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Archive for the 'Ceramics' Category

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna

Monday, September 21st, 2009

By Stuart Frost

In order to mark the opening of phase one of the Ceramics galleries at the V&A last week I thought I should select a ceramic object for this blog entry. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of my favourite ceramic objects and in discovering new pieces I’ve not seen before. 

In the old displays one of the objects I was particularly drawn to was a nineteenth century piece depicting two boxers, one of whom was Tom Sayers (1826-1865).  Sayers was a bare-knuckle fighter who fought for the world title in a fight which lasted a remarkable sixty-one rounds. His celebrity status is reflected in objects like the V&A’s ceramic figurine, his splendid tomb in Highgate cemetery and the fact that over ten thousand people followed his funeral procession. However, as there is no connection here with anything medieval or Renaissance I’d better move along!Microwave Oven Safe Madonna, by Philip Eglin, 2001. Musuem no. C.8-2002.

My favourite medieval ceramic objects in the new displays are tiles that were found in Tring, Hertfordshire. These rare survivals depict apocryphal scenes from the early years of Christ’s life in a format rather like a cartoon strip. The tiles depict miracles that aren’t mentioned in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. However the Tring tiles deserve a blog entry in their own right so I’ll return to them later.

Amongst my favourite contemporary pieces in the V&A’s collections is Philip Eglin’s Microwave Oven Safe Madonna. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about it for some time. There are countless contemporary artists and designers who’ve looked back to the medieval period for inspiration and Philip Eglin is one of my favourites.

The overall form of this white porcelain figure was inspired by a medieval woodcarving of a seated Virgin and Child in the V&A’s collections. If you look carefully at Eglin’s Madonna you’ll be able to see a fragmentary foot on her lap. Like the original medieval carving that informed the work the figure of the infant Christ that should be sat on the Virgin’s lap is missing. Not everything is as it first appears. Whilst the figure retains some of the same qualities of the medieval sculpture it also includes a number of references to modern living. Here the Virgin is actually sat on a paper bag rather than a seat or bench.

I’m sure that the Ceramics galleries will inspire thousands of different creative responses from the visitors who come to see them and I’m certain that the Medieval & Renaissance Europe galleries will do the same.

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna was one of the works that was exhibited alongside medieval works at the V&A in the exhibition, Philip Eglin, held at the Museum in 2001. You can find out more about this exhibition by following the link to the archived website that I’ve provided below.

Click here to find out more about Ceramics at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about Philip Eglin at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about how you can contribute to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries Appeal.

Byzantine Intrigue

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Roundel with the Mother of God, Museum no.  A.1-1927.What does the word Byzantine mean to you? If the answer is not very much I suspect that you’re not alone. The word was one of the period terms we tested with focus groups. These took place in the autumn of 2002 when we conducted research to feed into the planning for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Byzantium was unfamiliar to almost all of the participants in the focus groups. This isn’t surprising as Byzantine history isn’t a subject that is widely studied in Britain. It isn’t, for example, included in the National Curriculum for England and Wales.

In 330 the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great founded the city of Constantinople on the site of Byzantium. The new city was to replace Rome as the capital of the Roman world and to become the centre of an empire that endured until 1453. The modern label for this empire is Byzantine although contemporaries described it as the Empire of the Romans. The Byzantine empire was finally brought to an end by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Constantinople is now known better known as Istanbul. There are many reasons that help explain why an empire which endured for so long is not better known by the public.
The Byzantium 330-1453 exhibition at the Royal Academy provides a wonderful opportunity for those who are intrigued about Byzantine art to find out more. There are some stunningly beautiful objects in the displays. I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition ever since I heard about it for various reasons. I was particularly interested to see how the exhibition team would cope with the challenge of covering a chronological span as vast as 330-1453 in a comparatively small number of rooms. The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries have an equally challenging scope, covering all of Europe from 300-1600, so it is always illuminating to see the decisions that other institutions make when faced with a similar situation.Mosaic with Head of Christ,  Museum  no. 4312-1856.

Whilst the V&A’s own medieval and Renaissance collections don’t provide a comprehensive overview of Byzantine art history they do include a small but significant number of key objects. In fact a number of objects that will appear in the V&A’s new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries are on display currently at the Royal Academy.

It is endlessly fascinating to see how other institutions display and interpret objects from the V&A’s collections.  Seeing a familiar object alongside artefacts from different collections often generates new thoughts and ideas. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with pictures of a number of those V&A objects that can be seen in the Byzantium show. As always click on the image if you’d like to know more about the object.

Click here to find out more about the Byzantium 330-1453 exhibition at the Royal Academy, London.

A Medieval (and Renaissance) Marvel!

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

How many of you can identify the object that illustrates this blog entry I wonder? Not many I suspect. Any Daily Mail readers who read page 21 of the edition published on Wednesday 6th August will have a better chance of identifying it than most.Tiled stove, 1577-1578, Germany. Museum no. 498-1868. 

This bulky green artefact is what the Mail, desperate for an alliterative headline, described as a ‘medieval marvel’. It is a tiled stove built between 1577-1588, probably once used to heat a large room within the Convent of St Wolfgang at Engen, in Germany.

I have to confess that it is only recently that I’ve developed an appreciation for tiled stoves like this one. When I first saw an example in an old display at the V&A I had no idea what it was. If I’m honest my first thoughts were that it was a little ugly, rather dull and a bit too green for my tastes. My attitude changed on a bitter January day spent wandering around Prague with my boots soaked with water from melting snow and my fingers numbed by a biting wind. My friend and I sought shelter in Prague Castle. In the corner of one of the rooms was a tiled stove in use and radiating a tremendous amount of heat. Bliss!

Why has the Daily Mail suddenly taken an interest in medieval tiled stoves? A retired gentleman and resident of Southend recently installed a modern version in his home, one based on a fourteenth century Hungarian design. The wood fuelled stove stores up heat in its ceramic and stone structure and then radiates it back slowly for up to twelve hours. This ‘new’ stove has allowed this enterprising individual to reduce his gas bill by three-quarters. His version even includes a small compartment for cooking baked potatoes.Tiled stove, 1577-1578, Germany. Museum no. 498-1868.

Stoves were once popular throughout northern Europe. The one pictured here will be a dominant object in one of the displays in the new galleries. Maybe the launch of the new galleries will help fuel the re-emergence of the stove as an effective, efficient and elegant way of keeping warm in the winter?

Mystery Objects Part 2

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Ceramic Mystery Object (C.268-1921)

Two weeks have elapsed since my previous blog entry and as promised I can now reveal the function of the mystery object. Although some of you thought the object in question had a touch of the dungeon about it, I’m pleased to confirm that there is no connection with torture! The iron structure was once a horse-muzzle and it was collected by the V&A as a fine example of ironwork.

This week’s mystery object is a ceramic vessel that imitates the form of a book. Click on the thumbnail below to enlarge the image.  If the ‘book’ was placed vertically on a flat surface, so that the spine was upright, it would stand 17cm high. The vessel is almost 13cm wide and has a depth of 7cm. It is hollow and weighs 1kg.

You can see in this photograph, where the vessel has been laid flat rather than upright, that fine blue parallel lines have been used to represent the pages along the bottom and side edges of the book. These lines do not continue along the top edge (which is not visible in the photograph below). The top edge is crucial in establishing the function of the object. It contains seven small circular holes, each a little wider than a pencil. The holes have been decorated with six blue petals, making each hole look like a small flower. The holes give access to the hollow interior of the vessel.

The front and back covers are decorated with the same scenes. The central panel features a male figure, with a halo, wearing ecclesiastical vestments. The decoration also includes cherub heads and patterns of curling foliage.

To leave your opinion about the function of this week’s mystery object click on the comments link at the bottom of the page. You can also use this comments link to ask for clues and to ask questions about the object. If you post a comment or question I will answer within twenty-four hours. Again, I’ll reveal the identity of the object two weeks from today.

Good luck!