By Glyn Davies
Although it’s now a while since the event happened, I couldn’t resist posting a blog entry on the Renaissance Ball that the V&A hosted in the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries in late January. As you can see from the photos posted here, the guests’ amazing costumes contributed in no small measure to what was a hugely successful event – although their interpretation of Renaissance clothes was broad to say the least! Rather than give you my own opinions about the ball, I’ve asked my friend and colleague Melissa Hamnett, a curator in the Sculpture Department, who was one of the organisers, to tell you about it instead. So, over to you, Melissa!
‘On January 29, over 5,000 people flocked to the V&A’s Friday Late to strut their stuff at a special Renaissance masked ball to celebrate the opening of the new galleries. In collaboration with the Last Tuesday Society, the V&A put on a wide programme of workshops, performances and readings drawing on the masked tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte.
Elaborate attire was the order of the day as costume designers from Wimbledon College of Art donned contemporary clothes for their production of Monteverdi’s opera, L’Orfeo, while members of the public arrived in fantastical masks and period dress to revel in lute-playing and mask-making workshop amongst others.The Monteverdi Choir and the Glydebourne Opera Company performed madrigals and arias by Tallis and Pucell from the balcony in the Renaissance City gallery, while story-telling, silhouette-making and shadow-puppetry took place elsewhere. During a tour of the medieval galleries, many heard the historian Dan Cruickshank embellish on objects such as chalices and chasubles, to sarcophagi and stemmata, while four graduates of the London Contemporary Dance School produced a specially commissioned piece in the Raphael Cartoon Courts. The evening’s events saw all ages delve into the fun in what proved to be one of the most successful Friday Lates to date.’
Of course, what Melissa hasn’t told you is the sheer amount of work involved in planning an event of this sort. She and other team members were working on it during the period in which the Galleries were being installed, and taking part in the installation at the same time. One of the interesting things that’s struck me having seen a number of parties and events happening within the new galleries is how much they lend themselves to this slightly more theatrical, and less didactic, way of experiencing them. This may have something to do with the largest space, ‘The Renaissance City 1350-1600’ in particular. This gallery was intended to provide a broader context for the monumental sculpture and architecture displayed within it by evoking the feel of renaissance interior and exterior spaces. It’s this broadly evocative approach, which means that parts of the gallery feel like a courtyard, or an Italian piazza space, that lends itself to these kinds of events. But speaking as a medievalist, it seems a shame for the renaissance to have all the fun. Maybe we should plan an event for the Feast of Fools?