On Divers Arts

In the past, I’ve mentioned the book On Divers Arts by Theophilus, a medieval treatise on painting, glassmaking, and metalwork.  I was first introduced to this book in an art history class, which was cool because art historians don’t usually focus on how the art was made.

When this book was first written, it was controversial because Theophilus was sharing trade secrets that were normally only taught by a master to his apprentice.  It’s kind of like when that masked magician revealed all the illusionists tricks on TV a while back.  Theophilus wasn’t even the real name of the writer (they think it might have been Roger of Helmarshausen.)  While it has enough vagaries that it didn’t bring down the whole medieval guild system, it does explain a lot.  And it gives the modern artist/glass worker/metalsmith and interesting look at how things were made in the past.

The Wire Drawer. From the Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwolfbrüderstiftung, 1435-6 a device similar to that described by Theophilus Image from: Pfaffenbichler, Matthias. Medieval Craftsman ARMOURERS. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, Buffalo 1992. ISBN 0-8020-7732-3 page 57

The metalworking part of the book is by far the longest.  It begins with describing how to construct and then outfit your workshop.  When discussing tools, it’s amazing how similar my tools are to the medieval smiths’.  Thankfully I have a blowtorch that uses canister gas and not a ram skin bellows and forge!  There are definitely more similarities than differences though.  And after perusing it again last night, I’ve got some ideas brewing for a chalice, bowl, or maybe even a teapot!