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Romanesque hinges

The Romanesque hinges which hold the wooden frame and decorate the door have often disappeared to be used again or melted.


In Limousin it remains few very interesting elements to discover, even if we can regret that the beautiful hinges of the collegial church of Saint-Léonard de Noblat are now conserved in the Metropolitain Museum of New York.

The hinges are shaped with iron bands and fixed on the wooden leafs of the door with big nails. They are ended with an “eye” which is adapted to the hinges. It’s so with these bands that the leaves were hung on. Beyond the esthetic effect, theses hinges had the advantage to avoid the wooden pieces to move by keeping them strongly pressed against each other. Nevertheless in some cases the hinges were not fixed on the hinges and had the only purpose to enrich the leaves while giving them a big solidity. So we called them false hinges or independent bands. By the way, the blacksmiths of the Middle Age were very meticulous and, before setting their hinges, filled the leas with a felt or leather stuck in the wood. These red painted coating interposed themselves between the wood and the iron to avoid the scratches of the wood and enable the nails to sink easier and avoid the bumps to graze the hands.



The 13th century saw the apogee of the iron work of the Middle Age, because we can’t consider as smithy work the hinges in wrought iron and spurned the following centuries. The hinges of the 13th century were built as the ones of the Romanesque period. They were developed in high dimension and enriched with varied floral ornamentations. These ornamentations were executed with a stamp. The stamp (still used nowadays) is a steel mold in which the shapes we want to get in relief are hollow and the ones we want to see coming hollow are in relief. There is often a return when we desired the ornament in two faces (some ornaments were voluntary treated in that way). When the iron is at the right heat, we inlay it in the mould and hitting very strong in order to take correctly the impression and then we bring closer the two parts. Helped with a chisel we eliminate the traces of the connection and all the small burrs caused by the juxtaposition of the two stamps.



From the end of the 13th century, the craftsman in wrought iron gave to their hinges shapes cut in the wrought iron. The branches were cut with the chisel and modeled with a hammer and most of time there were no more tiebacks or nerves soldered as in most of hinges of the 13h century. This process had the advantage to ask a less difficult job while getting works with delicate outlines. With the 15th century appeared the process which consists to bring on the main part of the hinge the ornamentations in wrought iron, shaped and spurned. Often there is no soldering, but sometimes these wrought irons which were not even 1 millimeter large, were soldered to a “soul” when they were hot. However we didn’t exactly renounce to the soldered and stamped irons and sometimes we allied to the hot cuttings flowers soldered to the floral ornaments and then stamped and marked.

Anchor 13



According to Marie-Hélène Delaine, the anarchic structure of the hinges of Liginiac would be explained by arbitrarily reform: the right leaf offers an absurd disorder and completely shapeless metal hinges. Without overlook the possibility of repairs it seems that the well real disorder of the right leaf is not totally absent in the left one, and mostly it is explained quite well by the presence of the bolt and the lock, contemporary elements of the rest of the hinges, as the sculpted head of the bolt testimonies like it is in the same style as the others. In other words, this adaptation and this disorder might be original.Do we have to link the hinges of all the churches citied in only one workshop or a unique craftsman ?


The concentration of examples could encourage us to think so like also some common points of style. But the differences are quite real as well. The hinges of Sérandon and Palisse which are the closest geographically speaking of Liginiac have symmetric compositions. If, in Sérandon the floral ornamentations and the variety of nails are alike in Liginiac, the treatment of the animals and human heads are rougher and always flat in the same plan as the door. Also, while we have three types of nails in Liginac, there is only one in Jaleyrac where by the way, the whole composition obeys strictly to a symmetric rule. The animal and human heads are often caricatured, with half animal and half human faces. The decorations of the floral ornamentation between the nails are also different (for example, cross line in Beaulieu) and the human faces are more various in Labessette, with ribs in the beard or wrinkles which are totally absent in Liginiac.


In Lanobre, the floral aspect of the termination is accented. However, the gravure in “S” appears between the nails. In Saint-Vincent de Salers, the arrangement of shafts is basic, the nail heads have very varied shapes and the main shafts are larger than in Liginiac. The nail heads of Ydes are also different and mostly less spaced. So, we have to admit that if all these hinges are from a same team of craftsman, they were attached to don’t do the same work every time.


What is especially interesting on those hinges is the many animal and human heads ornamenting the extremities of the shafts, sometimesperpendicularly hooked to the door in order to entirely clear up the ornament. Contrary to other examples (Jaleyrac, Labessette) most of human heads in Liginiac show a serene attitude and are not relevant of a caricature. Only one head points out its difference showing a wide opened mouth with an outsize tongue. The animal heads, dogs mostly, stick more often their tongue out. Two models of dog seem to coexist: one with a flat and square face, with raised ears and visible tongue; and the other with a long and thin muzzle, shut mouth with the extremity lightly bent. Someheads to finish evocate more snakes.

Romesque hinges of the Serandon church of the 12th

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