Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 268 pages of information about Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages.

CHAPTER I

GOLD AND SILVER

The worker in metals is usually called a smith, whether he be coppersmith or goldsmith.  The term is Saxon in origin, and is derived from the expression “he that smiteth.”  Metal was usually wrought by force of blows, except where the process of casting modified this.

Beaten work was soldered from the earliest times.  Egyptians evidently understood the use of solder, for the Hebrews obtained their knowledge of such things from them, and in Isaiah xli. 7, occurs the passage:  “So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, ’It is ready for the soldering.’” In the Bible there are constant references to such arts in metal work as prevail in our own times:  “Of beaten work made he the candlesticks,” Exodus.  In the ornaments of the tabernacle, the artificer Bezaleel “made two cherubims of gold beaten out of one piece made he them.”

An account of gold being gathered in spite of vicissitudes is given by Pliny:  “Among the Dardoe the ants are as large as Egyptian wolves, and cat coloured.  The Indians gather the gold dust thrown up by the ants, when they are sleeping in their holes in the Summer; but if these animals wake, they pursue the Indians, and, though mounted on the swiftest camels, overtake and tear them to pieces.”

Another legend relates to the blessed St. Patrick, through whose intercession special grace is supposed to have been granted to all smiths.  St. Patrick was a slave in his youth.  An old legend tells that one time a wild boar came rooting in the field, and brought up a lump of gold; and Patrick brought it to a tinker, and the tinker said, “It is nothing but solder.  Give it here to me.”  But then he brought it to a smith, and the smith told him it was gold; and with that gold he bought his freedom.  “And from that time,” continues the story, “the smiths have been lucky, taking money every day, and never without work, but as for the tinkers, every man’s face is against them!”

In the Middle Ages the arts and crafts were generally protected by the formation of guilds and fraternities.  These bodies practically exercised the right of patent over their professions, and infringements could be more easily dealt with, and frauds more easily exposed, by means of concerted effort on the part of the craftsmen.  The goldsmiths and silversmiths were thus protected in England and France, and in most of the leading European art centres.  The test of pure gold was made by “six of the more discreet goldsmiths,” who went about and superintended the amount of alloy to be employed; “gold of the standard of the touch of Paris” was the French term for metal of the required purity.  Any goldsmith using imitation stones or otherwise falsifying in his profession was punished “by imprisonment and by ransom at the King’s pleasure.”  There were some complaints that fraudulent workers “cover tin with silver so subtilely... that the same cannot be discovered or separated, and so sell tin for fine silver, to the great damage and deceipt of us.”  This state of things finally led to the adoption of the Hall Mark, which is still to be seen on every piece of silver, signifying that it has been pronounced pure by the appointed authorities.

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Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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