Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Ombrellino, Umbraculum or Pavilion and Medieval Tent Construction

A 13th C. fresco of Sylvester I and Constantine, showing an ombrellino held over a papal tiara (source: Wikimedia)

At least as early as the 13th c., a sort of parasol, called an umbraculum in Latin, an ombrellino in Italian, or a pavilion, was carried for certain medieval dignitaries. It was particularly associated with the Pope, but also carried for the Doge of Venice and others. It served at least two purposes: protecting them from the sun and showing their importance and dignity.

It must have had some sort of internal frame to spread it open, perhaps a frame of radial ribs like the modern or classical parasol.

It also provides evidence of how medieval tentmakers might have solved the similar problem of building a round tent with an internal structure spreading the roof.

There are a number of possible solutions: sloping radial ribs like a parasol, horizontal spokes like a wagon wheel, a rigid hoop in the valence, or a combination of hoop and spokes or ribs.

Here's a larger version of the fresco shown above. There's no evidence of horizontal spokes, and the canopy is visibly convex, suggesting flexible ribs.

Here the Ombrellino is shown over St. Peter on the ceiling of the Chamber of the Popes in the Lateran Palace. There are no horizontal spokes visible, and what could be sloping ribs are visible beneath the canopy. There could be a rigid hoop structure within the valence.

is the form carried behind the Doge of Venice, from a 19th c. reduction of Jost Amman's Swiss woodcut ca. 1565. Here the canopy has two levels, with a concave curve to the lower level. Modern patio and beach umbrellas often have a similar two level canopy, to allow an exit path for wind. The bearer seems to have some sort of support for the bottom of the shaft

Update: Tracy Justus found this, from Concilium Constantiense by Ulrich von Richental, printed in 1483.

Thanks to Karen Larsdatter for pointing out the umbrella held over the figure in front of a temple on the left side of this image from the Utrecht Psalter.

If any of my readers have had a chance to view the underside of surviving ombrellinos from the Middle Ages or Renaissance, or seen any other depictions in the iconography of the period, I welcome your comments. Ombrellinos are still part of Papal regalia, and one of the privileges granted to Catholic basilicas, although I don't know how the modern construction relates to the medieval.

Here are more posts on medieval tent construction.

Here is a useful thread on pavilion structure, discussing a modern reconstruction of a round pavilion with a rigid wooden internal hoop.

Here is another that discusses pavilion construction

A table of medieval and Renaissance tent pictures. More images here.

Medieval Pavilion Resources

Illustrations of 15th c. tents

Illustrations of 16th c. tents

A surviving Portuguese/Spanish tent of 1542-45. Another view.

A surviving 17th c. pavilion at Basel

In addition to ombrellinos, we can also look at canopies of state and bed canopies to look at how medieval tents and pavilions might have been constructed. Several of the conical canopies of state in this thread show strong evidence of a hoop. Bed canopies were usually rectangular, but here is an example of one with a conical canopy.

1 comment:

medievalpaint said...

"It also provides evidence of how medieval tentmakers might have solved the similar problem of building a round tent with an internal structure spreading the roof"

There are two extant tents that are from the late renaissance that do not use spokes, plus pictorial evidence from the 15th C showing a spokeless tent being set up. (Bettinni)

There is evidence however from the Court of Henry the 8th, where a comment re 'tent hoops' was listed. But this has to be borne in mind that Henry had tents made that were superstructures, ie Cloth of Gold and needed far more in the sense of materials and engineering than a more simple tent might offer.

14th C Fresco (Simone Martini) shows tent guys at the angle you would expect from guy supported tents.

Many of the 'arguments' for spoked tents are based on what is apparently being depicted in many manuscripts, because the shapes are so rigid and no guys are shown, notwithstanding that in many of those MSS the images are a matter of inches tall and other details are omitted. Yet very well portrayed images and even extant tents are not viewed with the same level of interest.

There is another basic issue, cost and simplicity, those tents with spokes use more material, weigh more and take longer to set up. The 'average' soldier's tent is not going to be an extravagant affair, indeed the Bettinni image of the 15thc is for a 'knight' type person.

What I feel is a shame is a lot of time is spent on finding rationales for say spoked tents and the subsequent experimentation on them and yet hardly any spoke free ones based on actual evidence.

I do not at all rule out other forms of support, far from it, but the old spoked tent is a bit of a chestnut and seems to be more about finding a retrofit to suit modern day reenactment issues, such as tent ground space. A spokeless tent will invariably have a greater floor area than a spoked one. Again see Martini.

But I dot see the immediate connection between lightweight umbrellas and spoked tents.The scale up is not that simple, see above comments re weight, practicality etc.

Very stimulating stuff though, nice to see the subject still being mooted.