By Stuart Frost
There will be approximately one thousand and eight hundred objects for visitors to enjoy in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Regular readers of this blog will know that object installation has been underway for sometime. As the opening of the galleries approaches rapidly, mounting and fixing has been coming ever closer to the fore.
Every object to be displayed in the new galleries has been the subject of discussion to establish how it can be displayed to best effect. There are numerous factors which need to considered and sometimes conflicting demands that need to be reconciled. For example, if an object is displayed too far back from the front of a case, or if the angle it is displayed at isn’t quite right, visitors will be unable to fully enjoy the object. Many exhibition cases bear the marks left by visitor’s noses or foreheads in their desperate attempts to get a good view of a beautiful object. However some objects are too fragile to be displayed at the ideal angle for a visitor so finding the ideal solution can be a challenge.
The production of mounts for objects has now been taking place at the V&A for sometime. Some objects are comparatively straightforward and can sit, for example, on a shelf within a case without any external or internal support. Other objects pose significantly greater challenges testing the ingenuity and skills of those involved to the limit. The object illustrated here in the top right corner definitely falls into the latter category.
The picture of the object laid flat isn’t very helpful in suggesting the original function of the object and demonstrates just how important way an object is displayed is. Despite the concertinaed appearance in the photograph the object is a 16th century girdle that would have been wrapped once around a woman’s waist and then tied in front. At 3.75m it is a remarkably long girdle which suggests that it might have been worn by a rather tall lady with a wider than average waist. The ends of the girdle are weighted with knots would have ensured that it hung loose at the hem of her gown. To find out a little more about the girdle, or to see a larger image, please click on the picture.
The girdle is made from silk and metal threads and despite its fragile and delicate appearance it is surprisingly heavy. It will be displayed in a subject display called What People Wore and Why. After considerable debate, discussion and experimentation it has been decided to suspend the girdle in the case with the ingenious use of a mount that will project from the back wall of the case. The overall aim is to produce a mount that fully supports the girdle whilst remaining as discreet as possible and giving the viewer a clear sense of how the object would have been worn. The object’s weight and its length made the mount-making process particularly challenging and demanded a creative solution.
The first stage of mount production involved shaping clear acrylic into a waist shaped support and then covering it with padding and textile. The image above and to the left shows the girdle pinned to this waist-shaped mount. The full length of girdle couldn’t be displayed in the case. There is an aperture in the back of the mount that allows some of the textile to sit inside and rest on the bottom plate. The acrylic plate, or lid, that you can see in the picture will be covered with a dark textile.
The picture above and to the right shows the girdle temporarily pinned to the almost finished mount in the Textiles Conservation Studio at the V&A. The trailing ends of the girdle rest on cut acrylic which can’t be seen in the photograph. The mount is now finished which means that the object can installed inside the relevant case in due course. If you’d like to see more pictures of the production of the mount for the girdle there are ten pictures posted on the V&A Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr. You can reach the Flickr site by clicking on any of the photographs reproduced here.
I would like to thank Constanze Zimmer for providing the photographs to illustrate this blog entry and for additional information about the mount-making process. If you have any comments or questions please post them below. When the object is finally installed I’ll provide an update here.