Some Insights and Analysis of the Mysterious Medieval Chest

medieval chest (note: If you are not familiar with the story of the mysterious chest here is the first page, it tells you the story The Mysterious Medieval Chest)



There is a new Insight into this medieval chest (Jan 2010) -

If you have been following my blog for some time, or if you visit my medieval website you might be familiar with the unusual case of the mysterious medieval chest. Someone sent me pictures of a beautiful wooden chest and wanted to see if I or my readers could lend some insight into what it was, when and where it came from.
A lot of the speculation revolved around the front of the chest which had what appeared to be a carving of a castle.

I received an email from somebody (Stephen W.) about this carving on the front of the chest. He proposes that it looks more to be a group of bell tents in an encampment rather than a castle. And it makes sense. I think he has really pegged this just right. Here is a partial quote from the email he sent me:
I have an interest in military architecture, tents and chests and the "castle" idea does not fit with what I saw.
I see a group of bell tents with unusual rounded topped door ways, but with the conical shape depicted in some manuscripts and other depictions (i.e. Lorenzo Ghiberti's, Gates of Paradise (East Doors), Baptistery in Florence (1425 - 1437 A.D.), second panel from the bottom left, a group of five bell tents. Some tents have been depicted with dorma windows (i.e. Jean Froissart's Chroniques de Froissart, The Jousts of St. Inglibert (British Library, MS Harl, 4379, f 23v). The structures show a number of features of bell tents; apex decoration, valance decoration anc clear demarcation between the roof and the side panels.

So this could encampment scene may date from the 15th century and not 13th century, which would correspond with the type of chest and over decoration of the chest. See this link:  for clearer picture of chest design and development over time.

The decoration and style of chest looks more like this:
Here is a picture that he refers us to:

The similiarity is uncanny and I think that Stephen really pegged this! My thanks to him for this insight and for the research he did toward this mystery.

I have gotten response and the owners have gotten some responses about this chest. Here is some of the analysis:

From Medievalists M.A. and Thomas W.

We think the images on this chest represent Adam and Eve in the Garden, Eve (on the right) looks as if she is giving Adam (on the left) a gift, perhaps in a basket, perhaps an apple.  We think we also see a man in lower right holding a snake, but it is hard to discern from the pic.  The whole chest speaks of early renaissance rather than medieval, due to the fantastical creatures (satyrs, etc.) which point to a post-renaissance, greco-roman influence, which is why we feel it is probably dated to the 1500's rather than 1300's.  Although, having said that, there is also a definite mediterranean flavor to the decorative carving at the rim and foot, which leads us to believe that this chest could have been an Italian (Salerno?) monastic posession of anytime between the 9th century and later.  The trees, especially, are of tropical, or sub tropical origin, lending weight to the Italian theory.  And indeed the castle, which we believe to represent a fantastical, paradisical, City of God, does resemble the conical towers seen in medieval manuscripts of Salerno.  Whatever, the case, we feel that a Welsh origin is highly unlikely. 

From a Scholar Emeritus at Kansas University

I couldn't see the front well enough to sort out all that is going on, but the central figures are likely to be Paris and Venus - Paris awarding Venus the golden apple. I would be nice (but not essential) if there were two other female figures (Athena and Juno). I can see another figure but not well enough to tell whether it is male or female - seems to be leaning on a staff - could be Athena(Minerva). The winged boy with Venus would be Cupid. The two reclining figures indicate the  landscape setting and are water and air(or land). The personification of water is clear - and typical - a reclining figure with a flowing jug (the upper figures). The lower figure is not as clear but seems to clasp a swan or other long necked bird - which would symbolize air. (for similar personifications in the ancient world, see the Ara Pacis).  The figures on each side of the frame and at the ends are typical Mannerist composite figures. The use of the frame around the central image suggests that the carver has taken the image from an illustrated book - a handbook of iconography for example - a practice typical of the time. We are probably looking at a wedding chest - again that would be typical. The Judgement of Paris was a popular theme for cassoni.

About the Castle Coch Theory that I have posed

I received an email from a castle enthusiast and photographer with some interesting information about Castle Coch which might lend some credence to the theory. If you want to investigate this possibility here is a link to some information about Castle Coch from an organization that does tours to the castle (Scroll down the page a bit to read about Coch Castle . And here is some information about Gilbert De Clare who is believed to have taken over the castle around the 1270's or 1280's. Gilbert DeClare

Here are some bigger and clearer pictures of the chest:

Each picture opens up in a new browser window and they are large so may take a bit of time to load





































































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