WOOD SPECIES AND THE QUESTION OF ORIGIN: REASSESSING THE SCULPTURE PRODUCTION IN THE DIOCESE OF TURKU (ÅBO) DURING THE 14TH CENTURY

  • Katri Vuola
Keywords: art history, medieval polychrome sculpture, origin, wood species, alder (Alnus), birch (Betula), bishopric of Turku (Åbo)

Abstract

This paper deals with choices of wood species in the 14th century
polychrome sculptures in the diocese of Turku (Åbo), Finland, the
easternmost part of the Swedish Realm in the Middle Ages. The aim of
the article is to draw an overall picture of the wood use in sculpture
and discuss the emergence of the local workshops in the diocese.
This is done by presenting new wood definitions and by taking these
into account the when analysing the sculptures’ style and form.
The emphasis on the research is on sculptures previously defined
as carved from birch and which thus are determined as Finnish or
Nordic of their origin. The methods for defining the wood species
have been ocular observation and microscopy analysis. The choice
of wood is approached from the perspective of the wood species
availability in the area and suitability for carving. The results of the
investigation indicate that in addition to oak, and instead of birch,
particularly alder (Alnus) was used in the locally manufactured sacral
sculptures, and in some cases using oak sculptures as models. Alder
was possibly favored due to its good availability and inexpensiveness
as well as workability. It can, however not be ruled out, that sculptures
of alder may have been imported to the bishopric as well.

Author Biography

Katri Vuola

Katri Vuola (b. 1964) is an art historian currently writing on her
Ph.D. at the University of Helsinki, Finland, funded by the Kone
Foundation. Her thesis deals with the materiality and function of the
ecclesiastical sculpture in the bishopric of Turku during the 13th and
14th centuries. Vuola has worked as a Researcher and Coordinator at
the museums and at the church administration. Her particular areas
of interest include historiography art history research, materials and
materiality of the Middle Ages, as well as museological perspectives
on medieval wooden sculpture. Vuola will continue the research
of the wood use in medieval sculpture in a Academy of Finland
funded project Carving out Transformations (2018—2022) based at
the University of Turku. Vuola is also affiliated with the Finnish
Literature Society.

Published
2019-12-30