Microwave Oven Safe Madonna

By Stuart Frost

In order to mark the opening of phase one of the Ceramics galleries at the V&A last week I thought I should select a ceramic object for this blog entry. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of my favourite ceramic objects and in discovering new pieces I’ve not seen before. 

In the old displays one of the objects I was particularly drawn to was a nineteenth century piece depicting two boxers, one of whom was Tom Sayers (1826-1865).  Sayers was a bare-knuckle fighter who fought for the world title in a fight which lasted a remarkable sixty-one rounds. His celebrity status is reflected in objects like the V&A’s ceramic figurine, his splendid tomb in Highgate cemetery and the fact that over ten thousand people followed his funeral procession. However, as there is no connection here with anything medieval or Renaissance I’d better move along!Microwave Oven Safe Madonna, by Philip Eglin, 2001. Musuem no. C.8-2002.

My favourite medieval ceramic objects in the new displays are tiles that were found in Tring, Hertfordshire. These rare survivals depict apocryphal scenes from the early years of Christ’s life in a format rather like a cartoon strip. The tiles depict miracles that aren’t mentioned in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. However the Tring tiles deserve a blog entry in their own right so I’ll return to them later.

Amongst my favourite contemporary pieces in the V&A’s collections is Philip Eglin’s Microwave Oven Safe Madonna. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about it for some time. There are countless contemporary artists and designers who’ve looked back to the medieval period for inspiration and Philip Eglin is one of my favourites.

The overall form of this white porcelain figure was inspired by a medieval woodcarving of a seated Virgin and Child in the V&A’s collections. If you look carefully at Eglin’s Madonna you’ll be able to see a fragmentary foot on her lap. Like the original medieval carving that informed the work the figure of the infant Christ that should be sat on the Virgin’s lap is missing. Not everything is as it first appears. Whilst the figure retains some of the same qualities of the medieval sculpture it also includes a number of references to modern living. Here the Virgin is actually sat on a paper bag rather than a seat or bench.

I’m sure that the Ceramics galleries will inspire thousands of different creative responses from the visitors who come to see them and I’m certain that the Medieval & Renaissance Europe galleries will do the same.

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna was one of the works that was exhibited alongside medieval works at the V&A in the exhibition, Philip Eglin, held at the Museum in 2001. You can find out more about this exhibition by following the link to the archived website that I’ve provided below.

Click here to find out more about Ceramics at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about Philip Eglin at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about how you can contribute to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries Appeal.

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