Monday, August 29, 2011

Taking Apart Images - Part 3.2 - The Choir Stalls in Munich by Erasmus Grasser

Continuing from my previous post...

Buckles for gurtils is an interesting subject. Who knew there would be so many varieties, styles, shapes and material types. This post was inspired by the choir stalls in the Munich Cathedral and I wanted to give buckles their due. While this post won't center completely on the gurtils from the choir stall, it will touch on my journey to find those particular buckles.

First things first, a little history on buckles in general. My first stop is with their history of the word itself.
buckle (n.) "spiked metal ring for holding a belt, etc., c.1300, bukel, from O.Fr. bocle "boss (of a shield), buckle, metal ring," 12c., from L. buccula "cheek strap of a helmet," dim. of bucca "cheek." The verb in this sense is late 14c., bokelen.

And a quick touch at

Origin: 1300–50; Middle English bocle < Anglo-French bo ( u ) cle, bucle < Latin buc ( c ) ula cheekpiece (of a helmet), strip of wood, etc., resembling a cheekpiece, equivalent to bucc ( a ) cheek + -ula -ule

So at least 'buckle/bocle/bucle' as a term was used from the 12C onward in various forms, though I am uncertain about the German counterpart. What it was called prior to this, I have yet to find, but that's an avenue of research I am unwilling to pursue at this point in time. Apparently buckles have been in use since the Roman age for helmets and through all subsequent generations until it became what it is currently.

While trying to figure out what to call the end of the gurtil once it's passed through the buckle, I ran across the terms for the bits and pieces of a buckle. Who knew there was so much to a buckle?... and I still haven't found a technical term for the gurtil end [but my husband assures me that there is only the buckle on one end and, well, the end on the other, therefore, calling it the end should be appropriate :D].

The components of modern buckles are the frame, the prong, the bar and the chape. The frame is the main structure that holds the whole thing together. It generally has either a D shape or a figure 8 shape. According to a Wikipedia article on buckles,

The oldest Roman buckles are of a simple "D"-shaped frame, the prong or tongue of which attaches on one side to reach the other. Buckles with double-loop "8"-shaped frames whose prong attaches to the center post do not emerge until the 14th century. Multi-part buckles with chapes and removable pins appear in the 17th century and are often used on shoes.
The prong is the pin that skewers the leather and the bar is that to which the pin and the leather/fabric of the gurtil are attached on the frame. The 'chape', on the other hand, is something else entirely. I had a hard time picturing what a "chape" was supposed to be from the various descriptions I found. Since they are not period (at least according to Wikipedia) and I'm having the hardest time finding to what they are referring, I am leaving this troublesome word to the great void and moving forward. [Apparently, a 'chape' is also the metal at the end of a sword scabbard, which really made researching the belt variety fun and it can also be used as a term for the little bit at the end of shoelaces.]

At any rate, I found a site, Buckles Through the Ages by Chris Marshall, that gives a lot of information and was really helpful. His site centers around metal detection finds in England. [Now to find one of those for Germany. :D] Looking at Fig. 6 number 81 of his site, I would say that the Choir Stall figures are wearing the Type IN variety, which falls in the 1450-1500+ range most likely cast in either iron or copper, though they could have been formed from sheet metal. Chris Marshall also has a really nice two piece article on the history of buckles which has given me much to consider.

Another site shows versions of the actual buckles - Buckles Through the Ages, which appear to be mostly copper. [It is also from England.]

I think it would be feasible to use the images from both sites, as well as period sources, to determine what would be appropriate to this period in Germany. It seems reasonable that through trade many of these buckles would have either been available or used by many countries in Western Europe and beyond.

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