14th-century Slant-lid Chests


This is like the part in the forgettable movie “The Patriot” when you can only pay attention to Mel Gibson’s questionable woodworking skills. Indexer Suzanne Ellison passed on a bunch of details from a 14th-century illuminated manuscript of “The Romance of Alexander.”


As per usual, I am not interested in the Siege of Byzantium in the Alexander Romance but instead focus on the slant-lid chests shown in the book. Why have I not built these? They are similar in form to a Dutch tool chest. The slanted lid prevents one (one Lucy, that is) from stacking things on top of it. And it can be nailed together with a nice frame-and-panel lid – ooh, and nice blacksmith hardware.

The only thing preventing me from starting tonight is that I’m steam bending parts for an upcoming DVD  – with a hot deadline breathing down my skinny neck.

But soon.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to 14th-century Slant-lid Chests

  1. hgordon4 says:

    Can you divulge the subject of the new DVD? Sounds like I need to budget for another purchase. 🙂


  2. Roger Hylr says:

    I wonder if the slant top is for more physical and visual ease of access rather than prevention of stacking more on the top of the chest.


  3. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    I know the feeling when inspiration strikes. After looking at all these gateleg tables today at Colonial Williamsburg is churning ideas of Danish Modern gateleg tables. Need to make one. Your new book is a little to blame for this too.

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. waltamb says:

    The more things that have a slanted or domed lid… the less the chance of leaving clutter on it.


  5. potomacker says:

    I want to play contrarian here to suggest that this slope is due largely to the manuscript artist’s poor sense of perspective. If one looks at the stool and table that the saddler(?) is sitting/working on, they are also sloped.
    It might be that in the middle ages, everything was sloped to suit the visual aesthetics of the era.


    • One try square off kilter and the entire middle ages were ruined. 😊


    • Maybe. But in the first image of two chests the one on the left definitely looks slanted with the one on the right definitely not.

      I have a book of margin illustrations from the middle ages and will give that a look today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jenohdit says:

      I came here to write pretty much the same thing. Old illustrations are interesting and informative, but not particularly trustworthy when trying to determine what something actually looked like.

      The perspective is all out of whack even in these much later engravings. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2016/03/24/staked-boarded-and-folding-furniture-from-1570-italy/ In the second picture, the guy on the left looks like he is about 8-9 feet tall. The guy looking out the window must be standing somewhere which would put that floor about neck height on the giant.

      I can’t find the source that Ms. Saucy used, but I did find some more that seem to be from that same book on a website about tents. I found an image of table that also gets wider towards the rear and seems to slope. I can’t get a link to that image for some reason.

      Reverse perspective where the vanishing point is in front rather than behind the image was a Byzantine convention. Since that story was Greek and later Byzantine, it possible that earlier illuminations had a strong influence on these.

      Or it could be that they had sloped top chests.

      Liked by 1 person

    • saucyindexer says:

      My thought on seeing these chests was the perspective may be off and the tops might not be slanted, but it could be an inspiration for a modern woodworker.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The first clue to non-perspective rendering is the diapering in the backgrounds. In the second miniature it’s clear that the objects are drawn to a cartoon baseline, and the perspective, such as it is, is for showing what’s important – in the second illustration, at least, the fleece in the chest.

      Also, remember that these illustrations are tiny – it takes serious contortions to show off either the top or contents of a chest.

      I don’t know of any extant medieval or early renaissance single-sloped chests apart from desk boxes/writing slopes; grain arks run a double-slope. I’d love to see an example.


      • prlund123 says:

        Think rain. Many houses had poor roofs that leaked in heavy rains. A slant top chest would not allow water to pool on top. Just a thought.



  6. Both slanted top chests seem to have bracket feet, but the apparently flat topped chest in the top image does not. I wonder if this hints at some special form or use.


  7. Forced perspective in Medieval and Renaissance artwork takes some time to get accustomed. Extant sloped topped chests we have from that era are almost universally grain/flour arks in kitchens (where they remained popular in England through the 17th Century). Looks like the chests in these images are also of frame and panel design, we are more used to seeing hutch-type chests in the 14th Century. Nice pull.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Is that Lucy with the sword?


  9. Brian Clites says:

    This hardware could be awesome. Is Peter already hammering away at some reproduction pieces for you? ⚒😀⚒


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