By Stuart Frost
Colleagues at the V&A have been working hard to develop a touring exhibition of highlights from the medieval and Renaissance collections. The show will open at its first venue in the United States on the 23 June 2007. The Medieval and Renaissance Treasures show will then travel to four other venues in north America and one in the UK. After the exhibition closes at the final venue in May 2009 the objects will return to the V&A ready for installation in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.
There is vast amount of work involved in creating a touring exhibition, especially one that travels to six different venues. The logistics involved are rather daunting and a large number of people have been involved in pulling the exciting displays together. The venues have all been confirmed, the objects have been selected and the texts and catalogue have been written and edited. Conservation work on objects destined for the show has been taking place for some time. In many instances work for the touring exhibition has raised some significant new questions about how the objects should be displayed.
The object illustrated here, a reliquary bust of St Antigius, is a good example. The bust is hollow and was designed to hold relics associated with the saint. The bust can be easily dismantled into several pieces. The head and neck for example can be lifted out of the shoulders. The relics are no longer present. When they were present most worshippers would not have been allowed to touch them, the privilege would only occasionally have been granted to high-ranking or wealthy individuals. The reliquary was designed to provide relatively easy access to its precious contents.
At a later date in the reliquary’s history, in the twentieth century but before it entered the Museum’s collection, a new internal supporting structure was added to hold the head more securely in place. During a recent examination of the object it became clear that the head and neck have been displayed at the V&A lower than originally intended. As a result St Antigius looked rather stocky and bull-necked. The photographs reproduced here show the head in the two different positions, with the head higher and lower. The images were taken in one of the Conservation Studios and show Metals Conservator Donna Stevens assessing the object. Click on the images for a larger picture and more information about the object.
I don’t there is any doubt that the St Antigius looks more elegant when his head is supported on a longer neck. The head has now been raised about half-way up to its original height. It isn’t possible to fully extend the neck without revealing earlier iron repairs.
I’ll add more information about the touring exhibition here at a later date. If you’d like to ask a question about the reliquary bust or the exhibition please use the comment link. I’ll do my best to provide a helpful answer promptly.