Mobile lifestyles

About chests, cupboards and bridale presses



Folklore and the world of furniture

Mobile lifestyles

In earlier times, as mobile items of furniture, chests and cupboards holding personal belongings accompanied lowly servants to their changing places of work, and also served to transport the dowry of peasant brides. The development of these often elaborately decorated pieces of furniture attests to a whole cultural history, from their manufacture by joiners and later on specialized carpenters in the Middle Ages and early modern period right up to the machine-made production of the present day.

Storage chest with history

Originating from the area of Ebene Reichenau, this fourteenth-century domed chest was used to store corn or flour right up to the time it was taken into the museum’s collections. The gap of 26 cm between the bottom of the chest and the floor protected the contents from moisture and rodents. Made mainly of spruce, the chest was fashioned by carpenters using simple tools and has a deadbolt lock of wood and iron. 

Apostle chest

Originating from the Görtschitz Valley, this so-called ‘Apostle chest’ from the second half of the seventeenth century is decorated with twelve arcaded arches in two framed panels. On the inside of the lid are the remains of images of saints and small devotional images, used by the chest’s god-fearing owners for religious edification.

Rosental chest

Originating from the Rosen Valley, this nineteenth-century chest has three panels showing Our Lady of Mount Carmel with her attributes in the central field and a Biedermeier posy on either side. A small casket and a wooden shelf inside the chest served to store small precious articles.

Möll Valley bridal press

The doors of this bridal press from the Möll Valley which is dated by its painted inscription to the year 1846 are divided into six pictorial panels showing a pastoral scene, a depiction of Christ, St Anne and St Anthony of Padua with the infant Jesus, and Biedermeier-style bouquets

The art of woodworking

The craft of woodworking and carpentry has a long tradition and flourished with the establishment of the guilds in the Middle Ages. With axes, hatchets, two-man saws, angle plumb and spoon bits, carpenters (Zimmerleute) made log dwellings and roof timbering alongside simple furniture. Wooden pegs were hammered into holes bored with a spoon bit to connect the separate elements and strengthen the construction

Specialists at work

The flourishing towns and the emergence of sawmills for the production of sawn timber in the fifteenth century led to the development of the specialized profession of carpenter and joiner (Tischler). In contrast to the simple carpenters of previous centuries, Tischler used glue, new technical aids and special tools such as planes, moulding planes, squares, marking gauges, different types of saws, compasses and clamps. In the German-speaking lands, the initial lack of a clear division between the two fields of activity led to conflict between the guilds of the Zimmerleute and Tischler which continued until well into the eighteenth century.

Sainted peasants

It was mostly professional church painters who undertook the decoration on the bridal presses and chests and the painting of other household objects. The items displayed here are of high quality and signed with the initials MAP. Depicted are important saints venerated by the rural community: according to legend, an angel worked the plough for St Isidore of Madrid while he prayed to God. St Notburga of Rattenberg is depicted with a sickle suspended above her head while she recites her evening prayers.

The peasant physician ‘Count Michl’

Made of Swiss pine, this painted hanging cupboard with a single door was once owned by Michael Pertl (1844–1904), a farm servant at the farm commonly known as ‘Grafen’ (similar to the German word for ‘count’) in Vorderkoflach near Ebene Reichenau and thus called Count Michl. Born with a caul, which was regarded as an auspicious sign, he had a special standing in his community. An unusual interest in medicine together with an ascetic way of life led to his becoming a ‘peasant physician’. He recorded his knowledge of magical and medicinal herbs, incantations and formulas of all kinds in a secret code which only he could read. Countless legends and anecdotes relate how ‘Count Michl’ helped people in need without asking for payment.

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