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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for August, 2008

A Medieval (and Renaissance) Marvel!

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

How many of you can identify the object that illustrates this blog entry I wonder? Not many I suspect. Any Daily Mail readers who read page 21 of the edition published on Wednesday 6th August will have a better chance of identifying it than most.Tiled stove, 1577-1578, Germany. Museum no. 498-1868. 

This bulky green artefact is what the Mail, desperate for an alliterative headline, described as a ‘medieval marvel’. It is a tiled stove built between 1577-1588, probably once used to heat a large room within the Convent of St Wolfgang at Engen, in Germany.

I have to confess that it is only recently that I’ve developed an appreciation for tiled stoves like this one. When I first saw an example in an old display at the V&A I had no idea what it was. If I’m honest my first thoughts were that it was a little ugly, rather dull and a bit too green for my tastes. My attitude changed on a bitter January day spent wandering around Prague with my boots soaked with water from melting snow and my fingers numbed by a biting wind. My friend and I sought shelter in Prague Castle. In the corner of one of the rooms was a tiled stove in use and radiating a tremendous amount of heat. Bliss!

Why has the Daily Mail suddenly taken an interest in medieval tiled stoves? A retired gentleman and resident of Southend recently installed a modern version in his home, one based on a fourteenth century Hungarian design. The wood fuelled stove stores up heat in its ceramic and stone structure and then radiates it back slowly for up to twelve hours. This ‘new’ stove has allowed this enterprising individual to reduce his gas bill by three-quarters. His version even includes a small compartment for cooking baked potatoes.Tiled stove, 1577-1578, Germany. Museum no. 498-1868.

Stoves were once popular throughout northern Europe. The one pictured here will be a dominant object in one of the displays in the new galleries. Maybe the launch of the new galleries will help fuel the re-emergence of the stove as an effective, efficient and elegant way of keeping warm in the winter?