Art & design in Renaissance Europe 1400–1500
The V&A's collections include some of the most significant surviving artworks of the 1400s. These reflect the interests of Europe's noble élite and merchant classes, most notably a revival of interest in ancient Roman art and architecture, which was one key characteristic of the Renaissance. The close imitation of Classical forms and ornament was applied to buildings, as well as to furniture and smaller objects intended for the home and worship. Linear perspective was one of the most significant artistic techniques introduced during this period. Gothic art continued to develop and retained its popularity in many parts of Europe, while complicated patterns of lines, leaves and letter-forms on objects imported from the Near East also influenced western decorative arts.
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Tapestry featuring scenes of a Boar and Bear Hunt, (One of the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries)
Tapestry featuring scenes of a Boar and Bear Hunt
(One of the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries)
About the late 1420s
Tapestry woven with wool warp and weft
Height 4.065 m Length 10.211
Museum No. T.204-1957
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax payable on the estate of the 10th Duke of Devonshire and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum
Tapestries were like this required a great deal of skill and time to produce. The best examples very were costly and proclaimed the wealth and status of the owner. Tapestries suited the life of the rich as they could be rolled and transported when princes and nobles moved from residence to residence. The interests of the time are reflected in the hunting activities this tapestry depicts. The sumptuous dress worn by the figures indicates that these scenes are idealised as it is unlikely that people would hunt in clothes as luxurious as these. The artist who designed the tapestry has not drawn inspiration from Classical Rome for the scenes. Instead these display the elongated forms and crowded, less realistic compositions of the style labelled 'Gothic'. This style remained popular in the 1300s and 1400s.
The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter, Donatello
The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter
Height 40.6 cm x width 114.3 cm
Museum no. 7629-1861
Donatello is regarded as one of the greatest sculptors of the 1400s. This relief is one of the finest surviving examples of his innovative work in extremely low relief (known as rilievo schiacciato). The central figure shows Christ ascending to heaven. He is shown giving the keys to the kingdom of heaven to St Peter. These two separate events, known as The Ascension and The Donation of the Keys, are not usually combined. The Virgin, with her back to the viewer, kneels to the left. This central group are surrounded by the Apostles, the followers of Jesus.
Donatello makes use of linear perspective to suggest distance, notably in the recession of the trees and figures. The lightly etched angels in the sky, the trees on the hills fading into the background , and , further away to the left, the just glimpsed towers of Jerusalem, are bold new developments.
Parade Shield, 1350-1450. Museum no. 3-1865
Painted and gilt gesso over wood
Height 42 cm x width 22 cm
Museum no. 3-1865
This shield is dominated by a griffin, the coat of arms of the Villani family of Florence. The shield is for display rather than protection, and it would have been carried by family retainers at processions and pageants staged in the city at the time. For much of the 1400s various mercantile families vied with each other for supremacy in Florence. The shield serves to emphasise the importance of this particular family who had made their money in the 1300s in the wool trade.
Reliquary of St Sebastian, probably designed by Hans Holbein
Reliquary of St Sebastian
Probably designed by Hans Holbein (1460-1465 - died 1534)
Probably Augsburg, Germany
Silver, parcel-gilt, hammered, cast and engraved; set with glass, pearls, sapphires and rubies
Height 49.5 cm
Museum No. M.27-2001
The figure of St Sebastian is tied to a tree by cords and his body is pierced by arrows, some of which are now missing. St Sebastian was a very popular saint in later medieval Europe. He was believed to have been a Roman officer, condemned to death in the 3rd century for his Christian beliefs. Reliquaries were designed to contain fragments of saints' bodies or objects associated with them. The base of this reliquary still contains relics associated with St Sebastian. Recent examination revealed fragments of wood wrapped in silk. These were probably believed to be shards of arrows that had pierced Sebastian.
The British Museum owns a design for this reliquary which is believed to be by the painter Hans Holbein the Elder (about 1460/5-1534).
Virgin and Child, Veit Stoss
Virgin and Child
Boxwood, glazed with traces of gilding
Height 20.3cm x width 7cm Depth 6cm
Museum No. 646-1893
This carving of the Virgin and Child is inspired by a passage in the Bible (Revelation 12:1) which describes a woman 'clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.' Its small size and its wonderfully detailed, delicate execution on all sides, suggest it was executed for a wealthy collector. In the 1500s it became fashionable to collect such statuettes, and German artist Veit Stoss's work was much in demand across Europe. In Italy the artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) described Stoss' work as 'a miracle in wood'.
Altarpiece decorated with scenes from the life of St George, about 1420. Museum no. 1217-1864
Altarpiece decorated with scenes from the life of St George
Probably Andrés Marçal de Sas
Tempera and gilding on pine
Height 6 m x width 5.5 m
Museum no. 1217-1864
This altarpiece was painted by a German artist for a chapel in Valencia (Spain) belonging to a confraternity, or brotherhood, dedicated to St George. According to legend St George had served in the Roman army. Sixteen panels show various bloodthirsty scenes from his life and death, but the image of the Slaying of the Dragon is the biggest and most prominent. The version of the legend which is depicted here is set in Silene in Libya, where a dragon threatening the city had to be pacified by the frequent sacrifice of a man and a sheep. When the King's daughter (here pictured in the background with the sheep) drew the fatal lot, and was led to be eaten by the dragon, St George intervened and pierced the monster with his lance.