during the French Revolution they were hung on the arcades of the choir and nave of the cathedral. A number are untraced, but eight have been returned to the side chapels of Notre-Dame, including works by Jacques Blanchard (Descent of the Holy Ghost, 1634); Sébastien Bourdon (Crucifixion of St Peter, 1634) and Charles Le Brun (Stoning of St Stephen, 1651). Another eleven, including Bon Boullogne’s Jesus Healing the Sick...

Article

Gordon Campbell

[objets de vertu]

Decorative work in a fine material (e.g. glass, porcelain, semi-precious stones, silver or gold) that is attractive because of its antiquity, beauty and quality of workmanship. ‘Vertu’ (It. virtù) refers to a taste for curios or other works of art. The traditional form objets de vertu combines French and English spellings; as the Italian sense of ...

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Charles J. Semowich

[weathercock]

Item for indicating wind direction, usually made by blacksmiths of wrought iron or copper and placed on public buildings, churches and private dwellings. The weathervane was invented by the Greeks, and in 48 bc a vane, in the form of ‘Triton’, was installed on the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhos (the so-called Tower of Winds), a weather observatory in Athens. The Romans created weathervanes because of their belief that wind direction could foretell the future. Marcus Terentius Varro described a weathervane located on his villa in which the wind direction was indicated on the inside by a shaft through the ceiling, which was connected to the vane. The Vikings had quadrant-shaped weathervanes, which influenced the design of weathervanes until the 10th century. An early Viking example is in the Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm. During the medieval period a papal decree stated that a rooster (often in the form of a weathervane) should be placed on each church in order to serve as a reminder of the betrayal of Jesus. Early recorded weathervanes illustrated in medieval art include those in the manuscript of the poet ...