Art & design in early Renaissance Europe 1200–1400
This was a period of urban growth that saw large towns develop and the volume of international trade increase. Many of Europe's finest castles and cathedrals were built during these two centuries. Before the epidemic known as the Black Death in 1348, Europe's population was at its highest level for many centuries. Luxury goods and art works were produced in a style now known as 'Gothic'. Although it developed in Paris in the mid-1100s its popularity spread widely to centres as far apart as England and Hungary. Gothic was constantly reinvigorated by new ideas, and would remain a popular style well into the 1500s. A revitalised interest in ancient Roman culture began to develop, initially in Italy in the 1300s. This revival would become known to later generations as the Renaissance.
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'Haggai', marble bust
Museum No. A.13-1963
This marble bust represents the Old Testament Prophet Haggai. The dramatic nature of the expression and pose of the figure have been heightened by the weathering that the sculpture has experienced over the centuries. The bust was once part of a full-length statue which was placed on the façade of Siena cathedral in Italy: it was originally part of greater programme of sculpture. The jutting neck and deep shadows created by the carving would have made the figure more effective when viewed from ground level. The figure holds part of a scroll, and the two letters inscribed upon it confirm the identification with Haggai. The sculptor has shown Haggai with an open mouth, as though declaring his prophecy to the world.
Candlestick, 1200-1300. Museum No. 1595-1855
Between 1200 and 1300
Museum No. 1595-1855
This bronze candlestick has been produced in the form of an elephant carrying a castle. The crenellated top of the castle tower contains the spike on which the candle would have been placed. To the modern viewer the body of the creature most closely resembles a horse, rather than an elephant. The latter would, after all, have been a much more exotic and less familiar creature to the maker. Exotic and fantastic creatures were frequently depicted in medieval and Renaissance art, and some real ones, like lions and polar bears, were kept in the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.
'The Luck of Edenhall', goblet
' The Luck of Edenhall'
Syria or Egypt
1200s (13th century)
Width 11.1 cm (maximum) x height 15.8 cm
Glass, gilded and enamelled
Museum No. C.1 to B-1959
Purchased with the assistance of the Pilgrim Trust, the National Art Collections Fund, the Goldsmiths' Company, the Salters' Company, the Drapers' Company and the Merchant Taylors' Company.
The glass beaker known as the Luck of Edenhall was made in Egypt or Syria, probably in the 13th century. At the time the Arab lands produced the world's finest glassware, which was decorated with enamelled and gilded designs. It was traded from Ireland to China.
Early in its history, the beaker was brought to England, most likely by an Italian merchant. In the 1200s and 1300s centuries, the north of the country was troubled by border raids, during which the gold and silver vessels used in church services were regularly stolen by invading Scots. Because of this, the locals were given permission to use glass instead, and the beaker may have been used as a chalice in the Mass. This would explain why it was given a fine leather case moulded with the sacred monogram IHS - an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator, 'Jesus, Saviour of Mankind'.
For centuries, the beaker was in the possession of the Musgrave family, who lived in a house called Eden Hall in the north of England. Its true origins were forgotten, and a legend grew up to explain its presence. According to this tale, a party of fairies were interrupted while making merry round a spring near the Hall called St Cuthbert's Well. As they fled, they left the beaker behind, and one of the last cried out, 'If this cup should break or fall Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.'
The Valance Casket, about 1290-1324. Museum No. 4-1865
The Valance Casket
England or Limoges, France
Copper-gilt and champlevé enamel
Width 17.6cm x height 8.8cm
Museum No. 4-1865
This casket is testament to the importance of heraldry in society at this time. It bears the arms of the Valence family who were Earls of Pembroke, as well as arms of the Royal house of England, the Dukes of Brittany, the families of Angoulême, Brabant and Lacy. These highlight the significance of national and international relationships between aristocratic families at this time. The casket may have belonged to Aymer de Valence who died in 1324, or to his father William.
The use of enamel on metalwork increased from the late 1200s, as did the use of heraldic ornament to identify noble families. Enamel was the only way colour could be permanently fixed to metal, and colour was crucial to representing heraldic devices.
Mirror back, 1350-1360. Museum No. 9-1872
Possibly Paris, France
Between 1350 and 1360
Museum No. 9-1872
Castles were a significant part of the urban and rural landscape in medieval Europe. They were also used in visual art and written texts to communicate varied ideas. This mirror back appears, at first glance, to depict a real castle siege or tournament. The castle, however, is held by four ladies who hurl flowers at the besieging knights below. From the battlements at the top of the castle the winged God of Love shoots arrows at the combatants.
The scene represents an attack on the Castle of Love, something which was frequently enacted during the period as staged events at festivities. Roland of Padua describes a festival near Treviso, Italy, where a castle was built and defended by the women and girls of the town. The men attacked the castle with fruits, perfumes and flowers. The mirror which would originally have been attached to the other side of the ivory is missing.
The Studley Bowl, about 1400. Museum No. M.1:1
The Studley Bowl
Silver, engraved and partially gilded
Museum No. M.1:1, 2-1914
Given by Harvey Hadden
This is one of the earliest and finest pieces of English domestic silver in existence. Its use is uncertain, but it may have been for eating porridge, or soup. Both the cover and the bowl are decorated with an alphabet, each letter engraved in a typical Gothic script of the period. This suggests that the bowl may have been made for a child. Nothing comparable survives