What is cartonnage?
"Cartonnage is a type of material composing Egyptian funerary masks from the First Intermediate Period onward. It was made of layers of linen or papyrus covered with plaster. Some of the Fayum mummy portraits are also painted on panels made of cartonnage".
- Photographed at the British Museum (1)
Cartonnage dates back to ancient Egyptian times when they made individually cast and decorated covers for the deceased; sometimes just masks but also whole coffins.
Cartonnage was made originally from strips of linen glued together, layer upon layer, just as we do with papier mache today.
When dry, these casings were finished off with a layer of gesso. Very intricate and detailed decorations were painted on to the finished surface. Some of them also had gold leaf added.
Very early examples of cartonnage have been discovered, but it is in the 18th Dynasty that it became the norm. It stayed popular right through the Roman period.
Later on, linen was not used so much. Instead, recycled papyrus from old documents were used (so they were even recycling all those years ago!)
Through the years, the term "cartonnage" has metamorphosed into the meaning of today. If you were to walk into a bookstore now and asked for a book on "cartonnage", you would most likely be directed to the arts and crafts corner. Here you would find many books on "the art of box making". These boxes are decorated with fabric or sometimes patterned paper.
The modern cartonnage users often claim that the art form originated in France. Indeed, in the mid 1800's in a town called Valréas, it was re-discovered. The first of this type of cartonnage were actually made for the silkworm industry, and later went into production. A museum still exists there today.
- Vintage photo from Valreas, showing women at work on cartonnage (2)
This pretty cartonnage box is made by Lucy Bloom. It has vintage cartouche pattern fabric, lined with Laura Ashley's red toile wallpaper.
Someone who teaches cartonnage today is Hilde Hoogwaerts.
There are 4 different types of cartonnage boxes:
- a simple lay out covered with bookbinders linen and paper
- a simple lay out covered with one piece of fabric
- a so called box-in-a-box covered with bookbinders linen and paper or with one piece of fabric
- a box-in-a-box with a glass top.
- Boxes made by Hilde's students during the workshop "Box Making"
Hilde Hoogwaerts is Dutch, living abroad for her husbands work for the past 23 years, in 8 different countries around the world, and currently living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Being creative keeps her sane!
Many more beautiful examples can be seen on Hilde's website: http://www.geckoboxes.com.
Photos used with kind permission from:
(1) Photographed at the British Museum by Mary Harrsch: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/sets/.
(2) Timothy Dunn, Emotional Escapes, Provence: http://www.just-provence.com/location-15-vaucluse-valreas.php
(3,4) Lucy Bloom: http://lucybloom.blogspot.co.uk/2008/05/cartonnage.html