Sitting in one of the rooms of the great Musee Nationale du Moyen-Age, Thermes de Cluny in Paris, is this remarkable little Gothic table.
The information on this page is gleaned from my own inspection of the table and the sparse descriptive information found in the official guide to the museum (1).
Table pliante (Folding Table)
French, 1480 - 1500 (dated by style of tracery panel carvings)
H 75 cm, L 90.5 cm, W 70.9 cm
Same height as a modern dining table. If the dimensions given here are correct, then the top must be asymmetrical; but see below about the top.
The top of the table is octagonal, made of three boards. The boards are not edge-joined into a single piece. Where the side pieces abut the center piece, the edges are not at right angles to the faces; rather, the boards were cut at a bevel of about 75 degrees.
It's not clear if this is really the original top, although it appears very old; in any case, it has been extensively restored. My suspicion is that it is not original. It does not appear to be the same top as shown in the photo above, for one thing.
The table appears to have been originally made with knockdown joinery. The top is held to the base with cleats and pegs. It isn't clear how the cleats are (or were originally) joined to the top. There are four cleats, one for each arm of the base.
The base is made of two massive pieces, with a half-lap joint at the crossing.
The posts on the outside of the tracery panels are tenoned into mortises in the top of the base. These joints appear to have been pinned.
The posts are also pinned at the top, where they are tenoned into the supports for the tabletop. In order for the table to go flat, these pins would have to be removed.
A view of the underside, showing how the cleats attach the top to the supports.
The tracery panels are held into the frames by tongue-and-groove joints.
The posts are tenoned into the supports, and these joints are pinned. The supports are two wide boards, each about the same thickness as the top, half-bridled across each other. The arrangement of the supports is opposite that of the bases; compare this photo with the one above. The base on the left laps over the one to the right, but the top support on the left is lapped by the one to the right.
In order for this table to "fold" (actually disassemble) flat, one of the support boards (or one of the bases) would have to be unpinned from the posts. Looking at the photo above, if the post on the right and its mate on the other side were unpinned, then the corresponding support board could be withdrawn. The other board could remain pinned to the posts, and in fact need never be dismantled; the support board, posts, center post, and base could all remain as a single assembly.
(1) Musée national du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny, Guide to the collections. Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris 1993. ISBN 2-7118-2777-1
First photo from an unknown source; all others by author.
Page created by Tim Bray, April 2003.
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