This Brass Rubbing Digitisation project was started in May 2017 as part of the Advanced Works decant of Blythe House (details of which can be found here )
This relatively small collection of almost 6000 objects is in the process of being digitised, audited, conserved, packaged and stored ready for the move to the new location.
I am fortunate to be able to work with this diverse collection of rare and very fragile paper objects which hold so much pictographic information about the past historical figures and their family lineages. Some of these pieces are rather precious part of the collection, not only do they show important aspects of fashion and design but in some instances they are the only real evidence that these Brasses ever existed.
What are Brass Rubbings
Brass rubbings are a particular type of frottage (french for “to rub”) where paper is laid on a surface and an impression is taken by rubbing with a material (wax, chalk, pencil) to transfer the effect onto the paper. A rubbing differs from frottage in that an image rather than a texture is transferred, and more specifically a brass rubbing is an impression made from a brass original (or its alloys). This is why they mainly depict tombs and likenesses of people who were commemorated within churches as these brass originals were expensive to make and not an option for everyone. Being in churches also made them easily accessible to people as they were in public spaces.
The fragility of the object comes from the inherent nature of the paper that was used for these transfers. As they were designed to take a clear impression the thinner the paper the easier and clearer the transfer would be, but if the paper was overly thin then the work would become too fragile to work.
The age of the original brass objects vary from approximately 13th century to the 16th century and the V&A began their collection of brass rubbings around late 19th century and continued to acquire them in large sporadic volumes up to the middle of the 20th century.
The scale of some of these objects are impressive, with paper objects being the same size as the full size original brasses (a useful aid in knowing the scale of some of the original works). The details in some of the smaller images also hold very interesting historical information and details too.
My fascination with these images I think comes from it being a trend rather a commissioned work from a patron with a key artist being involved; a style of work from people unknown. It came about as a fad which caught on during the Victorian era, and came in and out of fashion till it was banned in the late 20th century to protect the brass originals.
I can imagine queues of patient people standing waiting their turn in front of a Brass with their paper and wax in a city they were visiting to capture their momento, much as we do today with the camera phone and the selfie. Because of this there is such diversity of style and technique. Perhaps I am bias having spent a good deal of my time on this project, but I do encourage you to take a look through them to see the variation within this collection and how truly wonderful these objects are.
Finding them on search the collections
With over 2000 Already digitised, If you are interested in searching this collection then you can find them by searching “Brass Rubbings” in search the collections here
I look forward to exploring this collection further with you in future blogs.