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Archive for the 'Architecture' Category

The Local Past - Barcelona

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

By Glyn Davies

Facade of Casa Amatller, BarcelonaOne of the things that the curators tried to incorporate into the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries was the idea that the past survives, often in evocative fragments, all around us in the modern city. At various points since, artists and designers have chosen to go back and take inspiration from those fragments. And one of the most interesting things that I find while travelling around Europe is to see the very different ways in which that inspiration has manifested itself. Works inspired by gothic art, or medieval buildings here in Britain look very different from medieval-inspired architecture in France, or Spain.

This trend was especially noticeable in the late nineteenth century, when artists were especially keen on developing ‘national’ styles that reflected local traditions and techniques. Often, artists working in this style had close links to the literary scene, and to nationalist and localist politics, both left wing and right wing. One of the best examples is Catalunya. I was recently in Barcelona, and while of course I had to go and see the wonderful medieval and renaissance art displayed at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (a long walk uphill to the area called Montjuic), I ended up spending most of the holiday doing walking tours around the city to see the buildings of the Modernista period, roughly contemporary with the Art Nouveau style throughout the rest of Europe.

Casa de les Punxes, BarcelonaThe artists and architects of Barcelona, concerned with their Catalan, rather than Spanish, identity, had a particularly intense relationship with their local historic building styles. The buildings of the Eixample district in Barcelona often display fanciful references to medieval building styles, but at the same time, they are eclectic, and usually built using the most up-to-the-minute engineering and construction techniques. The medieval look is only skin deep!

The first photo here shows you part of the street facade of the Casa Amatller, one of the more prominent Modernista buildings in the city. It was designed by Designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, with ironwork designed by Manuel Ballarín, sculptural reliefs by Alfons Juyol, and stained-glass windows by Eduard Amigó. Puig i Cadafalch was one of Barcelona’s leading architects, and this apartment building, constructed at the turn of the century, was designed to resemble a medieval palace. In the photo, you can see that the facade is entirely covered in tiles, a pointed reference to local Catalan building techniques.

The second photo is of one of Puig i Cadafalch’s rather more austere buildings. Whenever I look at this, I’m reminded of its cousin in London, Saint Pancras station. Both buildings take their inspiration from fifteenth-century northern European castles, particularly in the round towers with their pointed roofs. In this case, though, the spectacular ironwork is a strongly Catalan element. This building is known as the House of Spikes (Casa de les Punxes)!

The last image is one of my favourites. Everyone has heard of Antoni Gaudi, who’s become probably the most famous of Barcelona’s turn of the century architects. But among aficionados, another name is often mentioned: Lluís Domènech i Montaner. This architect’s undoubted masterpiece is the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, not far from the Sagrada Familia church. The site has been closed for ages now, but recently, work has started on restoring the buildings, and as a result, limited guided tours are available. If you get the chance, then I can heartily recommend it. Even in a degraded state, the Hospital is hugely impressive. The photo below shows you just one of the ward pavilions. And immediately, you get a sense of how the architect was throwing together ideas from a whole variety of medieval and renaissance building styles to create something new. The tiled onion dome looks Byzantine. The arches are inspired by romanesque churches, while the tall columns and window forms come from a variety of gothic architectural sources. More subtly, I think, the integration of architecture, sculpture and pictorial representations on the outside of the building reflects the inspiration of the unashamedly ‘multi-media’ approach of medieval buildings. Walking around this hospital complex, I had a real sense of how the past could be used creatively to make beautiful and useful buildings and objects for the future.

Hospital Ward, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Barcelona

   

   

Italian Art in Britain: a love story

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Glyn Davies

Anyone who’s visited the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries can’t fail to have noticed their strongly Italian flavour. Italian art and craft is one of the strengths of the Museum’s historical collections, and it’s telling that we possess probably the most important collection of Italian renaissance sculpture outside Italy. Visitors can see works by big name artists such as Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Giambologna, as well as medieval masterpieces like the figure of the prophet Haggai by Giovanni Pisano that was once on the facade of the cathedral in Siena. But why is this? Why does the Museum’s collection put so much emphasis on Italy, particularly during the period 1250-1600?

The short answer to this question is straightforward - when the Museum was building its collection in the mid-nineteenth century, Italy was seen as the well-spring of art. Pisa's CamposantoA formative part of the education of any culitivated (and wealthy!) young man or woman from Britain, and increasingly from America too, was the Grand Tour. The Tour was what today might be called a route for cultural tourism around Europe, but its heart was Italy, and in particular the cities of Venice, Florence and Rome.

But these tourists weren’t just passive consumers of a pre-packaged storyline. In fact British, German (and later American) visitors to Italy were instrumental in re-discovering a whole class of art which had been neglected - the art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For a British audience, writers like John Ruskin, and the huge history of Italian painting produced by Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle provided a way in to a fascinating new world of late medieval and early renaissance art. Books and writers like these also shaped the art market and the interests of museums like the V&A. An example of the sort of thing the V&A bought in its early years, under the influence of this writing, is this object in the new galleries: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93870/virgin-and-child-virgin-and-child/. This mid-fifteenth century Florentine work is typical of the sort of sweet style with simple, clear design which was much admired in the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, the V&A bought large numbers of artworks in Italy, forming the core of the renaissance collections.

So why am I talking about all this now? Well, I recently spent several weeks in Italy doing research. One of the places I visited was Florence. It’s a town about which I’m oddly ambivalent. At least part of this is down to the fact that Florence has become a victim of its own success. It often seems as if there are more foreigners living in Florence than Italians. Many of them are students - to study Italian art is to enter into a wonderful United Nations-like world, with representatives from many nations. In fact, the most important art history institutions in Florence aren’t even run by Florentines. I Tatti is run by Harvard University, and the Kunsthistorisches Institut is part of the German Max Planck Society. The same goes for the tourists, who come in huge numbers from all over the world. And all of them are fed the same story - of how Florence created the renaissance, and modern art, in a series of masterpieces produced in the years after 1400.

Florence under stormy skiesFlorence’s success leads to strange anomalies, where some artworks, such as Botticelli’s Venus, are must-sees, but you’ll never find tourists in Ghirlandaio’s wonderful Sassetti chapel in the church of Santa Trinita. And I can’t help contrasting it all with the situation I find myself in more often - looking at wonderful works of art with nobody else there. This is often true in Germany. On a trip to Munich a few years ago, I spent a long time looking at the incredible German renaissance sculpture in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum with only a single security guard for company. The galleries were so empty that the guard was able to follow me from room to room. But there’s so much in German art to get excited about. Have a look at the photo below, for example, which shows the clustering buttresses of the enormous Cologne Cathedral. Who could fail to get excited about this?

So what’s my conclusion? Well, I wanted to ask - is our love of Italian art really because the works are so much better than the rest? Or is it more because of the long history of interaction between the English-speaking world and Italy? And given how popular the story of the birth of renaissance art has become, have we entered a period when the popularity of Italian art has become counter-productive? Or am I just being an art snob? I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts, so get posting!

Buttresses at Cologne Cathedral

 

Vikings and Bishops

Monday, June 7th, 2010

By Glyn Davies

One of the great things (or perhaps one of the curses) of working in the history of art is that holidays always have a work edge. If you are travelling in Europe, you are almost never too far from a medieval or renaissance site that needs seeing. I’ve recently spent some time in Denmark, and while I was there I couldn’t resist taking the train out to the small town of Roskilde, once the capital of the Viking kingdom of Denmark.

Roskilde boasts an impressive cathedral, which for anyone used to English or French buildings of the same date is something of a surprise. Take a look at the photo, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s built almost entirely of brick - and Roskilde claims to be the first cathedral ever to have been built using that material. It was mainly constructed in the early thirteenth century, and already shows signs of responding to the gothic style that had developed in the area around Paris in the previous forty or fifty years. This new brick-built style was so influential in Denmark that many of the nineteenth and twentieth-century churches there still refer to Roskilde in their basic appearance.

Inside, the church is surprisingly small for a cathedral and burial site of kings, but there are interesting traces of medieval and renaissance wall painting surviving. This thirteenth-century painting caught my eye. The saint on the right is Olaf, the eleventh-century king of Norway who was an important saint throughout Scandinavia - it’s hard to make him out in the photo at this size, but you can see a much larger version on our Flickr pages.

The V&A doesn’t possess much material from medieval Scandinavia, but we do have one important piece that also depicts Olaf. It is a fourteenth-century crozier, and is almost certainly Norwegian - a piece that is very close to my heart, and forms part of a display looking at the international penetration of the gothic style in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in our new galleries (Gallery 9). You can take a look at it by clicking here: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O65808/crozier-head-crozier/.

While I was in Roskilde, I also had to visit one other key site. In the 1970s, five Viking ships were salvaged from the fjord at Roskilde, and now form the centrepieces of a museum looking at the Viking relationship to the sea. The museum, which is also a working boat yard, is called the Vikingeskibs Museet. The display is very dramatic, as you are standing next to ships that are over a thousand years old. Outside in the harbour are authentic replicas, built using traditional techniques. Probably the most effective, and moving, part of the museum displays is the high-quality film showing a crew from Roskilde attempting to sail the largest of their ship replicas to Dublin. Why Dublin? Well, scientific testing has shown that the largest ship at Roskilde had been made there. The crew do succeed in making their way to Dublin, but not without being tested in appalling conditions. I felt very happy to be watching, rather than taking part!

 If you want to see some of the awesome footage for yourself, then click here: http://vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/index.php?id=1671&L=1.

I found the visit strangely moving. It was something to do with the fact that the ships are displayed so close to their find site, and in the context of practical archaeology. You’re encouraged to think about how the Viking community in Roskilde actually lived, and you come out of the museum with a sense of quite how adventurous these sea-farers were.

 

 

What Makes a Renaissance Ball Swing?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

By Glyn Davies

Renaissance Ball at the V&A, Friday 29th January 2010. Photograph by Peter Kelleher.Although it’s now a while since the event happened, I couldn’t resist posting a blog entry on the Renaissance Ball that the V&A hosted in the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries in late January. As you can see from the photos posted here, the guests’ amazing costumes contributed in no small measure to what was a hugely successful event - although their interpretation of Renaissance clothes was broad to say the least! Rather than give you my own opinions about the ball, I’ve asked my friend and colleague Melissa Hamnett, a curator in the Sculpture Department, who was one of the organisers, to tell you about it instead. So, over to you, Melissa!

‘On January 29, over 5,000 people flocked to the V&A’s Friday Late to strut their stuff at a special Renaissance masked ball to celebrate the opening of the new galleries. In collaboration with the Last Tuesday Society, the V&A put on a wide programme of workshops, performances and readings drawing on the masked tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte.

Elaborate attire was the order of the day as costume designers from Wimbledon College of Art donned contemporary clothes for their production of Monteverdi’s opera, L’Orfeo, while members of the public arrived in fantastical masks and period dress to revel in lute-playing and mask-making workshop amongst others.Renaissance Ball at the V&A, Friday 29th January 2010. Photograph by Peter Kelleher.The Monteverdi Choir and the Glydebourne Opera Company performed madrigals and arias by Tallis and Pucell from the balcony in the Renaissance City gallery, while story-telling, silhouette-making and shadow-puppetry took place elsewhere. During a tour of the medieval galleries, many heard the historian Dan Cruickshank embellish on objects such as chalices and chasubles, to sarcophagi and stemmata, while four graduates of the London Contemporary Dance School produced a specially commissioned piece in the Raphael Cartoon Courts. The evening’s events saw all ages delve into the fun in what proved to be one of the most successful Friday Lates to date.’

Of course, what Melissa hasn’t told you is the sheer amount of work involved in planning an event of this sort. She and other team members were working on it during the period in which the Galleries were being installed, and taking part in the installation at the same time. One of the interesting things that’s struck me having seen a number of parties and events happening within the new galleries is how much they lend themselves to this slightly more theatrical, and less didactic, way of experiencing them. This may have something to do with the largest space, ‘The Renaissance City 1350-1600′ in particular. This gallery was intended to provide a broader context for the monumental sculpture and architecture displayed within it by evoking the feel of renaissance interior and exterior spaces. It’s this broadly evocative approach, which means that parts of the gallery feel like a courtyard, or an Italian piazza space, that lends itself to these kinds of events. But speaking as a medievalist, it seems a shame for the renaissance to have all the fun. Maybe we should plan an event for the Feast of Fools?

Living with the Past - Part 2

Monday, February 1st, 2010

By Stuart Frost

Gallery 64b at the V&A, 29th August 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.In my last blog entry I posted some photographs documenting the installation of the glass roof for the new day-lit gallery, work that took place in July 2009. This new piece of architecture, the first on the V&A site for over one hundred years, is one of the most exciting aspects of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. I’m posting some futher photographs here that were taken on 29th August 2009. The first two photographs were provided by the architects, MUMA. I’ve posted some additional images on the Medieval & Renaissance Flickr site. Click on any of the pictures here and you should be able to access the other photographs.

The new gallery space contains a number of vast architectural objects, including a rare timber façade of a wealthy merchant’s London town-house. The façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house was one of the few timber framed buildings to survive the Great Fire of London of 1666. It was fascinating to see this complex object completly dismantled in preparation for its move to the daylit gallery and to watch it being reassembled. The facade looks remarkable in its new context.Gallery 64b at the V&A, 29th August 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.

Another of the most impressive objects in this space is also made of oak and is a vast staircase with three landings. The staircase once occupied the impressive central room of a townhouse in Morlaix, Brittany. Click on the link below to find out more about just how complex this object is. The installation of the staircase in the daylit gallery, like the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, must have been one of the most complex undertaken as part of the project. 

I’m sure that visitors to the daylit gallery will be so engrossed in enjoying the architecture and the objects displayed there that they’ll give little thought to the process that was involved in achieving the end result. That is probably how it should be.Gallery 64b Living with the Past, January 2010. In fact some object installation is still to take place, but as you can see from the photograph below the space does look stunning as it is currently.

The photographs that I’ve posted here hopefully give some sense of the massive effort that was involved in delivering Gallery 64b Living with the Past, and the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries project as whole.  It has been a fantastic project to be involved with.

Click here to see a short film about the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, including footage of the construction of the daylit gallery.

Click here to see what was involved in dismantling the façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house.

Click here to find out more about the oak staircase from Morlaix.

Click here to find out more about Sir Paul Pindar’s House.

Living with the Past: Part One

Monday, January 18th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

I have spent over seven years, or thereabouts, working on the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. I find it hard to believe that my role on the project has finally come to an end. The project team offices are in the process of being cleared and I have taken up a new job at the British Museum. Most of you will know that the galleries opened to the public on Wednesday 2nd December. The response from the press and the public has been magnificent.

Over the last twelve months work on the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries progressed at a particularly remarkable rate. Noteworthy milestones receded into the distance at such a rapid rate that they’d vanished over the horizon before I’d had the opportunity to write about them. Installing the glass roof for Gallery 64b at the V&A, July 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.

I wanted to use the blog to document work-in-progress on the glass roof of the new day-lit space, one of the most exciting aspects of the galleries. Therefore I’m posting this blog entry about The Simon Sainsbury Gallery retrospectively. The gallery space is open to the public although a number of objects are still to be installed. Although there is still a little bit of work to do the area looks wonderful, especially in the evening.

The day-lit gallery has been created from previously unused space between external facades. The photograph reproduced here shows the installation of glass beams measuring up to nine meters in length. These beams span the void between the walls, which in conjunction with a new floor, create the light filled gallery that houses large architectural objects. The blue colour of the glass beams in the picture results from protective coverings that have now been removed.

I’ve posted some additional photographs on Flickr which you should be able to reach by clicking on the picture provided here. I should point out that the photograph used here were taken in July 2009. The completed gallery roof looks very different.

The theme for the gallery is Living with the Past and the displays here highlight the often substantially altered buildings and monuments that survive in our towns and cities. The construction of this new space at the V&A allowed MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) to design an orientation point which contains a study area with computer terminals where visitors can access online resources and a vast graphic timeline. The day-lit gallery is a remarkable addition to the V&A building.

I would like to thank MUMA for providing the photograph that illustrates this page and for their permission to use it. I’ll provide more information on the daylit gallery in the next blog entry and focus on some of the vast architectural objects that occupy the space.

Picturing the Past

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

 By Stuart Frost

Untitled, about 1858. William Lyndon Smith (1835-65). Museum no. E.292-2008. Given by David Lyndon Smith.A major milestone was reached last month when the gallery space that will become The Renaissance City 1350-1600 was handed back to the V&A by the contractors. With the opening of the galleries a little over six months away everyone who is working on the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries is working at a formidable level. Major and minor milestones are passing, and receding into the distance, at a rapid rate.

Installation of complex objects in Gallery 50 is continuing to make good progress. The gallery texts have been through the third proofing stage. Work is also almost complete on the publications that will complement the galleries. From my own point of view the development of gallery films, touch-screen interactives, audios and other more hands-on activities continues at a pace. I’ve been posting images of the manufacture of handling objects, such as a 16th-century gauntlet, on Flickr intending to use them in blog entries but then failing to do so. I must catch up!

Untitled, About 1858, Roger Fenton (1819-69). Albumen print. Museum no. 31:986.There has been a concerted effort amongst the team to track down any remaining photographs of buildings or objects that are required for gallery graphics or interactives. The V&A has significant collections related to both photographs and architecture so in obtaining images we’re aware that we have high standards to maintain. In 1858 the V&A (or South Kensington Museum as it was then) became the first museum to host a major exhibition of photographs.

Over the course of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project I’ve developed a deepening appreciation for photography generally and architectural photography in particular. A selection of fifteen photographic prints will be included in the exciting new daylit gallery space in a display entitled Living With The Past. These photographs will highlight some of the most significant buildings built in medieval and Renaissance Europe through a nineteenth century lense. The prescence of daylit, filtered through a remarkable glass roof, means that of necessity only reproduction prints will be displayed in this space. However visitors will be able to see the original photographs in the Print Study Room by appointment should they wish to do so.

The Photography Gallery, Room 38a, at the V&A has always been one of my favourite rooms. The display has recently been rehung and I was keen to see which photographs had been selected from the Museum’s vast collections. Some of the photographs chosen have been hung in a way that evokes the approach used in the 1858 exhibition. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a couple of examples that I think are particularly appropriate. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do. As always if you’d like to know more about the image, click on the picture.

The photograph immediately above shows the west facade of Lincoln cathedral. The picture at the top of this blog entry is of a ruined Gothic church that remains enigmatically unidentified in the label text. If you do recognise the building please post your identification below!

Rebuilding the Renaissance City

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Stuart Frost

Object installation in Gallery 50 at the V&AOn any project there are significant milestones, key dates by which critical stages on the road to completion have been reached. For the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project one of these was reached on Friday 26th September. Regular visitors to the V&A will have become used to the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries hoarding in the Grand Entrance. The colourful facade, adorned with photographic details taken for some of the V&A’s greatest artworks, has masked the gradual transformation of one of the Museum’s grandest and largest exhibition spaces.

Behind this screen over a period of many months the objects that formed the old displays were painstakingly removed from the walls and the floor. The objects included several vast tomb monuments built into the Museum walls as well as numerous heavy freestanding sculptures.

Once all of the objects had been removed the site was then handed over to the contractors so that work could begin on preparing the space for the new displays. The original mosaic floor was revealed once again and carefully restored. A vast framework of scaffolding was erected which filled the volume of the room, facilitating essential work on the ceiling. Construction work has created several new vistas that will significantly enhance visitors’ understanding of the V&A’s architecture, establishing new connections between gallery spaces that are located on different levels and floors.

Stemma by Luca della Robbia and workshop. Museum no.6740-1860By the end of September 2008 the contractors had finished their work on the site and were able to hand Gallery 50a back to the V&A. This meant that the Museum’s technical services team were able to begin the installation of objects for the new displays. 

The pictures that I’ve provided here show two vast objects that are currently being installed. The one at the top of this page shows the installation of the Stemma of King René of Anjou in progress.  If you look carefully you can that the team have just begun to add the border that surrounds the central roundel. The stemma has a diameter of over three meters. The picture to the right shows what the object looks like when complete. Click on the image to find out more about the stemma.

The photograph below and to the right shows work in progress on the installation of a window frame which originally faced into the courtyard of the Château de Montal. Again click on the picture for more information about the objectObject installation in Gallery 50 at the V&A..

In November 2009 Gallery 50 will reopen to the public in its new guise as The Renaissance City 1350-1600. By the time the galleries open over two hundred objects will have been installed in Gallery 50 and almost one thousand eight hundred objects throughout the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries as a whole. Fortunately the majority of them will not have been quite as involved as the two examples I’ve provided here.

I’ll post a series of photographs that highlight the transformation of Gallery 50 to the Medieval and Renaissance Flickr site over the next week or so.

Rudolph II and Prague: On Location Part Four

Friday, October 10th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Emperor Rudolph II, Adriaen de Vries, Prague 1609. Museum no. 6920-1860.‘It is generally agreed amongst the Catholics in Prague that the Emperor has been bewitched and is in league with the devil. I have been shown the chair in which His Majesty sits when holding conversations with the Prince of Darkness himself. I have seen the little bell His Majesty uses whenever he wished to summon the spirits of the departed to do his bidding.’

Cardinal Filippo Spinelli writing to Pope Clement VIII, 1600 (Quote from Hans Holzer, The Alchemist, New York 1985) 85 & 91.

Whilst we can’t take the passage I’ve quoted above too literally there is no doubt that the Emperor Rudolph II was an interesting character. Rudolph had a deep interest in both alchemy and scientific enquiry. It is clear that some of the people who enjoyed his patronage did stray into territory that could be described as occult. On a cold, damp and dark October evening the corridors and courtyards of Pražský hrad, or Prague castle, take on a slightly Faustian atmosphere. It isn’t too difficult to imagine an alchemist in the Powder Tower working late into the night and straying into supernatural territory.

The bronze bust of the Emperor Rudolph in the V&A’s collections conjures up an unambiguous impression of a ruler who is not to be crossed. The powerful profile and jutting jaw convey a strong sense of a man who is confident, determined, decisive and authoritative. He wears armour decorated with a lion’s mask and an image of the classical hero Hercules. The bust is supported by the outstretched wings of an imperial eagle. The impression created the sculptor Adriaen de Vries is deliberately deceptive.

Prague Castle, October 2008.The bust was made in 1609 by which time Rudolph had little meaningful power or authority. Although depicted in armour, he never actually led an army into battle. Indeed he rarely left Prague Castle. He preferred to spend his time studying his vast collection of art, scientific instruments and natural wonders. Rudolph’s great collection once filled many of the rooms of the vast castle that still dominates Prague. The V&A’s bust itself was once part of the collection there.

I’ve illustrated this blog-entry with several photographs which I took last week when working in Prague on the third in a series of three People & Place gallery films. Regular readers of this blog will already have read about Charlemagne and Aachen, and Donatello and Florence. With the Rudolph and Prague film we’re hoping to give visitors insights into the man portrayed in bronze, the world in which he lived and the context to which his bronze bust belonged.  

The White Tower, Prague Castle. October 2008.I felt extremely fortunate to be able to spend a few days following in Rudolph’s footsteps and tapping into curator Norbert Jopek’s specialist knowledge. Whilst I’m delighted that the films we first thought about making several years ago have now begun come to fruition, I have to confess that I’m a little saddened that the location filming has already come to an end. It has been fantastic to work with the curatorial team and to see the depth of their enthusiasm for their subjects. It has also been a real pleasure to work with John Wyver, Linda Zuck and Ian Serfontein of Illuminations.

Our main aspiration for the trio of films is to enhance vistors’ understanding of three key objects, artworks from a time that might seem too remote to have real meaning. We also hope that the films will inspire some visitors to the galleries to travel to the continent and to explore Europe’s rich medieval and Renaissance heritage at first hand. Travelling to just three different locations has given me a vivid reminder of just how great Europe’s medieval and Renaissance heritage really is.

Click here to find out a little more about Prague Castle.

Donatello and Florence: On Location Part Three

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Florence September 2008 025Last week I was fortunate enough to spend three days in Florence with chief curator Peta Motture working on the second of our three People and Place gallery films. Filming the location footage for Donatello and Florence posed a different set of challenges to the Charlemagne and Aachen film the previous week.

Anyone who has been to Florence will be able to confirm that it has an extraordinary wealth of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. Donatello would recognise many of the elements that still dominate the modern cityscape. The remains of the Aachen that Charlemagne knew are few, fragmentary and have been significantly altered over time.

The locations selected for the Donatello and Florence film included the Old Sacristy in the Church of San Lorenzo; the Baptistery, Duomo and Campanile; the Medici Palace; and the Church of Orsanmichele. Footage of these buildings will help viewers understand the different contexts for which Donatello produced sculptures.

The Medici Palace, Florence.One the first day filming started at 7.30am in the Old Sacristy. It was remarkable to be inside the church and to be able to enjoy the atmosphere almost alone. By 6pm we had moved to the Piazalle Michelangelo which provided us with a magnificent view of the city laid out below, the River Arno dividing it into two. The picture I’ve used here, at the top of the page, shows the Duomo to the right and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio to the left. The cathedral and the centre of government dominated the medieval and Renaissance city.

The higher number of different locations for this film meant that there was more walking between places than previously. Walking through a city as attractive as Florence is no great hardship of course, although cameraman Ian and director Linda may disagree as they were the ones who were carrying all of the equipment! Rapidly moving mopeds, buses and horse-drawn carriages posed a different sort of challenge.

Florence September 2008 008Florence attracts a vast number of tourists throughout the year and the historic core of the old city is a busy, bustling place. Aachen attracts far fewer and it was much easier there to take shots without inquisitive tourists wandering into view. In both cities I was struck by how accommodating and helpful the authorities were. A particular highlight was the opportunity to film Donatello’s famous bronze statue of David, only recently returned to a vertical position and still under-going a remarkable programme of conservation work in the Bargello.

The location filming for Donatello and Florence is now complete but work on editing the footage and finalising the captions still remains to be done. We also need to film Donatello’s Ascension relief, a star object in the V&A’s collections, and to integrate film of that object with the location footage.

The finished Donatello and Florence film will be available in Gallery 64 Donatello and the Making of Art from late November 2009 onwards. It will also be added to the V&A’s website.

If you’d like to find out more about some of the locations mentioned here please click on the weblinks I’ve provided below. I’ve also posted some additional photographs on the Flickr site for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project.

Click here to find out more about the Medici palace.

Click here to find out more about the Bargello.

Click here to find out more about the conservation of Donatello’s David. The text for this site is Italian but there is a good selection of pictures.