From the 1390s a number of cities in the Netherlands produced beautifully carved altarpieces for important patrons together with standardised carved altars that were produced in larger quantities for export. In the 15th century, the three guilds in Brussels that worked together to produce these altarpieces developed individual marks that signified the quality of their craftsmanship. The guilds of Brussels utilised the mallet mark of the carvers, compass mark of the joiners and the ‘Bruesel’ of the painters to indicate the superior quality of their product and authenticate it as a piece from Brussels. The altarpiece in The Bowes Museum bears the mallet mark of the guild of carvers and was probably produced in Brussels between 1480 and 1485.
Rupert McBain, furniture conservator from Winston, is hoping to do the conservation work on the altarpiece if we are successful at reaching our target. Modern-day guild marks are awarded by The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers in London, and Rupert was awarded a bespoke guild mark in both 2008 and 2010. At present, the mallet marks of the Brussels Sculptors’ Guild are hidden against the gallery wall on the reverse of the carvings. This project intends to reveal at least one of the three mallet marks on the back, through a sliding mechanism which Rupert will design and incorporate into the re-display.
It’s a lovely thought that a skilled craftsman with a guild mark from the 21st century will conserve and rebuild a piece bearing three guild marks from the 15th century. Through this project, the quality and authentication of skilled craftsmanship by guild marks will continue.