Pile driver

signed and dated 1757
Basle, Johann Friedrich Weitnauer Cast bronze
height 165 cm, width 39 cm, depth 39cm
Inv. 1921.283.

The building of the Rhine bridge at Basle, completed in 1226, was an important precondition of the city's commercial and political rise in the late Middle Ages. The citizens always lavished great care on the structure. In 1457 six stone piers were added to the wooden bridge on the Kleinbasel side. On the Grossbasel side the water was too deep and fast flowing to be dammed with the technology of the time; here, up to the C20, the bridge was supported on seven wooden stilts made of oak piles. This part of the bridge had to be renewed very frequently. The pile driver was used to drive the piles into the river bed. A model, exhibited beside the pile driver, explains the procedure. The driver is signed JOHANN FRIDRICH/WEITNAVER GOSS/MICH IN BASSEL/ANNO DOMINI MDCCLVII (Johann Friedrich Weitnauer cast me in Basle AD 1757), and is richly embellished with foliage and animals. In the center two basilisks hold a Basle shield. Below them is a strip with dolphin, lizard, frog and stag beetle, creatures that are also to be found on church bells; in pre-Christian times they were thought to offer protection against charms. At the foot of the pile driver at the front a stork with a snake in its beak can be read as a symbol of Christ.

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