This introduction aims to draw attention to some of the limitations to the research possibilities faced by Jacqueline Marette in the early 1960s. Such limitations apparently resulted in inconsistencies and apart from the comments below, the editors have added new footnotes and have updated references in the chapters that follow to bring the text up to date.
There are five chapters in Part 1: Choice of wood, the first three addressing ‘Research methods’ (Chapter 1), ‘Wood technology’ (Chapter 2) and the ‘Attempted reconstruction of forest vegetation in Europe prior to the 18th century (Chapter 3).
Macroscopic identification of European wood species requires significant experience and therefore the accuracy of species recorded in older catalogues or books should be regarded with reservation. Certain wood species can be identified macroscopically, for example oak (Quercus sp.). Due to its characteristic ring porosity and broad rays it is often identified without difficulty; however, ring porosity and an absence of broad multiseriate rays can also indicate chestnut (Castanea sp.). While oak wood from Quercus robur and Quercus petraea was used in Europe for the construction of ships, houses and panel paintings, the much less dense evergreen oak was never used for panels. Recent documentation of historical growth patterns for a variety of trees and careful microscopic examination are often necessary to distinguish, for example, the vast varieties of coniferous woods. This has broadened our understanding significantly.
The science of dendrochronology, so useful for the information it can provide on the nature of the wood, panel construction and condition, is part of current methodology in panel painting research but was not considered by Marette. This is mainly because the field of dendrochronology as applied to works of art was simply not developed at the time that she wrote her book. There were a few articles on tree ring analysis in the 1950s, but these were grounded in archaeology. 1For example, Huber and Von Jazewitsch 1950a: 1–20; 1950b: 527–9. The first articles treating the dendrochronological dating of paintings, published by German dendrochronologists, did not appear until the late 1960s. 2For example, Bauch 1968: 144–5; Bauch and Eckstein 1970: 45–50; Bauch et al. 1972: 485–96.
Less easy to explain is the absence in Marette’s book of any reference to radiography as applied to works of art. The radiography of works of art was one of the first applications of the use of X-rays, which were discovered in 1895 by Roentgen. As early as 1914, museums in Frankfurt and Weimar had invested in equipment and they were followed by many other European and American institutions during the first half of the 20th century. The laboratory of the Muséee du Louvre was officially created in 1931, and X-radiography was one of the examination techniques available. 3Mohen 2000. By the 1960s, radiography was routinely used for examination of works of art in most major institutions. The assumption must be, therefore, that Marette did not have access to this research tool at the time of writing her book.
In Chapter 3, ‘Attempted reconstruction of forest vegetation in Europe prior to the 18th century’, we note that Marette’s text describes wood species from the 12th to the 16th century. However, for undefined reasons the chapter and some of the illustrations or maps stretch to the 18th century.
In ‘Correspondences between the wood used for supports and regional forestation patterns for each school of painting’ (Chapter 4) we must recommend caution as the tables of the original publication by Marette only list common names, rather than giving more specific taxonomic information as would be the case today. Without the genus and species of the woods that were identified, some ambiguity is inevitable. Today it is standard to use botanical names, usually in combination with common names. Finally, ‘Woodworking and trade in medieval France’ (Chapter 5) completes Part 1. However, here we would like to draw attention to the practice of splitting the planks in thin wainscot boards for export before any local sawing was undertaken. 4Gérard and Glatigny 1997: 59–60.