On referencing items dated later than 1600 CE


With the new year upon us, the MOAS office has a Q&A post regarding dates for A&S projects that it wishes to share with everyone. Thank you for reading, and have a happy new year!

Question for the MoAS Office: “I found a great example of a “thing” that I want to try to recreate, but it is dated to a bit after 1600. Can I still use this example as a source of inspiration in the context of A&S?

This is a good question, but one with more layers than artisans might, at first, realize.

To start, please remember that it is no one’s job to police the art you make and the research that you do outside of A&S displays, competitions, and conversations around award recommendations, which usually have at least some rules or guidelines that ask artisans to focus on “SCA period” work. So- right away- we are limiting this question to one that is dealing with a very specific subset of A&S activity in the society.

Now, according to the current SCA mission statement, members are “devoted to researching and recreating…pre-17th century skills, art, combat, [and] culture.” While it might seem clear on the surface that this means that anything dated to after 1600 is verboten, in practice, the idea of pre-17th-century culture can be an astoundingly nuanced concept with no single definition or defined cutoff date.

Just because an item was created a few years past 1600, does not mean that it does not map to historical methods that can be dated and documented to pre-1600 society. Indeed, in many parts of the world, artists still engage in work whose methods map directly earlier practices. Archeologists, for example, have made connections between modern glass bead makers from Turkey and medieval bead making practices. If we were to say that 1600 (an arbitrary date based on our liking for nice round numbers and powers of 10), is a hard cutoff date, we would be denying artisans the ability to fully explore the historic and cultural influences that existed towards the end of our period. Ultimately, it is up to the artisan to make the connection to pre-1600 practice.

Now, making this connection will not work for everything. Just because an item is dated to just after 1600, doesn’t mean it would have existed prior. We have no evidence, for example, of polychrome embroideries before 1600 (or so I have been told). Also, the historical context of an object may totally change after the SCA period. For example, take Scottish clan tartans. These are popular and important pieces of history with which many artisans connect. However, their identity as “clan tartans” specifically is very post-period – the patterns existed, but the context of use did not. As you can see, it’s nuanced!

In sum, the best advice we can give to artisans with this question is that, if you limit yourself to material published in 1600 or earlier, you are definitely within the SCA definition of what is “period.” The further you get away from that date, the harder this connection can be to make, as people’s practices, attitudes and culture shift over time. Later material could be “SCA period”, but you have to build the argument and show your work (a task which can be evidence of very sophisticated research). The key, as always in A&S, is to show your art’s place and connection to the flow of history.

However, please also be aware that you can find people who are more firm about staying within SCA period than I have articulated in this post above. If they find you are portraying arts post-1600 they may try to correct you. Know that someone who advocates for a strict 1600’s cutoff date is doing so to follow their interpretation of the mission statement, just as this post is proposing an alternative, more nuanced interpretation.

As a reminder, aggressively policing other’s interpretations of what is historically appropriate for the SCA is expressly problematic. I’ll refer everyone back to our posts about how all parties should have the opportunity to consent to both give and receive feedback. Allow people to be responsible for their own pursuits. It is not anyone’s job to tell others how to enjoy the arts and sciences without them specifically asking for feedback. But, as an artisan, please also be aware that your artistic choices have consequences if you wish to present your work formally in an A&S display, competition, or if you wish to promote yourself for an A&S award. You may have to do extra work to fit your project securely into the SCA’s time period.

However, even if you want to stay strictly pre-17th century, know that it is absolutely valuable for artisans to research and understand what comes after. By examining things that are post period, one can learn more about what is period. Your work will also benefit from knowing how your art or science evolved, and what it turned into.

-Written with the help of lærifaðir Magnus hvalmagi & Master Philip White

NOTE: additional discussion occurred when this question was posted to facebook that may be of additional help to artisans. Some excerpts are included below.

Polychrome embroidery is usually dated by museums with a “window” of about 1575-1625, but others are dated 1600-1650, for example. We do have portraits of Elizabeth wearing what would be considered polychrome, but yes, it’s a grey area from a strict date point of view  It’s obviously a very late for our purposes object, and as a late-period embroidery Laurel, I would want someone to acknowledge that fact, and discuss more specifics- how does the object relate to other items of Elizabethan embroidery in materials and techniques, etc? These items are solidly “rooted” in the 16th century- the aesthetics and techniques are regularly found in earlier pieces. –Mistress Amy Webbe

It should also be noted that it can be very difficult to date some items. Embroidered book bindings are often “dated” by the publication date of the book they are covering – the embroidery could have been done years, or even decades, later. On the other hand, we have bindings that we know were made by Queen Elizabeth as a child, so we have a work that definitively demonstrates that these items were made pre-1600. Dating items that fall within a decade or so of the “cutoff year” of 1600 can be quite tricky. — THL Amalia von Hohensee

Dating A&S can be challenging for other historical reasons. Research into Elizabethan royal patents, which gave one person control over nearly all printed and published English music for 20 years, can help explain why so much of Elizabethan lute music was published post 1600. William Byrd effectively prevented the publication of lute music in book form from 1577 to 1596. There was a backlog of music that couldn’t be set on a printing press (since Byrd owned the only musical press in England) until others acquired the royal patents in 1597. — Lord Drake Oranwood

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