I was looking through the collection at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to decide whether to attend a visit being run by the Regional Furniture Society, and found an odd translation of the panel decoration on the above magnificent 1500s chair. Google translate described it as “decorated with panels letter”. My translator app gives ‘letter fillings’. Our local church has some linenfold work, and I have often wondered how the linenfold design came about, so I thought I’d look into it a little further.
Eventually I came across an excellent article: “Medieval wainscoting and development of the linen panel.” Written by Nathaniel Lloyd in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs Vol. 53, No. 308, Nov., 1928. This six page, fully illustrated (in B&W) article starts with another discussion of the origins of wainscot the word and then goes through earliest stuff of the 13th century called clapboarding (of which no 13th century work survives), which gave a smooth finish, through to highly decorated later paneling familiar in 15th century work onwards.
It was interesting how the decoration developed in two different directions. On the one hand stylised cloth and on the other stylised paper, and the latter is from where Google is deriving its translation of the Dutch briefpanelen or briefvulingen my Dutch is non-existent, I’m afraid. Linenfold was not called such in medieval times, references seem to be to lignis undulatis Latin for wavy wood. Decoration in the cloth line ended up with the edges decorated to look like stitches and embroidery some carved and some punched.
The other line became known as ‘parchemin’ in the 19th century because of it’s resemblance to an open book, or maybe parchment. It looks like this.
The design seems to become very stylised so that if you could imagine the linen laid out flat, there would be a very wavy edge, as the design seems to ignore perspective. This is because the top and bottom edges are mirrored making the foreground folds appear narrower than the background ones.. Try imagine unfolding this one: