Time between tree felling and usage

Comparisons using felling dates from dendrochronological studies and information from cultural historical studies (written sources, inscriptions, and the like) often indicate that trees were usually used shortly after felling. Time between tree felling and usage results from transportation, seasoning, panel production and artistic creation. Semi-products made of fresh logs (wainscot) in the Baltic countries could be ready for transportation from the forest down the river to the nearest Baltic harbour. Timber from trees felled in winter could be found as a wainscot and planks at the lumber-yards in the Low Countries just after a few months (Szmelter and Ważny, 2019). After a few weeks of spring rafting to the port, timber was re-loaded to the sea-going ship and during the navigation season transported to the West. Customs records are evidence of former timber trade. 

Oak was an important and expensive commodity, and was usually bought for a specific purpose. It should be considered that the main reason of massive transportation of oak timbers was shipbuilding, and shipyards consumed enormous amounts of high-quality timbers in “The Age of Discovery”. The forest resources of the main sea-powers were already heavily exploited and dependent on import. High quality oak planks were a perfect material for panel-making workshops. Frequently registered different geographical origin of boards suggests that they were not a specially ordered timber for production of a particular painting panel, but that this was a material purchased at the timber yard.

A study from Hamburg University, for example, performed on almost 200 paintings on oak panels where the artists had signed and dated the painting, revealed that generally  no more than 5 years elapsed between the felling of the tree and the production of the painting. These findings are supported by similar comparisons performed on timber from buildings in Denmark. More recent studies indicate that as little as two years passed between tree felling and production of the painting, at least in the case of 17th century panels (Klein and Wazny, 1991; Fraiture, 2011). However, the 15th and 16th century panels were generally thicker than those of the 17th century and may therefore have been stored and treated a little longer (perhaps an average of 5 years) (Wadum, 1998).