Western World / Europe – Gothic period (12th–15th centuries) History of Wood Carving

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  • Western World / Europe – Gothic period (12th–15th centuries) History of Wood Carving
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At the end of this era, wood carving reached its peak. The choir stands, cross walls, roofs, retables of England, France and the Germanic countries of Europe were never achieved in execution, balance and proportions. The carver of this time had his rivals in small drafts, in detail, in minutes, in mechanical precision, but the designer of the 15th century stands alone for the size of the architectural concept, for a fair appreciation of the decorative treatment.

It should always be borne in mind that color was the basic idea of ​​this scheme. The custom was practically universal, and there are still sufficient traces to show how great the impact of these old Gothic churches and cathedrals was. The priests in their beautiful robes, the lights, the crucifix, the banners and the incense, the walls with frescoes or diapers, and the crowning glory of Gothic art, the stained glass, all matched these beautiful schemes of colored carvings. Red, blue, green, white and gold plating were usually the colors. The screens were not only painted in color, but the white-painted parts were often further decorated with delicate lines and branches of leaves in a conventional pattern. The smooth surfaces of the panels were also adorned with saints, often on a background of delicate gesso diaper, colored or gilded (Southwold). Nothing could beat the beauty of triptychs or retables in Germany, Flanders or France; carved with scenes from the New Testament in high relief, arranged under a delicate tip made of canopies and bundled battlements that glitter in gold and bright colors. In Germany, the effect was enhanced by highlighting parts of the gold plating with a transparent lacquer tinted with red or green, which gave the metallic sheen a special shade.

The design style used in this great time owes much of its interest to the now obsolete custom of employing the artisan and his men directly, rather than the current habit of handing the job over to a contractor. It is easy to see how these groups of carvers traveled from church to church. In one district, the designer used a specific shape and arrangement of vine leaves, while in another, a completely different style repeatedly appeared. The general scheme was of course designed by a mastermind, but the execution of each section, part, and detail was left to the individual worker. Hence this variety of treatment, this endless variety that gives Gothic art a charm and interest unknown in more symmetrical epochs. The Gothic craftsman appreciated the basic fact that beautiful details in the design do not necessarily guarantee a beautiful composition, and subordinated the individual part to the general effect. He also often carved in situ, a practice that is rarely or never followed these days. Here and there you come across the work of unfinished years ago. A half-finished bench, a fragment of the screen that was left plain, clearly shows that sometimes at least the church was the workshop.

Gothic and Renaissance: a comparison

The Gothic design is roughly divided into two classes:

1- the geometric, d. H. Tracery and diaper patterns, and

2- the foliage designs, which usually lack the Renaissance mechanical scroll.

The lines of foliage treatment common in the ribbons of the 15th century Roodscreens and in the panel work in Germany illustrate the very different motives of the craftsmen of these two great epochs. While the Renaissance designer usually made the two sides of the table the same, the Gothic carver rarely repeated a single detail. While its main lines and groupings matched, its details differed. Countless examples refer to a chest from the 15th century (Plate III, Fig. 6) in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin. The arrangements of leaves, etc. at the top, back and front are typical of the Gothic style at its best.

Late 12th century

As this section deals with wood carving in Europe in general and not only in one country, the data just mentioned need only be approximate. The 13th century was not only characterized by great skill in design and treatment, but also by a great deal of devotion. The artisan not only seems to have carved but to have carved for the glory of God. At no time was the work designed more finely or cut more beautifully. This early Gothic style certainly offered itself for a fine finish and in this respect was more suitable for stone treatment than for wood. But the loving care that goes into every detail seems to indicate a religious dedication that is sometimes missing in later works. Very good examples of capitals can be seen in Peterborough Cathedral (unfortunately divided in the middle). Scrolls and foliage arise from groups of four pillars. Some Italian columns of the same date (Victoria and Albert Museum) should be compared, much to the advantage of the former. In Exeter Cathedral, there are misericords that are unsurpassed for their skillful processing. Mermaids, dragons, elephants, masks, knights and other themes introduced into the foliage form the designs. Salisbury Cathedral is known for its stable arches, and the reredos in the south transept of Adisham, Kent are another good example of the great skill of the 13th century woodcarvers. A very interesting series of stalls, the early history of which is unknown, was erected in the Barming Church in Kent around 1868. The ends of the remains of the book are carved with two scrolls and an animal in between, and the ends of the stands with sculpted figures:


During this time, foliage forms, although still conventional, followed closer to nature. The canopy of the Winchester choir contains exquisite carvings made of oak and other leaves. The Ely and Chichester choir stands and the grave of Edward III. in Westminster Abbey are all fine examples of that time. Exeter has a throne by Bishop Stapledon (1308-1326), which is 17 m high and remains unmatched for perfect proportions and attention to detail. In France, the stands of St. Benoit-sur-Loire, Lisieux and Évreux are good examples from the 14th century. But little Gothic work can now be seen in the churches of this country. In the museums we have to look for traces of the old Gothic carvers. The two retables in the Dijon Museum, the work of Jacques de Baerze (1301), a Flemish sculptor who carved for Philippe le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy, are masterpieces of design and processing. The tracery is the finest, applies mainly to the background of diaper plaster.


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Towards the end of the 14th century, Schnitzer largely gave up natural foliage treatment and took on more conventional forms. The oak and maple no longer inspired the designer, but the vine was used all the time. A very large amount of works from the 15th century are preserved, but the briefest hint can only be related to some of the nicer examples that help make this time so great.

The cruciform umbrella, the wonderful feature of the medieval church, was now universal. It consisted of a high screen, usually about thirty feet high, with an attic on top of it. H. A platform that was about 1.8 m high. The width of the cross, which was protected on both sides by a gallery screen, and either above or in front, opposite the nave, was. H. a large crucifix with figures of St. Mary and St. John on both sides. This cross umbrella sometimes spanned the entire length of the church (Leeds, Kent), but often filled the aisles and choir arches in three separate sections (Church Handborough, Oxon.). The attic was usually approached by a spiral staircase built in the thickness of the aisle wall. The lower part of the screen itself was solid paneled to a height of about 1.07 m (3 feet 6 inches), and the upper part of this panel was filled with tracery (Carbrook, Norfolk) while the remaining flat surfaces were the panels often depicted with saints on the background of a delicate gesso diaper (Southwold, Suffolk). Towards the end of this period, the use of figures as decorations became less common, and the panels were sometimes completely filled with carved foliage (Swimbridge, Devon). The upper part of the cross umbrella consisted of open arches, the heads of which were filled with pierced tracery, often enriched with crockets (Seaming, Norfolk), contested bars (Hedingham Castle, Essex) or flourishing humps (Eye, Suffolk). The posts were constantly carved with foliage (Cheddar, Somerset), battlements (Causton, Norfolk), angels (Pilton, Devon) or decorated with canopy work in Gesso (Southwold). But the characteristic of these beautiful screens was the loft with its gallery and the vault. The attic rested at the top of the screen and was usually balanced and held in place by a cross vault (Harberton, Devon) or a bay (Eddington, Somerset). The best examples of vaulting can be seen in Devon. The bosses at the intersection of the ribs and the carved tracery of the screen in Honiton are unrivaled. Many screens still have the bar that formed the edge of the attic and on which the gallery rested. Here the medieval roodscreen carver gave his imagination the most play and carved the most beautiful foliage patterns that could be seen throughout the Gothic period. Although these massaged shapes, combs, and ribbons appear to have been cut out of a tree trunk, in practice they have always been built up in parts, much of the foliage, etc., drilled and placed in hollow shapes to increase the shadow. Typically, the arrangement consisted of a comb that ran at the top, with a smaller one hanging from the bottom, and three strips of leaves and wine in between (Feniton, Devon). The designs of the vine leaves in Kenton, Bow and Dartmouth, all in Devon, illustrate three very beautiful treatments for this plant. There is a very sophisticated combination in Swimbridge, Devon; The usual simple pearls that separate the ribbons are also carved with twisted leaves. At Abbots Kerswell and other locations in the Totnes district, the carvers introduced birds into the foliage with the best effect. The variety of coats of arms used is very large. The one in Winchcomb, Gloucester, consists of dragons combined with vine leaves and foliage. It shows how Gothic carvers sometimes repeated their patterns as mechanically as the worst workers of the present day. Little can be said about the galleries, so we have only a few left. Almost all of them were demolished when the order to destroy the crossroads was issued in 1548. The fact that they were adorned with carved saints under niches (Llananno, Wales) or painted figures (Strencham, Worcester) is evident from the surviving examples The Reformation. In Atherington. Devon, the front of the gallery, is adorned with the royal coat of arms, other heraldic devices, and prayers. The Breton screen at St. Fiacre-le-Faouet is a wonderful example of the French work of the time. BTIT cannot be compared to the best English examples. Its extravagant lines and small tracery never set foot in England, although carved screens (Colebrook, Devon) can sometimes be found in this way.

The cross was sometimes so large that support was required in addition to the gallery on which it rested. A carved beam was used, from which a chain connected the cross itself. In Cullompton, Devon, such a beam still exists and is carved with foliage; An open coat of arms decorates the underside and two angels support the ends. This particular cross stood on a base of stones, skulls, and bones carved from two massive tree trunks, 18 inches wide by 21 inches high, and together measuring 4.72 meters (15 feet 6 inches) long . There are round holes along the top that were probably used for lights.

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No country in Europe has roofs that match those of England in the 15th century. The large roof of Westminster Hall is still unique today. In Norfolk and Suffolk there are many hammer beam roofs; that Woolpit, Suffolk, achieved the first quality rank. Each bracket is carved with heavily designed foliage, the end of each beam ends in an angel holding a shield, and the purlins are hooded, while each truss is supported by a covered empire (with a figure) that is on one Angel crown rests. Here too, like in Ipswich and many other churches, there are a number of angels with their wings spread out under the wall plate. This idea of ​​angels in the roof is very beautiful and the effect is further enhanced by the coloring. The roof of St. Nicholas, King’s Lynn, is a great example of the construction of a tie team. The trusses are filled with tracery on the sides and the centers are more or less open, and the beams, which are covered with bonnets and fights, contain a number of angels on both sides. In Devon, Cullompton has a very fine semicircular ceiling that is carried at intervals by ribs pierced with carvings. Each compartment is divided into small square panels crossed by diagonal crest ribs, while each joint is decorated with a protrusion carved in the decorative way typical of the Gothic artisan. The long nave roof of Manchester Cathedral is almost flat and divided into small compartments with bosses. The beams are carried by carved brackets that rest on consoles with angels at each base.

In the 15th century, the choir stands with their canopies continued to grow in splendor. Manchester Cathedral (mid 15th century) and Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey (early 16th century) are good examples of how ~ 7 ~ 7 battlements and canopies are massaged. A custom that can hardly be compared to the simpler beauty of the 14th century Ely Cathedral. The stands of Amiens Cathedral were perhaps the most beautiful in the world at the beginning of the 16th century. The coat of arms common on the continent is hardly known in England because it consists of arches that come from arches and are decorated with plates and end pieces. The tabernacle work over the end seats with their battlements and flying buttresses extends in tapering lines from extreme tenderness to the roof. The choir stands (the work of Jörg Syrlin the Elder) in the Ulm Cathedral are among the most beautiful that the German carver produces. The front panels are carved with foliage of magnificent decorative boldness, strength and character; The ends of the stables were decorated with leaves and sculptures at the upper edge, as was sometimes the case in Bavaria and France as well as in Germany.

In earlier times only the choir had seats, the nave was released. Gradually banks were introduced and became universal in the 15th century. The poppy head shape of the B ornament now reached perfection and was constantly used for seats other than that of the choir. The name refers to a. to the carved finish that is used so often to complete the top of the bench end and that has a particularly English character. It is rare to find in Devon and Cornwall (Ilsington, Devon). It is more common in Somerset, while thousands of examples remain in the eastern counties. The fairly simple fleur-de-lys shape of poppy head, which is suitable for the village, is perfectly visible in Trunch, Norfolk, and the very elaborate shape when the poppy head comes from a circle filled with sculptures in St. Nicholas, King’s Lynn is born. Often the foliage contained a face (St. Margaret’s, Cley, Norfolk) or the poppy consisted only of figures or birds (Thurston, Suffolk) or a figure standing on a kite (Great Brincton, Northampton); occasionally the traditional shape was deviated and the end piece was carved like a lemon in outline (Bury St Edmuncis) or a diamond (Tirley, Glos.). In Denmark, an ornament in the form of a large circle sometimes replaces the English poppy head. In the Copenhagen Museum there are a number of 15th-century bench ends with such a decoration carved with coats of arms, intertwined straps, etc. The old bank end from the 15th century, however, did not depend entirely on the poppy head to beautify it. The page was constantly enriched with artistic tracery (Dennington, Norfolk) or with tracery and domestic scenes (North Cadbury, Somerset) or consisted of a perspective mass of sculptures with canopy work, buttresses and sculptural niches, while the top The bank end would be included in the Round carved figures to be crowned by the finest craftsmanship. Such work in Amiens Cathedral is a marvel of conception, design and execution. Some beautiful stall ends can be seen in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin. A conventional tree grows from the mouth of a dragon, which is arranged and balanced in an excellent ratio. At another end of the stable, a tree is carved that grows out of a fool’s mouth. This custom of letting leaves grow out of your mouth or eyes is hard to defend and was by no means limited to one country or time. We have many Renaissance examples of the same treatment.

Preaching in England had not become a regular institution before the 15th century, and pulpits were not so important. The value of the sermon was appreciated, treated by the use that Lollards and other sects made for this teaching method, and pulpits were given on their own. A very nice nice one in Kenton, Devon. As is generally heard, it is octagonal and stands on one foot. Every corner is carved with a different column of foliage between the battlements and the panels painted with saints are enriched with carved canopies and foliage. it is much much restored. The Puipit in Trull, Somerset, is known for its fine figure carvings. A large figure standing under a canon fills each of the nanellated pages. Many many other person figures are part of enriching the general effect. Examples of Gothic soundboards are very lost; which is fixed together with the pulpit in the Winchester choir from the time of Prior Silkstede (1520) and carved with its rebus, a strand of twisted silk.

The right form of font coverage in the hundred years before the Reformation War was pyramid-shaped, the ribs of the protruding angles being straight and tapering (Frindsbury, Kent) or curved and tapering (St. Mildred, Canterbury). In Colebrook, Devon, there is a very charming of this form. It is very clear, except for a little angel kneeling at the top and clasping his hands in prayer. But the nicest form is the massed collection of battlements and canopy work, one of which is such a fine example in Sudbury, Suffolk. It was not done to carve a dove to the highest peak (Castleacre, Norfolk) to reflect on the descent of the Holy Spirit. The best font in England is that of Ijiford, Suffolk. It contains about 6.1 m high. high and dry, when the panels were painted with saints and the exquisite tabernacle was colored and gilded, it must be a masterpiece of Gothic craftsmanship. A cord that connected the perception of these covers to the roof, or with a beam carved from the wall, belonging to a crane (Salle, Norfolk), was used to remove the rights to the Deraufe.

Many Gothic desks no longer needed today. They had a double gene status. The lectern in Swanscombe, Kent, has an era, a circle of good foliage that decorates every face of the book shelf, and both ends have saucer work. The box shape is in France, as well as in England, since the base is one of lecterns showing a case with three or more sides. A good example with six sides is the Church of Vance (France) and a triangular one used in the Muse of Bourges, one in the Church of Lenham, Kent, still a four-sided lectern. The Gothic prayer table, which is used for private prayer services, is hardly known in England, and is not uncommon on the continent. There is a fine example in the Muse, Bourges; The front and sides of the kneeling, listed in France and Belgium in the second half of the 15th century, and the rights rising to a height of 1.8 m. there is a small crucifix with marked decoration above and below.
A word should be said about the Ciboria, which is so often found on the European continent Oboria. In the tapering arrangement of the tabernacle works, they compete with the English envelopes in delicate outlines (Muse, Rouen).

Numerous doors can be found not only in churches, but also in private houses. Lavenham, Suffolk, is rich in works of this latter class. In England it was common practice to carve the head of the door only with tracery (East Brent, Somerset), but in the Tudor period the doors were sometimes completely covered with linen folds (St. Albans Abbey). This form of decoration was extremely common both on the continent and in England. In France at the end of the 15th century, the doors were often square or perhaps had rounded corners. These doors were usually divided into six or eight elongated panels of more or less the same size. One of the doors of the Bourges Cathedral is treated so that the panels are filled with very good tracery, enriched with panels and coats of arms. However, a more reserved form of treatment is constantly used, as in the Church of St. Godard in Rouen, where the upper panels are only carved with tracery and coats of arms and the lower panels are decorated with a simple linen fold pattern.

For Spain and the Germanic countries of Europe we are looking for the most important object of church decoration, the altarpiece; The Reformation explains the lack of any such work in England. The magnificent altarpiece in Schleswig-Dom was carved by Hans Bruggerman and, like many others, consists of a series of panels with about four or five deep figures. The figures in the front rows are carved completely separately and stand out by themselves, while the background consists of figure work and architecture, etc. from a decreasing perspective. The panels are combined into a harmonious whole under canopy work. The genius of this great carver is evident in the wide variety of facial expressions of these wonderful figures, all of which are associated with life and movement. In France, there are few retables outside of museums. In the small church of Marissel, not far from Beauvais, there is an altarpiece consisting of eleven panels, the crucifixion being the main theme, of course. And there is a fine example from Antwerp in the Muse Cluny in Paris; The pierced tracery that adorns the upper part is a good example of the style, which consists of circular segments so widespread in late Gothic on the continent and rarely practiced in England. In Spain, Valladolid Cathedral was famous for its altarpiece, and Alonso Cano and other sculptors often used wood for large statues, which were painted in a very realistic way with the astonishingly lifelike effect. Denmark also had a school of capable wood carvers who imitated Germany’s large altarpieces. In Roskilde Cathedral there is another very large and well carved example. But in addition to these large altarpieces, tiny little models were carved on a scale, the accuracy of which makes the viewer waver. Triptychs and shrines, etc., which were only a few centimeters tall, were filled with tracery and figures that excite the greatest miracle. There is such a triptych in the British Museum (Flemish, I 511); The middle panel, which measures one or two square centimeters, is crowded with figures in full relief and from a decreasing perspective. It rests on a semicircular base, carved with the sacrament and decorated with figures and animals. The whole including measures about 9 inches high and 5 inches wide when the triptych wings are open. The extraordinary tenderness and level of detail of this microscopic description of the working panel. There is another such piece, also Flemish, in the Wallace collection that is a rival that has just been referred to in rni & Applied Talent. Because as wonderful as these works of art are, they do not satisfy them. They make your eyes ache, they worry about how the result could ever have been achieved, and after first amazement you have to feel that the same work of art on a scale large enough for a cathedral is included could be carved in half work.

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Regarding cladding in general, there were three design styles in the last fifty years of the review period, followed by most European carvers, each of which has become well known. First, a developed form of the small panel. Tracery that was very common in France and the Netherlands. A square tablet would be filled with small details of extravagant character, the vertical line or the post always being subordinate, as in the German Chasse (Muse Cluny), and in some cases missing, as the screen work of the cathedral of Évreux shows. Second, the linen fold design. The vast majority of the examples are very conventional in shape, but in Bere Regis, Dorsetshire, the tassel designs and in St. Sauvur, Caen, those with fringes, easily justify the universal title given to this very decorative treatment of large surfaces. Another pattern became fashion at the beginning of the 16th century. The main lines of the design consisted of flat hollow moldings, sometimes in the form of interweaving circles (Gatton, Surrey), sometimes mainly straight (Rochester Cathedral), and the spaces in between were filled with bumps or branches of leaves. It is the last struggle of this great school of design to withstand the flood of new art, the great Renaissance. From this time on, despite various attempts, the Gothic work never again took a place in the domestic decoration. The lines of the tracery style, the summit and the croquet, which are unparalleled, as they have always been in devoted expression, are generally considered unsuitable for decoration in the ordinary house.

However, little can be said about the domestic side of the period that ended at the beginning of the 16th century because there are so few remains. In Bayeux, Bourges, Reims and above all in Rouen, we can see from the figures of saints, bishops or virgins how much the religious feeling of the Middle Ages has entered domestic life. In England, the carved corner post (which generally carried a bracket at the top to support the overhanging floor) calls for a comment. There are several such positions in Ipswich. In a house near the river, this famous subject, the fox preaching geese, is carved in graphic allusion to spreading false teachings.

There is a good example of mantelpieces in the Rouen Museum. The overhanging corners are carried by dragons and the simple moldings have small tufts of leaves at both ends, a custom that was as common in France in the 15th century as in England a century ago; the screen. For example, beams in the parish church of Eastbourne.

15th century cupboards were usually rectangular in shape. In Germany and Austria the lower part was often included, as was the upper part; The upper, middle and lower rails are geometric or carved with leaves (Museum, Vienna). But it was also customary to make these cabinets with cut corners to give the furniture five sides. A very pretty example, which is greatly improved by the metalwork of the lock plates and hinges, is in the Muse Cluny, and there are other good examples, the lower part of which is open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The chest was a very important piece of furniture and is often covered with the most elaborate carvings (Orleans Museum). There is a magnificent chest (14th century) in the Cluny Museum. The front is carved with twelve knights in armor, standing under as many arches, and the gussets are filled with faces, dragons, etc. But until the 15th century we are looking for the best work in this class; There is no better example than that in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin. The front is a very lively hunting scene, most decoratively arranged in a foliage scheme, and the top bears two coats of arms with helmets, crest, and coat. The more common custom of breast decoration, however, was to use tracery with or without figure work. The Avignon Museum contains some typical examples of the latter class.

A certain number of seats that are used for household purposes is of great interest. A good example of the long bench on the wall with a high paneled back and canopy is the Musée Cluny in Paris. The museum in Rouen has a long movable seat with a low, paneled back made of pierced tracery, and the Dijon museum is a good example of the typical chair of the time with arms, high paneled and traced back. There was a design style that was great for decorating softwood furniture such as pine. It was somewhat similar to the excellent Scandinavian treatment of the 10th to 12th centuries mentioned earlier. A pattern of Gothic foliage, often with beautiful outlines, would simply be grounded to a shallow depth. The shadows, curves and rotations are only highlighted by a few well-arranged cuts with a V-tool. and of course the whole effect has been greatly improved by the color. A 15th-century Swiss door in the Berlin Museum and some German, Swiss, and Tyrolean works in the Victoria and Albert Museum offer patterns that could be imitated today by those who need simple decoration while avoiding the hackneyed Elizabethan shapes.

Due to the catastrophic effects of the Reformation, it is difficult to compare England’s figure work with that on the continent. However, if we examine the roofs of the eastern counties, the bankers of Somerset or the Misericords in many parts of the country, we can see how often wooden sculptures have been used for decorative purposes. If the figure work was generally not of very high quality, we have striking exceptions for the stable arches from Sherborne and the pulpit from Trull, Somerset. Perhaps the oldest example is the often mutilated and often restored portrait of Robert, Duke of Normandy, in Gloucester Cathedral (12th century), which, like in England, was generally carved in oak. In Clifton Reynes, Buckingham, there are two figures from the 13th century. They are both hollowed out from behind to facilitate seasoning the wood and avoiding cracks. During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, many of our churches and cathedrals had countless examples of figure carvings with the clearest description that the Misericords offer. But there is scarcely an example of figures carved in the circle outside their surroundings. In the small chapel of Cartmel Fell in the wilderness of Westmorland is a figure of our Lord from a crucifix with a length of about 0.76 m. The cross is gone, the arms have broken away and the feet are burned down. A second figure of our Lord (originally in the Church of Keynes Inferior) is in the Caerleon Museum, and a third figure from a church in Lincolnshire is now in a private collection. On the continent are some of the most beautiful figures in the retables, some of which are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A Tyrolean panel from the 15th century carved in high relief depicting Johannes sitting with his back to the viewer is a masterpiece of perspective and shortening, and the curtain folds are perfect. The same applies to a small statue of the Virgin, carved in lime by a Swiss hand, and some works by the great Würzburg Tilman Riemenschneiders (1460–1531) show that medieval stone carvers were not ashamed of wood.

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