Fig. 4. Poplar Chest. Chelsworth Church, Suffolk. - 4 ft. 5 ins. long over lid by 2 ft. 3 ins. high by 1 ft. 8 ins. back to front. Late fourteenth century.
Fig. 7. Oak Chest With Iron Strapwork. - 6 ft. 4 1/2 ins. long by 2 ft. 1 in. high by 1 ft. 4 ins. back to front. Fourteenth century. - Capt. N. R. Colville, M.C.
Fig. 8. The Chest, Fig. 7, With Lid Open, Showing The Decorative Painting.
Fig. 12 is a characteristic fourteenth-century chest from Dersingham Church, with fully-carved front. It is typical only, however, in belonging strictly to its period, but as an example of an ornate chest of this date it is highly exceptional. It is, beyond question, of English workmanship, whereas many of the ornate chest-fronts of this epoch are of doubtful nationality. The front is decorated with a winged angel holding the scroll of Matthew (Matheus) and Marcus, Lucas and Johannas are represented in the others. The front, which is carved from the solid, is tenoned into wide uprights, traceried in the mid-fourteenth-century manner, and above and below are bands ornamented with the rose of York centred between two birds, in a repeated pattern.
There is no doubt that the making of chest and coffer-fronts was a regular industry in the fourteenth century, the system of solid-front construction lending itself to this separate production. Carvers of high skill evidently engaged in this work, but whether they were all of English origin is doubtful. It is difficult, at the present day, however, to imagine the extent of the English dominions in the years from 1327 to 1376, when Edward III was on the throne of England. The south-western part of France, from the north of Poictiers to the Spanish frontier, including the eastern boundary to Auvergne, Languedoc and Touraine was in the possession of England, and although, with Richard II, much of this was lost, Guienne and Acquitaine were still retained. Paris was more English than French until the middle of the fifteenth century. To speak of English workmen and workmanship at this period, therefore, is very misleading. French artisans intermingled with their English fellow-craftsmen to a large extent, and the wandering Fleming and Walloon frequently settled in this country in the fourteenth century, making his home and following his crafts here, and at the same time exercising a powerful influence on the development of the English huchier. The fourteenth-century chest in Faversham Church shows this influence in a very marked manner, and the late fifteenth or sixteenth-century examples such as at Crediton and elsewhere show the French traditions perpetuated in the same way. Equally, the coffer in the Cluny Museum, from the Gerente collection, from the very early fourteenth century, if not earlier, has the English influence intermingled with the French. One of the Knights in the canopied niches bears the leopards of England on his shield, and others of the twelve show English influence, if not workmanship. Although the relations between the countries were more warlike than artistic, - Crecy was fought in 1346, the siege of Calais was in the following year, and the Battle of Poictiers was only nine years later, - there must have been strong reacting influences between French and English craftsmen, even if the education was only fostered by a study of the pieces looted from each other by the combatants. In this connection, it is well to note that chests, containing valuables, would be just the articles of woodwork which would thus be the most likely to change hands in this way. The coffer-fronts, Figs. 13 and 14, exhibit this foreign influence, especially in the first of the two. Here we have a knight, in armour and on horseback, in pursuit, with poised lance, of a very small dragon which follows a lady in the most docile fashion. The lady holds a strap-lead which is knotted round the dragon's neck.
Fig. 9. Oak Chest. - Early fifteenth century. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Fig. 11. Oak Chest Or Ark. - 3 ft. 4 ins. long by I ft. 9 ins. high. Fifteenth century. - W. Smedley Aston, Esq
At the left of the panel is another episode of the knight vigorously spearing the dragon (who has lost his neck-strap, by the way) while the rescued maiden kneels in prayer of thanksgiving for the deliverance. At the bottom, at each end, are shown small animals, hares or rodents, entering burrows, and above, on the left is the meeting of the knight and the rescued damsel. To the right, in quaint perspective, is shown the town beleagured by the dragon, with the king and queen, properly crowned, looking forth from the castle windows, which their heads more than fill.1 The legend of St. George and the Dragon is now regarded as an English one, but this origin is of doubtful authenticity. There is a chest at York which shows exactly the same subject as in this Victoria and Albert Museum example, but reversed. The two were probably by the same hand, and were made, specifically, as coffer-fronts instead of as complete chests. It is doubtful if the Museum example has even been made up as a coffer.