Late medieval bling-bling: A collection of decorated leather and metalbase mounts in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden
By Annemarieke Willemsen
Medieval Material Culture, Studies in Honour of Jan Thijssen, ed. H.Clevis (Zwolle, 2009)
Introduction: When groups of reenactors dress up to look ‘medieval’ they often unintentionally create a kind of ‘eco’ look of that period: coarse, fairly colourless, unadorned fabrics with accessories such as belts and bags of unworked leather, in their natural shades of brown, and everything kept simple. Illustrations and surviving clothing and accessories however present an entirely different picture of medieval fashion: bright, contrasting colours, costly, lavishly decorated fabrics and belts and bags adorned with all kinds of golden and silver-coloured mounts. Many of those illustrations of course had a (double) meaning, just like texts such as the Spiegel der Sonden (Mirror of Sins) quoted above: to scorn people who decked themselves out in such finery, or at the very least present such behaviour as typical of a specific group such as courtiers or nouveaux riches. A large, and so far unpublished, collection of belts and belt mounts made of modest materials that were found in the southern part of the Netherlands shows that even common late medieval men and women decorated their accessories with a lot of shiny mounts, with which they deliberately or unintentionally impressed the people they met in the street. Their adornments varied from rivets via fake coins and imitation coats of arms to entire texts: the ‘blin-bling’ of the Late Middle Ages.
In the spring of 2006 the Rijksmuseum van Oudeheden in Leiden purchased a large collection of ‘belt mounts’ from P.Mackenbach, a resident of the Dutch town of Breda. The collection comprises 62 belts and other pieces of leather adorned with metal mounts and 1002 isolated mounts, all differing from one another. The remains date from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. About 90% of the finds come from the Dutch province of Zeeland, the remaining approximately 10% from the Dutch town of Dordrecht. The collection was created by Mr Mackenbach, an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist who spent many decades exploring the Vendronken Land area of Zuid-Beveland (in the province of Zeeland) with his metal detector. Between 200 and 300 mounts in his collection he found himself – in his words mainly around Nieuwlnde, Tolsende and Oud-Rilland.