Fig. 18. Oak Panel. - 17 1/2 ins. high by 13 ins. wide. Late fifteenth century. II. - D
Fig. 25 is one of the small secular chests of the beginning of the sixteenth century, constructed of oak with a front and top of elm. The two roundels are chip-carved in the late Gothic manner. The cutting is rough, as one would expect in a secular chest at this date, and the Gothic traditions are imperfectly comprehended. The lock is not original. It probably possessed one, of well-finished ironwork, buttressed in the Gothic style. At this date, although woodwork fell from its former high standard very frequently, it is rare to find poor ironwork.
The reading desk, Fig. 26, belongs to the late fifteenth century, and, although now considerably restored, still shows much of its original condition, with two rows of cusped Gothic arcading, the upper one finishing below with crenellated coping. It has been cut down, and has lost its original moulded base.
The ambry, or small cupboard fixed near the altar to contain the sacramental vessels, is the first instance of the development from the chest form, with a lid, to the cupboard with a door. It appears towards the close of the fifteenth century only, and is rare until about 1470. After that date it begins to develop rapidly, and standing or livery cupboards, with doors, take the place, largely, of the former chests with lids, although not entirely. The cupboard merely becomes, as it were, an addition to the furnishing of the house. It is always rare in a church, that is, as a piece made specifically for clerical use as compared with one presented or bequeathed. Cupboards possess certain advantages over chests which would cause their rise in favour to be both rapid and permanent. Articles, such as goblets of metal, can be placed vertically in a cupboard, and on two or more tiers if it be provided with shelves, and each article is accessible without one touching another. Against these advantages must be set the facts that for clothing, linen or vestments, which could be laid flat and at length, the chest offers advantages which the cupboard does not possess, and a chest, thus filled, could be easily transported, whereas the cupboard could only be moved with difficulty, especially if its vertical position had to be maintained.
Fig. 20. Oak Chest. - Date about 1500-20. Christchurch Park Museum, Ipswich.
Two of these ambry doors of the close of the fifteenth century, if not the beginning of the sixteenth, are shown in Figs. 27 and 28. In the one is a representation of the Virgin, in the other an acolyte holding a chalice. Both are niched beneath semi-circular arches vaulted to spiral columns. The peculiar character of drapery treatment among English carvers will be noted here. French foldings are sharper, and more mannered, if we except some of the figures sculptured in wood from Touraine of the fifteenth century. In these ambry doors the emergence from the Gothic traditions can be remarked. Fig. 29 is a door from one of the standing buffets of the early sixteenth century, showing traces of Flamboyant Gothic without cusping. In a piece of purely ecclesiastical inspiration this door might have been referred to the previous century.
Fig. 21. Oak Chest. - Date about 1520. Crediton Church, Devon.
Secular Gothic of the later fifteenth century is nearly always cruder and flatter than the clerical; practically chip-carving, executed with sharp clean cuts with the V-gouge or parting tool. The geometrical form of interlacing circular heads, which produces the pointed or lancet arch at the intersections, was a favourite detail, possibly because it was easily remembered and as easily executed. The next three examples show this device. Fig. 30 has chip-carved roundels in square panels at either end, with double arcading between, and is designed with a place for a lock-plate, whereas in Fig. 31 the interlaced arcade runs right along the chest-front and the lock-plate covers the ornament. The change in the decoration below shows that a lock with covering plate was intended, however. Fig. 32 from the Strangers' Hall at Norwich, shows an elaborated version of this interlacing of arches, the mullions being imbricated, and the spaces between, cut with Gothic arcading in the Perpendicular style. All three chests are constructed in a similar way, with solid fronts rebated into the ends and fixed with nails or pegs.
The next example, Fig. 33, also dates from the fifteenth century, but is very late. It has the chip roundels, forming much the same patterns as a child would devise with a draughtsman's compass. On none of these chests do the locks appear to be original, and, apart from the perishable nature of iron there is also the suggestion that these locked chests have been rifled, in nearly every instance, a not unlikely contingency, considering the state of England in the fifteenth century.
Fig. 22. The End View Of The Chest, Fig. 21.
The fine oak chest from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is inscribed " N. Fares," is illustrated in Figs. 34 and 35. This remarkable piece was obviously made to stand with one end against a wall (the opposite end to the one shown in the illustration is plain), but it is carved on both sides, and the back, or hinged side, is more ornate than the front. The central hole in the front shows that it was originally fitted with one of the enormous and complicated iron locks, in height of full chest-depth, which were only used on very important coffers, made to contain articles of great value. This is a late fifteenth-century chest, and of English make, beyond question, and it could only have been made for an important person or purpose. Mr. Fred Roe's contention that it was made for an apothecary of high standing of the name of Fares can only be due to superliveliness of imagination; no apothecary in the fifteenth century would have possessed such a chest, so massive and elaborate, and so heavily guarded. He would have nothing of sufficient value to place inside it, apart from other weighty considerations. There are several hypotheses which are more credible. It may have been presented to an abbot or high church dignitary, and the name may be that of the donor, or more probable still, the name " N. Fares " may indicate an initial of a Christian name coupled with the Latin name of an abbey or see, in the same manner as Cantuar or Ebor. It may have been the strong chest of one of the powerful semi-clerical guilds of that period, made to contain robes and insignia, in which case, "Fares" may still be the name of a place, rather than of a person. The front of the chest was, evidently, the side of least importance, other than to one opening the lid, which is the first item of significance. It has two voluted leafed stalks, terminating in the Rose of York; certainly not the Tudor rose at this date. At the carved end is the monogram "N.F." surmounted by an inverted and stalked acorn calyx or cup, the same device being repeated on the back before the carving of the name. It would be interesting to ascertain if this were not one of the signs of the Cluniac order, which was a powerful guild even as late as this. The trailing vine-tendrils, with leaves and bunches of grapes, may have a religious significance, and the rose at the top left-hand corner in Fig. 35, with a similar device repeated in a row on the band underneath, may mean more than simple ornament. The uprights on this side are buttressed, in the late fifteenth-century manner. The base, on the back and side, is lunetted and carved with cusping. Similar detail probably existed on the front, but has perished. The coffer is small for its appearance; 3 ft. 6 1/2 ins. in length, 1 ft. 6 ins. in depth and 1 ft. 5 1/2 ins. in height, but it may have been either cut down or some inches of its original base worn away. The work which has been lavished upon it, and the high quality of its execution, show that it must have been a piece of first importance when it was made. The suggestion that it may have contained relics may explain its rich character and its small size. Its original associations were undoubtedly clerical, either with an abbey or one of the semi-ecclesiastical guilds.