Jump to navigation

V&A logo

V&A blogs

Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

RSS web feed image

Archive for the 'Conservation' Category

What exactly do you do?

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

By Glyn Davies

The Courtauld Gothic Ivories project board meeting

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked this, I’d be a wealthy man. The usual thing is that I meet someone at a social event, the talk turns to work and careers, and then comes the big moment when I reveal that I am a museum curator. This usually earns a lot of blank looks, and then some courageous soul pipes up with ‘what exactly does that involve?’. The sub-text here, of course, is that museums are assumed to be unchanging places, and the museum curator is an ivory tower academic who maybe sometimes dusts things.

Actually, curators do an incredibly busy and varied job, many of them putting in long hours for very little financial reward, largely for love of the wonderful objects that they work with and the pleasure of communicating about them with others. If you’re reading this blog, then the chances are that you already knew that, but I thought you might be interested to get a detailed sense of what this curator, at least, does on a daily basis. So, below, I’ve been through my diary over a recent two week period, and pulled out some of the more interesting things I found myself doing. Maybe now I’ll never have to answer that question at a party again!

March 10th-11th: to York, for a conference on medieval stained glass and its display in museums, organised by the History of Art department at York University. My paper looked at the challenges we’d faced, and the choices we’d made when developing our new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The discussions were lively, because no way of handling the display of stained glass is entirely satisfactory, and there are strong opinions!

March 15th: A student group from University College London came to the Museum, and I ran a close-up session for them looking at five medieval ivory and bone carvings produced in the period 1300-1450. Talking to students is always fun, because their views are often fresh and unclouded by too many assumptions. Later that day, I had a meeting with a colleague to discuss an idea for a potential exhibition of medieval textiles.

March 16th: Locked in a basement in north London, recording audio tours and commentaries for an iPod app that we’ve developed to showcase the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. I was feeling pretty confident, until  I was told that they’d had Rupert Everett in the day before doing recordings for a similar audio tour of our Cult of Beauty exhibition…

March 22nd: I finally finish drafting a catalogue record for an interesting ivory depicting the murder of Saint Thomas Becket by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral. This is the ivory in question: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106938/panel-martyrdom-of-st-thomas/. There are a few of these in existence - this example is quite late in date, but copies a design that was at least thirty or forty years old at the time this ivory was carved. The clue is in the figures’ armour - those square shapes on the shoulders are characteristic of armour fashion in the 1330s, but this ivory was carved no earlier than 1360.

March 23rd: a board meeting for the Courtauld Institute’s Gothic Ivories project. This, by the way, is what’s going on in the photo above. This ambitious project aims to put the vast majority of surviving gothic ivory carvings (about 4,000 in number) on a single, searchable website, complete with high quality images. It involves an enormous amount of collaboration between institutions, and in the photo above you can see curators from London, Paris and New York, together with well-known collectors and dealers in the field. If you want to learn more about the project - and to search the database - then take a look at their website: http://www.gothicivories.courtauld.ac.uk/

March 24th: in the morning, a lovely visit to the National Gallery’s current exhibition on Jan Gossaert. In the afternoon, a colleague from the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore visited, and together we looked at medieval objects in the collection that have been altered over time. At the end of the day, I find myself fielding an urgent phone call regarding a visit to the Museum the next day by a group of donors. Fortunately, in the event, I’m able to persuade a colleague to take this one on…

March 30th: I give a formal lecture to students on the study course The Medieval World at the V&A. It’s about medieval textiles, and is followed by a visit to the galleries to see and discuss the objects in detail. After two hours of solid talking on my part, my voice is in need of a rest!

And that’s it. Just two weeks of my life, but quite busy and varied. Working in the V&A is fun, exciting, and intellectually challenging. But how to sum that up when asked? I’m still not sure I have a good answer.

Changing Manuscript Displays

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

By Glyn Davies

An exciting element of museum displays is that they never stand still - in a very real sense, no gallery project is ever ‘complete’. The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries have been open for over six months now, and the first changes are starting to be made. The pictures accompanying this post show you the arrival in the galleries of a new pair of illuminated manuscripts on loan from the British Library.

Installing British Library ManusriptsAs part of the new gallery complex, we came to an agreement with the British Library that they would show a changing selection of manuscripts from their collections within the area of one of our galleries that looks at Great Churches and Monasteries in the period 1050-1250. Manuscripts were an important part of the artistic production of major churches at this time. Churches needed service books in order to better administer the liturgy. They copied scholarly texts for their libraries; and they produced charters and other administrative documents as well. The V&A’s collection of medieval manuscripts is comparatively small, and our works from this period tend to be individual leaves or fragments from much larger and grander works. We wanted to work with the British Library to help further contextualise the displays that visitors will see, and to juxtapose V&A objects with relevant manuscript materials. Hopefully, over time, we will also have the opportunity to display some of the BL’s lesser-known treasures.

Installing British Library Manusripts

 

What really gives this collaboration life, though, is that because manuscripts are extremely light sensitive, and their bindings often fragile, they can only be displayed for a relatively short time. This forces us to regularly change the display - in this case, we are aiming to change the loan every six months. Of course, for regular visitors to the Museum, this means that there will be new and unfamiliar material to see and enjoy, so although it’s a lot of work choosing, preparing and organising each new display, there is a real benefit for the visitor.

The manuscripts here were chosen to show how monasteries and churches in the eleventh and twelfth centuries survived through their close links with the ruling elite. Both parties benefited from this relationship. The church provided careers for some of the children of the nobility, provided political support and expertise (for example, in diplomacy) and safeguarded treasures and archives. In return, it was granted lands, tax breaks and other privileges, and could count on royal and noble patrons to help in setting up new churches and monastic foundations.

Installing British Library ManusriptsOne of the new manuscripts is a chronicle of the Abbey of Saint Martin des Champs, near Paris. The image we are showing, a little the worse for wear from water damage, but wonderfully lively, depicts King Henry I of France (1031-1060) standing beside the church building, which he had financed, and signing the foundation charter document. If you’d like to find out more about this manuscript, or see stunning images of the British Library’s other treasures, then their website is here: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/index.html

Next time: just what is it about Italian art that the English love so much?

Stained Glass from the Chapel of the Holy Blood: Part Two

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

zi Stained glass from the Chapel of the Holy Blood, after Conservation. Musuem no. C444-1918 after treatmentIn October last year I wrote about conservation work that had begun on a stained glass panel made around 1496 for the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium. The photograph that heads this page shows the glass after completion of the work by the conservators.

If you contrast this image with the previous photographs that show the panel as it was you’ll be able to see just what a remarkable transformation has taken place. It is fascinating to look at the before and after photographs side-by-side. To see the earlier photographs click on the picture to the right or the link at the foot of the page. This will take you to a set of images on the Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr.To find out about the earlier conservation work please read the blog entry I posted in October 2009.

Room 10: Devotion and Display, Medieval & Renaissance Europe Galleries at the V&A.The initial set of photographs on Flickr documenting the key stages in the conservation process have been updated with another selection of photographs courtesy of conservators Ann Marsh and Sherrie Eatmen. If you’d like to know a little more detail about the work that has been undertaken please have a look at those pictures and read the captions that accompany them.

As you can see from the picture to the left the stained glass from the Chapel of the Holy Blood has been installed in Room 10 Devotion & Display 1300-1500 and looks stunning. Most visitors will, of course, be completely unaware of the highly skilled work and vast effort that went into ensuring that the stained glass looks at its best and can be displayed safely for future generations. 

In the foreground of the photograph is a reliquary of St Sebastian, and in the distance you can see an altarpiece depicting scenes of the Apocalypse. Both of these objects have also been the focus of innovative conservation work, and the subject of previous blog entries. All these instances illustrate the impact that conservation work can have both in improving the appearance of an object and helping in visitors interpret it meaningfully. It is wonderful to see the final results on display for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

Click here to see a complete set of photographs related to the conservation of glass from the Chapel of the Holy Blood.

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.

Stained Glass from the Chapel of the Holy Blood

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

c. Stained glass panel from the Chapel of the Holy Blood, Museum no. C444-1918.The stained glass panel illustrated here was made around 1496 for the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium. The colourful panel depicts an angel holding the arms of Mary of Burgundy with those of Maximilian of Austria and was probably made to commemorate their marriage. You’ll not be surprised to learn that most stained glass panels dating from the 15th century have experienced some damage. This panel is no exception and is currently undergoing conservation treatment to prepare it for display. 

The picture that heads this page shows the panel before any work had begun. The photograph was taken a few weeks ago on a vertical lightbox in the Stained Glass Conservation Studio at the V&A. The panel was given a thorough assessment by conservators Ann Marsh and Sherrie Eatman in order to determine the treatment to be undertaken. A number of old lead repairs, where the glass had broken, are quite easy to spot. Several horizontal leads are also clearly visible in the photograph as is the heavy wooden display frame.

The first step in the conservation process was to remove the panel from its old frame. Wooden frames are no longer used because the wood can give off acidic fumes that may corrode the lead strips holding individual pieces of glass in place. All panels are now mounted in aluminium display frames because aluminium is an inert material. In this instance the frame also had to be removed so that the panel could be reframed in a style appropriate for the new galleries. A number of innovative shaped frames are being used throughout the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.e. Detail from stained glass panel, Museum no. C444-1918.

The face of the angel holding the shield exemplifies many of the issues that needed to be addressed with this particular glass panel as a whole. The panel had been repaired previously, in this instance most noticeably along the left-hand side of the face. Replacement pieces of glass had been added, including the hair and neck on the left-hand side, and the triangular piece in the cheek. As you can see these old repairs were not particularly sympathetic to the original appearance of the object.

In order to make new repairs all of the existing leads were removed except those within the shield held by the angel. However before any leads were removed a rubbing was taken of the entire panel and this was used to create templates. As each piece of glass was removed from the panel it was placed on top of one of the templates in the correct location. The picture below shows the individual pieces of glass laid on a template in the conservation studio after the leads have been removed.

The use of templates ensures that when the panel is reassembled each piece of glass goes back in the same position but also that the overall size of the panel remains exactly the same. Many of the leads that were removed were fatigued and will be replaced over the coming weeks.

Epoxy resin is being used to make subtle repairs by creating strong bonds between breaks in the glass. Dyed resin is also used to fill small areas where the original glass is missing. Work is underway on gently cleaning the front and the back of each glass piece. Deionised water and cotton swabs are used to remove the dust and grime that have accumulated over time.o. Placing the glass on the template rubbing.

Once the panel is reassembled it will be set within a new metal frame so that it can be installed in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The production of the frames for the stained glass is a fascinating story in its own right and I’ll also cover that in a future blog entry along with the installation of the panel in the new gallery.

I’ve already posted a larger number of photographs illustrating the conservation work, courtesy of Ann and Sherrie, on Flickr. If you’d like to know a little more detail about the work that has been undertaken please have a look at those photographs. Click on one of the images here to visit the Flickr site. 

I’ll provide an update on work on this glass panel at some point over the next couple of weeks. It will be fascinating to put photographs of the panel before and after treatment side-by-side.

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

Saint Sebastian

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

a. Reliquary of St Sebastian before conservation, M.27-2001. Photograph by Gates Sofer.Some objects, like the V&A’s vast tapestry woven with scenes of the Trojan War, have required extensive conservation work to prepare them for display. Conservation of the tapestry, which began in October 2004, was completed recently after approximately 4000 hours of work by specialist conservators. Other objects have required far less time, but the attention to detail has been the same.

The reliquary of Saint Sebastian, the focus of this blog entry, is a case in point. This superb example of the art of the metalworker was made in Augsburg in 1497, probably to a design by Hans Holbein. St Sebastian was believed to have been martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian for refusing to renounce his Christian beliefs. Sebastian was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. He miraculously survived the agonising ordeal, only to be clubbed to death subsequently. Sebastian was a popular saint and was represented frequently in medieval and Renaissance art.d. Three stages in using cuttle fish bones to create moulds.Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The photograph that heads this page depicts the reliquary before conservation treatment. If you look carefully you will see that there are only two silver-gilt arrows still in-situ. However there are holes for a further six and it was recently decided to make replacement arrows for five of these so that when the object is redisplayed visitors will have a better sense of it’s original appearance. Click on the image for a larger picture and a better view.

Metals Conservator Gates Sofer devised an ingenious method for casting the replacement arrows using moulds made from cuttlefish bone. A brass copy of one of the arrows was made and then pressed into cuttlefish bones that had been flattened and paired. This created a mould into which molten metal could be poured. Three stages are shown in the photograph reproduced here, above and to the left. On the left are two cuttlefish bones, in the centre the bones have been flattened and prepared for casting, and finally to the right a mould that has been opened after the casting process. Click on any of the pictures for more information about what is shown. I’ve posted some additional pictures on the Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr if you’d like to find out a little more about the work.e. Forge and cuttlefish moulds. Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The casting took place at the V&A. The picture to the right shows a forge in one of the Museum’s workshops, with the ladle used to pour the molten metal to the left, and five cuttlefish moulds standing upright in a pan filled with sand. The cast arrows required additional work once they’d been removed from the mould. The surface of the arrows required working to remove the pattern created by the texture of the cuttlefish bone. In addition the arrows were gilded with eighteen carat gold. 

As a general rule conservators like to ensure that any modern additions, like these arrows, can be easily identified and not mistaken for original work. Each of the new arrows bears a tiny V&A logo that was added with a small punch. This mark would be difficult to spot with the naked eye but not a magnifying glass. The addition of the arrows, and the replacement of a missing silver rope used to bind Sebastian to the tree, has subtly transformed the appearance of the object. The reliquary was also carefully cleaned revealing previously obscured details such as a pattern on the border of Sebastian’s garment. j. New cast silver arrows before gilding, Museum no.27-2001. Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The reliquary was made by a master craftsmen and is of superb quality. The picture to the left shows the reliquary after the recent conservation work. The object will be looking at its best when it is displayed in Room 10: Devotion & Display. Here St Sebastian will form part of a display about reliquaries. The pedestal of the figure still contains two relics, one is wrapped in silk. The other is thought to be made of wood and was perhaps believed to have been fragments of one of the actual arrow shafts that pierced Sebastian’s body.

I’d like to that Gates for allowing me to use her photographs and for taking the time to talk to me about her work. If you have any questions please post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

A Replica Tunic from Egypt: Part 4

Monday, August 24th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

When I last wrote about this Egyptian tunic in June of this year I promised readers that I’d provide an update. The conservation work on this rare survival is now complete and the garment is ready for installation into Gallery 8: Faiths and Empires 300-1250, one of ten Medieval & Renaissance Galleries at the V&A which will open later this year.

The replica of the Egyptian tunic alongside the original in Textiles Conservation.When installed in the display case the tunic will be supported on a specially constructed form or structure that will ensure the delicate object is displayed effectively and appropriately.  The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will include over one thousand eight hundred objects, a vast number of objects of all shapes, materials and sizes. The logistics involved in installing such a large number of objects is mind-boggling. Object installation has had to be phased over a long period of time to enable staff at the Museum to cope with the demanding workload. The Egyptian tunic will be installed in its case during September, a few months before the public opening date. 

The tunic can’t be displayed as it would have been worn because this would create creases and folds that would expose the garment to unacceptable levels of stress.  However visitors will be able to try on a complete replica which will give an extremely accurate sense of what it was like to wear the tunic. When I wrote about this replica in June, work was still in progress but as you can see from the pictures that illustrate this entry the project is now complete. Keira Miller has made three tunics whilst working in the Textiles Conservation studio at the V&A. One of the tunics will be displayed in a Discovery Area in new galleries where visitors will be able to try it on. The other two tunics will be kept as spares and will be rotated when the Discovery Area garment needs to be sent for dry-cleaning.

My colleagues in the Photo Studio at the V&A, Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmermann, were fascinated about the work that had been undertaken on the tunic and very kindly agreed to make a short film documenting the project. The film was shot in the Textiles Conservation Studio at the V&A and features Senior Textiles Conservator, Elizabeth-Anne Haldane talking about the project with the original tunic laid out on a table. If you’d like to see the film please click on the link provided below.

If you’d like to know more about the conservation work and the results of the research into the original tunic an article by Elizabeth-Anne was published in Issue 57 of the V&A’s Conservation Journal. A digital version of this edition will be added to the website shortly so I have provided the link below. Elizabeth-Anne is also writing an online subject about the tunic and this will be added to the website late in 2009. Watch this space for more details.

If you have any questions that you’d to ask, or comments that you’d like to make, please post them below.

Click here to see the film about the Egyptian tunic on Vimeo.

Click here to read the V&A’s Conservation Journal online.

A Tunic from Egypt: Part 3

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Stuart Frost

If you’ve been following this blog for a long period of time you’ll know that I’ve written about the tunic from Egypt before (Museum no. 291-1891).  In fact I first wrote about the work Elizabeth-Anne Haldane, Senior Textile Conservator, was doing on the tunic back in June 2007 and provided another update in November 2008. Those entries are archived if you haven’t read seen them before. The gap between those blog entries, and this one, give some sense of how long the process of preparing an object for display can be. The team involved, however, have been working on other projects and objects at the same time. The previous blog entries also highlight how much new information can be gained about an object through intensive interdisciplinary research.Work in a progress on a replica of a tunic. Photograph by Simon Carter.

In developing the displays and the activities that go alongside them we’ve endeavoured to adhere to a number of key principles. One of those was that we wanted to offer visitors opportunities to actively engage with the displays and to experience some things directly for themselves. Whilst there will be plenty of materials for people to touch throughout the new galleries, we’ve worked hard to ensure that these activities are ‘minds on’ as well as ‘hands on’. The activities have to help enhance peoples’ understanding of the objects in a meaningful and enjoyable way.

We decided at an early stage that we’d like to include accurate replicas of clothing for visitors to try on in the Discovery Area spaces. The Egyptian tunic was an obvious candidate for various reasons, some of which were simply practical. For example the tunic is a garment that can easily be slipped over visitors’ existing clothing. The tunic was made between 642-800 and unlike later medieval clothing, often adorned with luxurious velvet and extravagant fur linings, the tunic was made from materials that we could replicate authentically without the cost soaring beyond the available budget.

After a number of meetings and discussions the project began to take shape.  As you can see from the pictures that illustrate this blog entry work on the facsimile tunic has made significant progress. Keira Miller has been working away in the Textiles Conservation studio at the V&A, making templates, cutting fabric and stitching the seams together. Click on the pictures more information about what is shown.  The production of the tunic, and a number of spares, is almost complete. It has been wonderful to see the results of Keira’s and Elizabeth-Anne’s work taking shape.A replica of a tunic from Egypt. Photograph by Keira Miller.

The replica of the Egyptian tunic adheres to another of the principles that underpins our approach to gallery based interpretation. It is informed by the results of new research stimulated by the redevelopment of the galleries. We wanted some of the interactives and activities in the gallery to reflect new research but to present in away that was meaningfully and engaging for visitors of all ages. I think the tunic will achieve this in a very effective way.  It is one thing to see a tunic hanging on a mount behind glass, quite another to pull it over one’s head and to experience moving around in a garment.  Experience from other projects at the V&A proves that adults enjoy trying on clothing as much as younger visitors. Whilst anyone will be able to try the tunic on, the replica will reflect the dimensions of the original and will look at its best on an adult.

We were keen that the replica should be as authentic as possible and the results of the research into the object have helped us achieve that objective. The cost of commissioning real tapestry decoration to be stitched to the tunic was beyond the available budget. However Elizabeth-Anne sourced a digitally printed alternative of high quality that was produced and supplied by Zardi and Zardi. You can see the printed fabric in both pictures.

When the replica tunic is finished I’ll post some more pictures here and hopefully a short film showing what the tunic looks like when it is worn. If you’d like to know more about the conservation work and the results of the research into the original tunic an article by Elizabeth-Anne will published in November 2009 in the V&A’s Conservation Journal. As ever if you have any questions or comments please post them below and I’d do my best to respond promptly and helpfully.
 

A Romanesque Candlestick - Conservation & Research

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

 By Stuart Frost & Catia Viegas Wesolowska

Detail of the Gloucester Candlestick, Museum no. 7649-1861. One of the most extraordinary surviving pieces of Romanesque metalwork is without doubt the Gloucester Candlestick. There will be an opportunity to admire this remarkable piece in the forthcoming Medieval & Renaissance galleries at the V&A when they open in November 2009.

The detail to the right highlights the candlestick’s wonderful interlaced ornament. Entwined within the foliage lurk one-eyed beasts, half humans and birds.The photograph also highlights a join between two of the the three seperate sections that make the candlestick. It also shows areas where the gilding has been worn away revealing the base metal beneath.

The candlestick has been the focus of some recent and exciting research by Stephanie Seavers and Catia Viegas Wesolowska at the V&A. All of the information that follows in this blog entry was provided and written by Catia, Senior Metals Conservator at the Museum. To find out more read on.

The candlestick stands at about 55 cm high, is cast in three sections and made of a peculiar copper alloy. Past analysis and our own recent research have shown it to be a brass with an unusually high silver content. This is very unusual. Silver is expensive today, but back in the early 1100’s silver was even more precious so it was unusual to mix it with other less precious metals.

The Gloucester Candlestick, Museum no. 7649-1861.The Gloucester candlestick was commissioned for the church that is now Gloucester Cathedral during the reign of Abbot Peter (1104-1113). We know this because there is an inscription that runs along the stem of the candlestick. It was later given to Le Mans Cathedral, France where it remained until the nineteenth century when it was sold to a private collector. In 1861 the candlestick was acquired by the V&A.

The candlestick has been studied by historians, scientists and others interested in its history and the technology used to make it. It has been mentioned in various publications with different theories about its origins but many questions have remained. How was the candlestick made? Who made it? And why was alloy with such a high content of silver used?

The candlestick was disassembled allowing its construction to be studied, and its stability and conservation needs to be assessed. Lacquer which had previously been added to the surface was removed and at the same time the surface studied. Marks were found in the form of little crosses to indicate the join between two of the cast sections, where one beast craftily whispers in the ear of another. Taking the candlestick apart meant its original construction and each section could be studied individually.

Copper tubing from inside the Gloucester Candlestick, Museum no. 7649-1861.The inside of the candlestick contains copper tubing which holds the candlestick sections together. It is possible that this tubing might represent an early repair after the initial method of fixing the sections together broke. To attempt to answer this question, the composition of the copper tube will be analysed and the results compared to a database at the British Museum. This will allow the tubing to be dated accurately.

A sculptor was commissioned to cast a section based on the candlestick. The aim was to discover more about how the candlestick was made and to explore why so much silver was used in the alloy. You can see the small section based on the candlestick that was cast in the photograph below to the right. The casting of this section demonstrated that silver made the metal flow much easier when it was poured into the complex mould. The final surface was also easier to carve and for such an intricate design this was certainly a bonus.The finished surface of the replica section was a silvery yellow, a very light tone of gold.

Cast of a section based on the Gloucester Candlestick. These results lead to yet another question. The Gloucester candlestick was gilded after it was cast and carved. However if the surface already appeared gold after it had been cast, why did gilding need to applied at all? Might the gilding have been applied at a later date? Another unanswered question,for now at least!

Catia is currently waiting for the result of the analysis at The British Museum. Updates will follow here in due course. Many thanks to Catia for providing the content for this blog entry. Click on a picture to find out more about what it shows. Other pictures have been posted on the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance site on Flickr. If you have an questions or comments please post them below.

Harold Godwinson, Hastings and Hollywood

Friday, February 27th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Conservation work on a section of a 19th photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, February  2009.Long term readers of this blog will know that the Bayeux Tapestry is a subject that is close to my heart. Conservation work was recently completed on a section of one of two nineteenth-century photographic copies of the Bayeux Tapestry at the V&A.

One of the V&A’s photographs exists as a complete roll matching the length of the original tapestry. The other photograph was also once a roll but it was seperated into twenty-five sections in the past. It is one of these sections that has benefited from the attention of conservators Merryl Huxtable and Victoria Button at the V&A.

The surface of the photograph has been delicately cleaned. The photograph has also been removed from the textile to which it was attached, allowing the print(s) to be remounted onto Japanese paper. This will help reduce some of the unevenness in the print and will ensure that it looks as good as possible when it is mounted and displayed in a Discovery Area in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Click on the photographs to find out more about the work that has been completed. I’ve posted other photographs of the work on our Flickr site. I hope to produce a longer online subject about the Bayeux Tapestry photographs so more information will follow at a later date.

Conservators working on the Bayeux Tapestry photograph, February 2009.Hollywood appears to have finally discovered the Battle of Hastings. There are apparently no fewer than three creative teams preparing to dramatise the events of 1066 for the big screen in multi-million pound epics. The story clearly has the potential to make a great film and hopefully the competition between rival filmmakers will bring out the best in all concerned. The medieval source material varies in reliability but the Bayeux Tapestry is one of the best. It is actually some of the less trustworthy sources that provide some of the most dramatic stories and I hope that some of those make it through into one of the films.

The events leading up to the death of King Harold Godwinson on 14 October 1066 have everything a scriptwriter could want: envy, murder, exile, brother betraying brother, the breaking of sacred oaths, endless ambition, bravery, heroism, lust, love and loss.  Hopefully the universality of these themes will draw in American audiences for whom the events of 1066 are of marginal significance, just as they were for 11th century superpowers like the Byzantine Empire.

I want the film versions of 1066 to be good – the story deserves it – and with the right attention to period detail there could be some stunning set-piece scenes. However quotes like “In Hollywood terms it is a ‘buddy’ movie about two men which ended in tears” set alarm-bells ringing. The film archives at the British Film Institute provide plenty of evidence that bad men-in-tights films out-weigh the good ones. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

The Bayeux Tapestry, 19th century copy based on photographs taken for the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).In 1885 the V&A’s photographic copies provided thirty-five members of the Leek Embroidery Society with the inspiration and source material to embroider a full copy of the Tapestry. The work was completed in 1886 and after an eventful history their copy found a home in the Museum of Reading where it remains today. Each woman stitched her name beneath the section she embroidered. The detail reproduced here features the name of Elizabeth Frost, no relation!

We are about to commission sets of clothing based on garments illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. Visitors to the new galleries will be able to try on an 11th century style tunic and find out more about medieval fashion and textiles.