Friday, January 7, 2011

Lighting The Castle

Medieval Illumination (of the lighting kind)

In our Modern World we have come to take for granted the ability to light up the Night. This was not always so, and really only recently became the norm. Before the electric light was invented, there were only one or two options when it came to lighting the night. Candles, torches and oil lamps were the basic methods used for thousands of years. Primitive shell shaped oil lamps have been found in the stone age caves of Europe. Ceramic shell shaped oil lamps are still in use today in Temples in India. The oil used is mostly olive oil or the oil of various seeds. Perhaps the MOST primitive form of light is the torch, originally probably just a burning stick held aloft. The need to have reliable PORTABLE light gradually transformed the burning branch into a metal spike with flammable substance attached to one end.
As I began to think about the kinds of lights I would need for my Castle Dollhouse, I searched through all my Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts for examples that would be true to the era I am trying to portray. I was surprised at how FEW examples there are of lights of any kind! Because the Medieval artists were very focused on the little details of their worlds, I have to assume that they would have included lighting in their paintings if it were commonly present. And because they DIDN'T include it very often, I am going to assume that it was not as common as some would think. Perhaps the Kings and Lords would stay up late burning the oil, but the Common folk lived their lives in daylight with a curfew (cover fire) at dark. In the Northern countries in Winter there were surely hours spent awake after dark descended, but candles were expensive and used sparingly.
I have included a few pictures of the illuminations I found that DID show lighting in use. Here is one from my favorite Boccaccio's Decameron. It shows a night watchman with his lantern pursuing a couple of misbehaving gentlemen. While this is set at night, there is no attempt by the artist to make the scene look darkened.
Below is another painting that shows several types of illumination - lantern and torches. This type of torch, essentially a metal basket with fire in it hanging on a long metal pole, is shown often in this type of painting. The subject is the betrayal of Christ in the Garden, a scene that happens at night. Here again, the artist does not try to darken the picture. This illumination is from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.
Here below is a scene with candles lighting a meal. This is from the Boccaccio's Decameron that I mentioned before, and is the only meal in the whole book that shows candles being used. The artist has clearly depicted all the various dishes and foods that were used.
Here is another dining scene. This is one of my favorites, and is actually quite late, almost not Medieval at all, but set in the early sixteenth century. Notice the beautiful brass chandelier hanging overhead with no candles, and only one lighted candle on the table.
Here below is another illumination from my favorite Boccaccio, showing a tiny chandelier hanging over the bed in a scene of seduction! This is one of the earliest portrayals I have found of a hanging chandelier! This manuscript was illuminated in the early fifteenth century.
Another illumination shows candles burning around the bier of a dead person of importance. As this is shown in many books for the Offices of the Dead, it is clearly an important part of the rituals.
One of the most common places where candles were shown in use were the altars in prayer scenes.
Below is another example of candles at an altar, this time in tall metal candle holders beside the altar.
Below is another scene showing the use of a torch at night to light the way outdoors. This is from the Boccaccio, and the torch appears to be a wooden pole with a flaming end. It is not quite clear to me what is used to make the burning part......
This one below shows more torches, both the pole type and the basket type, quite clearly.
And again, a similar scene with torches, but a later Medieval version where the artist is showing the realism of night illuminated by fire! This is from the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, painted in the late fifteenth century. For comparison, this is the same scene shown in the second picture (above) where Christ is betrayed in the Garden. There are conventions used in both, common to this subject, most notably the little lantern at the bottom that has been tipped over!
And below we have a scene where a torch is being used to light the way..... Oh, wait... That's Henry carrying a torch in my Castle Dollhouse!
He's on his way to the well and it is dark in that part of the Castle!
Having decided that I need to make torches for my Castle Dollhouse to light the more Common areas, like the Great Hall, and the Pantries, I came up with a combination of metal jewelry findings and some candle flame bulbs and sockets. I wanted to be able to replace burnt out bulbs and the whole unit needed to fit into the jewelry finding........ like this!
The wire is threaded out through the bottom of the "wooden" part made from sculpey. I also made a holder bracket out of black sculpey, to look like iron, with two eye screws to hold the torch. The wire will be threaded through a small hole in the wall at the base of the bracket and run behind the wall to the power strip.
The torches in the Great Hall are attached to the wall, but I still have to run the wires through the walls..... For the flame shaped bulb cover I raided a bunch of those LED tea-lights. I might paint some orangey yellowish streaks on them so they aren't so white.......
Here is a close-up of the bracket before the torch is added....
And a closer view of the lit torch in the bracket......
And another one....
Here is a shot of the torches, assembled from metal jewelry findings, with the wires from the bulb threaded through and out the bottom.....
Slightly closer view... Of course, I got carried away with the findings and these torches are WAAAAYY more ornate than anything a typical Castle would have.......
And while I had the jewelry findings out and my fingers were already sticking together from the super glue, I decided to make a pair of tall candlesticks for the Chapel. The candle part is from sculpey, and I had to bake it with the socket and wires (but not the bulb) in the clay! Please ignore the crooked misaligned findings! It was very tricky to get them glued together and even a little bit off center ends up being noticeable! I console myself with the thought that it is quite dim in the Chapel and noone will notice the crooked candlesticks.......
And here they are in the Chapel.... almost as good as real candle light!
I still have to run the wires through the floor and out the back wall.

Medieval Illumination - Uncommon Lights


  1. Betsy, I have thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful post. Firstly, your choice of all the Illuminations (of the book kind) is not only educational (especially love the Karma Sutra one ..teehee) but very interesting. The X-rated pic is the only one I have ever seen in an illuminated manuscript. I also love all your explanations and you made me laughed when you introduced Henry :).

    But the really laudable bits of this post has to be your torches and candles. I must say they are some of your best work! Very very convincing and effective. Beautiful too. I know what you mean by crooked findings. This was my experience when I made my 1st hookahs. :). You get better after a few tries. You may also want to try using a thick enough wires to string the beads so that they stand up straighter. :)

    Congratulations on the most fabulous work!

  2. I love your torches and candlesticks! Beautiful work, Betsy! Love the chapel with the candle light! It is just charming:)

  3. Torch is even more brilliant than I could even think of. I could not think of electrification in my own castle. However, you have succeeded brilliantly. Chapel looks fantastic.

  4. Hi Sans! I am so glad you like my illuminations of the manuscript kind! Those Boccaccio Tales are full of very risque and naughty happenings... so it is a wonder that the artists were SO restrained in their depictions! But you are right that the Medieval World did not illuminate seduction very often! :)
    And I am so glad you like my torches and Candlesticks! I fretted for a long time because I wanted to somehow make them flicker like your little lamp.... but I discovered that in order to have them flicker they needed the batteries which have a polarized current.... and can't just be wired to the outlet strip... so it was getting too complicated unless I figured out a hiding place for the battery for each lamp which was still too complicated... so they are non flickering lights. But I am happy with the general design.... and just need to practice a LOT to get them straight! :)

  5. Thank You Ewa! I think the Chapel is starting to look like it should! It is AMAZING what light will do! I am glad you like it!

  6. Thank you Varma! I was afraid the torches were too fancy and ornamented for a Castle.... but I look at your Castle and see all the beautiful ornamental details.... and so I think it is good for my Castle even if a little fanciful!

  7. These light fixtures are fantastic!!! You did an awesome job.

  8. Beautiful idea! They look great!