Bedlam in the Workshop

“Sacra Famiglia” by Andrea Polinori (1623), Chiesa di San Giuseppe, Todi, Umbria, Italy.

This is one image you won’t see in Chris’ new book “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.”

Suzanne Ellison

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16 Responses to Bedlam in the Workshop

  1. lclement4 says:

    Why not? Is it because angels don’t really use bow saws?


  2. Lou Robbio says:

    What was the purpose of this post and picture?


  3. frpaulas says:

    You mean that isn’t young Chris with angles fleeing at the sight?


    • saucyindexer says:

      Based on Older Chris’ ban on putti in the workshop, I think Young Naked Chris is the one fleeing the scene.


  4. SP says:

    Regardless of the suitability or relevance of the image as a post, the title reference to ‘Bedlam’ perpetuates the vastly outdated and stigmatising culture that anyone with any form of mental health issue ought to be in a ‘mad-house’ or lunatic asylum and is therefore wholly inappropriate…..or am I just being a little overly sensitive?


  5. Bruce Lee says:

    It does tend to explain how all those tools end up in places I didn’t put them – putti wrestling and generally misbehaving.


  6. Interesting. I would have guessed that a 400 year old depiction of what an artist imagined a 1st century workshop to look like would be of some academic and intellectual interest. It does seem odd that it would be not just passed over but actively excluded from a book on old workbenches and workshops. (Though, undoubtedly, no readers would have noticed it’s absence if it weren’t for this post).

    Which, of course, begs the question: what is the reason that this painting has been single out as “one image that you won’t see”?


    • Suzanne sorted through more than 8,000 paintings for my next book. She probably found a few hundred that were of note because of their workbenches or workholding. This painting has none of those properties. It’s amusing because of the erotes playing (or wreaking havoc) with the tools in the shop.


    • saucyindexer says:

      The 16th and 17th centuries are awash in paintings of the Holy Family and in the majority there are no workbenches, no tools, no workshop. When Joseph was represented he was often in the background. There were also strictures on how to portray each member of the family and what they should be doing. When there was a workshop scene we had to evaluate if the workbench could add to our research. Can we see the top, any workholding devises, any significant construction differences, etc.

      Although this is a lovely painting, it is more notable for the humor the artist has introduced. Angels and putti were usually shown in adoration of the family or helping the young Jesus in the shop (sweeping up shavings, holding a tool), not little trouble makers.


      • Woodreaux says:

        Ok. Thanks (to both of you) for the explanation. 8000 paintings is a ton to sort through!

        As a side note, I’m no art critic, but I thought the wrestling cherubim were supposed to be an angel defending baby (toddler?) Jesus from a fallen angel (thus the black wings on the one angel and the looking back to Jesus by the white-winged angel). And the other cherub I thought was supposed to be helping Joseph by getting his bow saw off the wall.

        I bet that those folks, like me, who were bemused by your post also did not interpret the painting as a naked angel-baby-imp comedic tableau, and were left, then, to wonder why you would highlight it’s exclusion (along 7000+ other paintings that also didn’t make the cut). It did seem like a strange thing to point out.

        That said, I can see that this painting says more about the theology of the 17th century than the craftsmanship, although as someone who has not looked through many paintings from that era, I thought seeing the planes and even the chisel wall rack was kind of cool, mostly because of how at home those things would be in a workshop today. Doesn’t mean it needs to be in a workbench book, but it’s interesting nonetheless.


      • jenohdit says:

        The sole of Mary’s foot is very interesting. The nail too, foreshadowing.

        This one has a pretty interesting geometry too. It’s a rectangle of 1: sqrt 2 with key lines of the image based on the fundamental subdivisions of that rectangle. For a visual, look at the image in the following link which is described as “a more complex way of dividing a square root of 2 rectangle.”

        That’s just to illustrate some possibilities, the rectangle of the Polinori painting above has a different subdivision scheme based on the intersections of arcs and diagonals. The edge of the right side of the cradle is determined by subdivisions that are shown in that article but not the diagonals they have chosen to emphasize.

        Over that system is another system that appears to be based on a p6m tesselation (Google that). It’s rotated in relation to the base rectangle and from what I can tell is centered on the line passing through the hammer handle in Joseph’s hand.

        Divide the top edge in 2 and the bottom in 4 parts. (the actual derivation is a bit more complicated but that’s close) A line from the top center to a point 3/4 of the distance from the left lower corner to the right lower corner lies along the hammer handle and runs down Joseph’s leg. The board behind the putto with the saw is parallel. Note that Joseph’s left arm is perpendicular to the hammer line. That’s the key to the rotated p6m tesselation. The hammer diagonal is divided into 8 with perpendiculars through the division points.

        Curious? Send me an email – my username at gmail – and I’ll send a picture or 2 of what I’ve discovered so far.


  7. Brian G Miller says:

    Interesting. I would never have seen this had you not posted it. And never mind the naysayers. Thanks.


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