Raising a Human-Powered Medieval Crane at Prague Castle /
Handshouse Studio participated in a major international Czech exhibition to help raise and test a human-powered Medieval crane. The exhibition, Charles IV, Emperor by the Grace of God, was one of this decade's major events. For the first time in modern history, the most valuable artworks of Czech origin—scattered among American and European collections—were successfully gathered in a reconstruction of the rich mosaic of art produced in Prague under the Luxembourgs.
In May 2006…
Five alums of the Massachusetts College of Art, Laura Viklund, Jason Loik, Rob Duarte, Nat Crosby and Judith Hanson, participated in the construction of a Historical Crane at the North Courtyard of the Royal Palace at Prague Castle They journeyed to Prague and joined Vit Mlazovsky and Petr Ruzicka in Prague to work on the project.
Period technologies were used to make a replica of a medieval crane based on illustrations from the Wenceslas IV Bible dating from 1390 - 1400. It all took place at the north courtyard next to the permanent exhibition The Story of Prague Castle. Visitors had a chance to see the main part of the works as well as an active program related to the function of the crane. The company Ars Tignaria prepared the project for Prague Castle.
Wooden machines powered by humans have been depicted since the time of ancient Rome, and their development is probably associated closely with the development of new scientific disciplines—like geometry and mechanics—in ancient Greece.
The idea of using cranes with wheels appeared in the Middle Ages in connection with the Gothic architectural style and development of trade. Cranes in partially built cathedrals were dominant features of medieval towns for many decades, and they are often found in period illustrations in manuscripts, town plans and maps. Since the beginning of the 20th century, wooden cranes powered by humans have been used to transfer goods in ports and markets.
The cage crane from the Wenceslas IV Bible is a unique illustration of a particular kind of crane, and the system for its construction was an exceptional technical development of the Prague royal workshop at the close of the 14th century.
Several replicas of these ingenious machines have been built during recent decades. However they are mainly replicas of newer cranes built using contemporary technologies and tools. The goal of the modern-day Prague project was to make a replica of the cage crane, typical of Central Europe at the time of the reign of the last of the Luxembourgs, using only medieval tools and techniques.
The crane's design was based on illustrations from the Wenceslas IV Bible and research of historical sources and preserved historical wheels around the world. The trees for the crane were individually selected and chopped down with axes in the forests near the town of Hluboko nad Vltavou. All the beams were hand-hewn, planks and boards cut with a hand frame saw, and then bound together with historically accurate carpenter's joints. (See video below left)
After the crane was exhibited at Prague Castle, it was transferred to Tocnik Castle, where it will be used during the reconstruction of the roof frame of the Royal Palace. (See video below right) It will then become a part of the castle exposition.