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Archive for the 'Churches and Church Furnishings' 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


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?

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.



New Year, New Author

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that Stuart Frost, its regular author since 2006, has not been adding many posts recently. This is because he is now working at the British Museum as Head of Interpretation. For a few months after the opening of the V&A’s new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, Stuart has graciously kept up his work on this blog, but is now bowing out - leaving me with some pretty big shoes to fill.

My name is Glyn, and I’m a curator of medieval art here at the V&A. I was in charge of the area of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries on the lower ground floor. In a shameless piece of self-promotion, I should also mention that I was the co-author of the book to accompany the galleries, Medieval and Renaissance Art: People and Possessions (for details, see http://www.vandashop.com/product.php?xProd=4356&xSec=30&navlock=1). Over the next few months, I’m hoping to post on aspects of medieval and renaissance art and history that are relevant to the V&A’s collections, that give you an insight into the work we do behind the scenes, or which I simply find interesting and think worth pointing out. It’s more fun when there’s a discussion, so I’d like to begin by asking for recommendations from you for things to do or upcoming events in London that reflect the medieval and renaissance periods. Please post any good ideas or suggestions in the comments area below.

Doubting Thomas on the Syon Cope

The image attached to this entry is a detail of a large embroidered cope (a sort of ceremonial cloak), which features in the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. This detail, depicting Doubting Thomas thrusting his hand into Christ’s side wound, because this is the only way in which he will believe that Christ has been resurrected from the dead, recently featured in the Easter editorial of one of the big national newspapers. The cope was made in London, probably not far from Saint Paul’s cathedral, in the early fourteenth century. It’s often surprising where images of V&A objects will show up. Usually, as in this case, it’s as a result of us re-presenting or publishing the object in some way. As well appearing prominently in the new galleries, the cope was also the subject of a talk I gave at a three day conference looking at Medieval and Renaissance Art that we held at the museum in February, so it’s certainly been receiving more attention. On the other hand, I’m sometimes surprised by the contexts in which I find our objects. One of my guilty pleasures is reading comic books. A couple of years ago, I bought an expensive hardback edition of one of Neil Gaiman’s series of Sandman comics (’The Wake’, for those who are interested). In it, the graphic artist Dave McKean had taken photos of a number of V&A objects, including a lamp by the Renaissance artist Riccio, and an ivory crucifix figure by the thirteenth-century sculptor Giovanni Pisano, and had manipulated the images to create the spooky atmosphere needed to set the scene for the comic’s stories. I’d be interested to hear about any surprising uses of V&A object images that you’ve come across…

A Missal from the Abbey of Saint Denis, Paris

Monday, January 4th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

Page from a missal from the abbey of Saint-Denis, 1350. Museum no. MSL/1891/1346.The pages that illustrate this blog entry are from a magnificent missal in the V&A’s collections, one of the finest surviving examples of a fourteenth century Gothic manuscript. A missal is a book which contains all the texts and music needed by a priest to celebrate Mass. This particular missal was made for use at one of the altars in the royal abbey of St Denis, Paris. The book is displayed in Room 9 The Rise of Gothic 1200-1350.

Visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to see manuscript but also to explore a larger selection of openings from the book through a touch-screen interactive placed nearby. In addition, for the first time visitors will also be able to hear a recording of one of the chants preserved in the musical notation written on the missal’s pages. 

The missal waA missal from Saint Denis, Paris. MSL/1891/1346 393vs commissioned for the abbey of St Denis and because it was used there it includes specific references to both the abbey and its patron saint, Saint Denis. Saint Denis is the patron saint of France. He was believed to have been sent to Gaul to convert pagans to Christianity in the third century. Although St Denis preached initially with great success he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded. His martydom is depicted in the illumination depicted in the photographs that heads this blog entry.

The strong connection between the manuscript and Saint Denis dictated that if we were to record only one piece from the missal it should ideally be a piece that related to the abbey or its name saint. Staff, students and professional singers from the Royal College of Music recently recorded Salve Pater Dyonisi (Hail Father Denis). the notation and words for which can be seen in the images to the left and below.  This piece would have been performed on the Feast Day of Saint Denis. Salve Pater Dyonisi comprises seven verses which praise St Denis and two other saints who were martyred with him, Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius. The words are sung in Latin to music that was adapted from pre-existing pieces to create a fresh work.

A missal from Saint Denis, Paris. MSL/1891/1346 394rA short film that introduces the missal and which documents the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi has just been posted on Vimeo. If you’d like to see the film please click on the link provided below. The superlative artistic qualities of the missal are easy to appreciate but the recording of some of the music that its written upon its pages will hopefully give visitors a greater feel for how the manuscript was originally intended to be used. 

I’m delighted that visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to hear for the first time a piece of music that was originally performed in Saint Denis abbey around 1350. The recording will also be made available online. Watch this space for more information. Happy New Year to everyone!

Click here to see the film about the Saint Denis Missal and the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi on Vimeo.

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!

Charlemagne and Aachen: On Location Part Two

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Front Cover of the Lorsch Gospels, Aachen, about 810. Museum no. 138-1866.I promised regular updates on progress with the development of six gallery films and so here is the first of several. Location filming for the Charlemagne and Aachen gallery film took place in Germany earlier this week. This film is part of a series that aims to contextualise key objects in the V&A’s collection by reuniting them with the places they were most associated with before they entered the Museum’s collections.

It seems fitting given the European scope of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project that work on the films began in Aachen, a city now in Germany but which was once the imperial centre of a great European empire ruled over by Charlemagne (768-814). Charlemagne’s empire included much of modern Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and much else besides. His influence was felt far beyond the borders of the territories over which he had direct authority. Charlemagne continues to loom large over European history, both ancient and modern. 

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Charlemagne established a palace at Aachen, the original chapel of which still survives today at the centre of the cathedral. The chapel was the main focus of the first day’s filming. Some of the greatest artists and intellectuals of the age were drawn to the palace where they served the emperor. Under Charlemagne there was an artistic revival, Latin was restored as a literary language and many great books were produced. I wonder how different the later history of Europe would have been without the revival or renaissance that took place under Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors?

The five ivory panels you can see here were once part of a magnificent Gospel book made in Aachen around 810. The panels formed part of the front cover. They highlight the artistic heights reached by Carolingian artists but also their debt to late Roman art. Charlemagne intended Aachen to be a second Rome. The Palatine Chapel was based on late Roman models. The columns displayed inside, framed within round arches, were brought from Rome and Ravenna. Bronze casting was revived in order to produce the magnificent doors and railings which still survive. Charlemagne himself was buried within a sarcophagus originally carved in the second century AD and brought from Rome to Aachen.

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Filming inside the chapel was a fascinating experience. The cathedral authorities were remarkably helpful, providing us with a guide who was extremely informative and accomodating. There were challenges which the film crew worked hard to overcome. On arrival we discovered that one of the bays of the octagon was enclosed in scaffolding and hoarding as part of a long-term conservation project. However thanks to the ingenuity of the camera-man and director no one will know from the final film that the hoarding was there.

The efforts that the film crew went to to get the best shots are exemplified by the photograph illustrated here. The director, John Wyver, managed to persuade the owner of a ferris wheel (only present for two days a year) to start it up early in the morning to allow cameraman Ian to get some great footage of the cathedral from the air. After Aachen the team moved onto Lorsch Abbey, the home of the Lorsch Gospel covers from the early 800s until 1563.

Further photographs of the filming that took place at Aachen and Lorsch are available via the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries site on Flickr. Click on one the images above if you’d like to see additional pictures and find out more. Further updates will follow at fortnightly intervals.

Find Out More

The Lorsch Gospel covers are on display at the High Museum in Atlanta until 4th January 2009.

Click here for more information about Aachen Cathedral. The 360 degree panorama on this official cathedral website gives an excellent impression of the interior of the octagon as it appears today.

The Da Vinci Code

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Plaster cast of an effigy of William Marshal. Museum no.  REPRO.A.1938-7I’ll confess immediately. This blog entry has very little to do with Dan Brown or the Da Vinci Code.  I simply thought that if I mentioned the Da Vinci Code in the title I might increase my chances of picking up a few more hits. The real subject here is Temple Church. Dan Brown aficionados will know the church does feature in both his book and the film based upon it.

From time to time I’ve been using this blog to highlight temporary exhibitions elsewhere to which the V&A has loaned objects from its medieval and Renaissance collections. I suspect that people might be surprised by the number of loans the V&A makes to other museums around the country and globally. Some objects travel vast distances. Others travel only a few miles.

Plaster cast of an effigy of Robert de Roos. Museum no. REPRO.A.1938-10The photographs here are of two nineteenth century plaster copies of tomb effigies taken from originals in Temple Church, London. Click on the pictures to find out more about them. In total there are four plaster casts effigies from originals in Temple Church in the V&A’s collections. The two photographs used here were taken in the V&A’s spectacular Cast Courts, one of the most striking museum spaces anywhere in the world. At the moment only one of the four plaster cast effigies is in its usual home. The other three can be found alongside the originals in Temple Church in a temporary exhibition, The Temple Church 1185-2008: History, Architecture and Effigies.

I’d imagine that some of you may be wondering what is to be gained by placing the plaster casts alongside the stone effigies? However the originals were damaged in 1941, long after the casts had been taken.

The casts of the effigies are not the only connection between the V&A and Temple Church. The picture below shows the wonderful west doorway of the church. This was restored during the nineteenth century. Several carved blocks were removed and replaced during the work, and four original weathered blocks came to the V&A via the collections of the Architectural Association. These architectural elements from the doorway will be displayed in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, three in a new day-lit gallery space and one in a display about the Romanesque style.Temple Church, London.

Although you’ll have to wait until November 2009 before you can see the blocks, the three plaster cast effigies are on display at Temple Church until Sunday 15 June. After the exhibition closes they will return to the Cast Courts to be reunited with Robert de Roos. Temple Church is renowned for its circular knave and, like the Cast Courts at the V&A, is well worth a visit.

Click here to find out more about the Temple Church and the exhibition there.

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

King Alfred the Great?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Reliquary Cross, about 1000. Museum no. 7943-1862.It is the nature of history that only the names of a comparatively few people are remembered after their deaths. For the medieval period the people we know most about tend to be the most powerful, exceptional or notorious figures. 

Medieval chroniclers were fond of adding an adjective after an individual’s name. Some rulers were more fortunate than others in the label posterity gave them. Charles the Great, William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion Heart are all at the acceptable end of the spectrum, but who would want to be known as Louis the Fat, Charles the Bald or John Soft-sword?

The word great is arguably over-used today. Such and such is a great singer, footballer or actor. It is difficult to really assess someone’s merits without the perspective that the passage of time brings. However if there is one English figure who truly deserves the epithet great then it is Alfred of Wessex (849-899), ruler of the only Anglo-Saxon kingdom to survive the Viking onslaught in the ninth century. 

If you need convincing about Alfred’s credentials then I’d recommend visiting Winchester to see the exhibition: Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom. The exhibition closes on 27 April 2008. The display is small but it includes some beautiful objects which are also of immense historical importance. The V&A has loaned the remarkable Anglo-Saxon reliquary illustrated above to Winchester for the duration of the display. Click on the object to find out more about the object and its link with Alfred’s achievements.

The legacy Alfred left his sucessors allowed them to consolidate the Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually bring all of England under the control of one monarch. The origins of modern England can arguably be traced back to Alfred’s reign. Winchester became Alfred’s main city and throughout the middle ages the city was extremely important. There is enough evidence around the modern town to give a sense of just how impressive medieval Winchester was.

Alfred’s achievements ensured that he would never be forgotten. The photograph illustrated below shows 19th century remodelling at Arundel Castle. The relief sculpture is difficult to see but it shows ‘King Alfred instituting Trial by Jury on Salisbury Plain’, evidence of Alfred’s enduring reputation as a model monarch.North Side of Quadrangle, Arundel Castle, 1852-54, Benjamin Brecknell Turner. Museum no. PH 44 1982

Click here to find out more about Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom.