The woman on the tile

26. February 2018 | Nyborg Castle

Maybe it’s not apparent at first sight. But it you look carefully, you’ll see that a dress is visible (just barely), worn by a fashionable woman from the 1500’s, on a fragment of tile found on the palace ground.

In connection with the Castle Project in Nyborg, archaeologists have made interesting finds, such as a piece of a tile, showing the lower body of a woman. The fragment was found when the earth from the dig was sifted. But what can such an oven tile tell us? And what can it say about the castle in Nyborg?

Kakkel med kvinde

An upper class woman from the 1500’s

The clay tile found in Nyborg could very probably be from the 1500’s. If we study the ornamentation on the tile, perhaps we can come closer to a dating.

Ein Frau von Basel

In the preserved part of the tile, we can see a blue dress with a horizontal, white stripe on the lower part of the skirt. We can just see an arm and a hand, holding a handbag coloured with a brown glaze. The uppermost part of the dress is not visible, since the tile is, unfortunately, not complete.

Tiles like this one were often made by looking at a model, such as a wood cut. Wood cuts were the technique used in that time to reproduce images in books, etc. In a book called “Frauen-Trachtenbuch” (The Ladies’ Book of Costumes), published in 1586, the fashions of several towns and classes of women are shown, including accessories like handbags. The book’s wood cuts were made by Jost Ammans from Nurenburg. In particular, the wood cuts of a woman from Strasbourg and a woman from Basel have many points of similarity with the dress on the tile from Nyborg. Both the handbag and the shape of the dress are a good likeness, and the horizontal stripe on the dress is there, too.

If we assume that the tile from Nyborg had “Frauen-Trachtenbuch” as its model, it would fit nicely with the dating of the tile to the 1500’s.


Tile ovens from the Renaissance could be a magnificent sight

Such ovens were used in medieval homes as an indoor heat source in rooms and great halls. These ovens could be covered with pot tiles, which gave a greater surface area for the covering of the oven, and led therefore more heat into the room. The oldest pot tiles in Denmark are from the 1200’s and 1300’s, and were found at Sorø Cloister and at the castles in Gurre and Søborg on northern Sjælland.

Kakkelovn på træsnit

Without a doubt, they were a magnificent sight in a castle room or an upper middle class parlour. These tile ovens were widespread in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance period, in the homes of the wealthy middle class and the aristocracy. The ovens were fully covered with glazed, rectangular tiles showing a rich scenery of different motifs and colours, according to the taste and whim of the owner. The motifs could include the heroes and idols of the day, such as princes, soldiers and princesses. The models for the tiles could be etchings or wood cuts of paintings by the great artists of the time. These fantasical tiles were poured in a mould (a matrix), and could therefore be mass-produced.

Clay tiles and tile ovens continued to be used during the 1500’s, but were replaced by iron heating stoves in the 1600’s. The oldest iron heating stove in Denmark can be dated to 1543 by the date shown on it. There was, however, a long phasing-out process for the tile ovens.


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