Twentieth Anniversary of the Late Medieval to Early Renaissance Year Course

The Late Medieval to Early Renaissance Year Course is marking its 20th anniversary in 2012-13.  It’s the longest running of the V&A’s six Year Courses, each of which runs one day of the week during term-time, for a full academic year. Each day consists of three lectures on related themes, and there are additional gallery talks and visits. The Medieval to Renaissance Year Course runs on Tuesdays from September to July, and covers the period 1250-1500. 

Lectures are varied in approach and theme – you might find yourself focusing on medieval jewellery or Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, surveying French gothic architecture, exploring the patronage of renaissance Popes, learning about the impact of printing or the Antique on the visual arts, or unravelling the mysteries of bronze casting techniques – to name but a few.  Our lecturers are a mix of V&A staff and outside experts, but all are inspirational communicators and passionate about their material. 

One of the things I especially enjoy about teaching on the year course is its blend of seriousness and fun.  Though some students (up to 15) choose to take the Certificate option (extra seminars, some written work), most do the course for the pleasure of learning, and the added pleasure of doing so in the museum. Another of the joys of teaching here is the opportunity for using the collections – one of my favourite sessions is a Certificate seminar where, courtesy of colleagues in Sculpture, we look at a selection of renaissance portrait medals; another is my gallery talk on the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, which continually prompt surprised and delighted reactions from students who were unaware of their existence, in a remote corner of the Museum (Gallery 94).

Devonshire Hunting Tapestry – Otter and Swan Hunt, Southern Netherlands, 1430 – 40: Mus ref; T.203-1957

Our students range in age from 30 to 80, though most are somewhere in between.  They have been known to commute from as far afield as Northumbria and even Norway – while one couple came from Australia specially to do the course for a term.  For most, the course is an end in itself, but some have used it as a stepping stone for further study – one former student has just submitted her PhD thesis at the Courtauld.  Others form new friendships with like-minded souls and go on trips abroad to follow up what they’ve studied.  We regularly have students who come back for more – the current record is four times round the clock.  ‘Overall this course has enriched my life,’ wrote one person on a recent feedback form; ‘I wanted it to go on forever’, said another.

To celebrate our past twenty years, between now and the end of the academic year in July I’ll be posting a weekly blog featuring twenty Medieval and Renaissance objects from the period 1250-1500 in the V&A.  They won’t always be the most famous ones – in fact this will be an opportunity to encounter some less obvious pieces, which will hopefully lead to journeys of discovery within the museum and beyond – and perhaps even to the Year Course itself.

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