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Archive for the 'Exhibition Development' 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.

Audio and Technology in the Galleries

Monday, January 24th, 2011

By Glyn Davies

Medieval Mass audio

I remember that when I started working in museums in the late 1990s, computer terminals and audio points were just starting to become common sights in gallery displays. Often, there was a film running on a loop on a television screen, or there was a somewhat clunky computer supplying limited information. The question of whether or not to include tools like this within displays was extremely divisive, with many curators and visitors bitterly opposed to the idea, on the quite reasonable grounds that they distracted from the wonderful objects on show, and that they were ugly.

When the V&A opened its British Galleries in 2000, it was the first major suite in the Museum to make extensive use of such tools. The experience offered in the British Galleries was, for me at least, a good one; we’d taken the trouble to provide the technology in ways that were particularly useful, informative, or stimulating. A good example is the demonstration of William Burges’s wash-stand, an object that for conservation reasons can’t be regularly used, but for which a film was made, demonstrating the elegant and clever means by which water was dispensed into the wash bowl, and then emptied out into a cistern. If you’re interested in Burges’s washstand, then follow this link: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/furniture/videos/washstand/modem.html

For the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, we followed the same path. The aim was to keep the quality of the content high, but to make sure that the means of delivery was discreet and did not in any way detract from the beauty of the objects we were displaying. We thought very carefully about the placement of every screen - close enough to have an obvious relationship with the relevant object, but not so close as to overwhelm it. However, we were very aware that technology was developing faster than we could keep pace with it.

In the first year of our planning, 2002, I remember being shown what the Getty Museum in Los Angeles was developing for their galleries - a portable mini-computer that visitors borrowed from the Entrance Desk, which would provide you with information and films about selected objects in the collection. At the time, I thought this was hugely ambitious, and quite futuristic!

V&A visitorsOf course, by the time our galleries opened in 2010, there had been a revolution in the amount of computing power being carried around in many of our visitors’ pockets. When I first watched Steve Jobs’s launch presentation of the iPhone, it was obvious that this device was going to revolutionise the way people lived their lives. And already since then, visitors now expect to be able to use WiFi to go online in the Museum, and to be able to access more and more information about the collections on the internet.

Our online output these days is starting to resemble that of a small tv company, with the Museum’s own video ‘channel’, and films often presented by well-known figures like Howard Goodall or David Dimbleby. As far as the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries go, we were aware enough of the direction in which things were moving to make sure that all the gallery films, audios and computer interactives were made available on our website as well as within the Museum.

Which brings me to my point - over the last couple of months, we’ve been planning a new step towards our provision of information using technology. In the next few weeks, the Museum will launch an App for iPhone, iPad and Android phones, specifically about the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Users will have access to a series of highlight objects with text and photos, the text and photos from the introduction to the accompanying book, and a series of audios including tours of the galleries. I’m particularly excited about the tours, because if you’re anything like me, then you’ll know that it can be very hard to absorb a lot of information via text panels in museums. On the other hand, if you’re shown around by somebody who knows the objects well, it’s always a more vital and stimulating experience. I do a lot of tours of the spaces, but by offering one of my tours this way, far more people will be able to benefit. We’ll also be able to keep updating the content (offering new tours, for example) over time.

Of course, we can’t expect our visitors to come armed with an iPhone. That’s why labels and wall panels will never be replaced in museums. But many visitors do own these devices, and increasingly, we’ll be able to offer them great ways of improving the experience of their visit. It also means that we don’t have to loan out devices, that there is no added clutter within the galleries, and that visitors are more in control of their own visit. All of which have to be good things!

It would be great to know about other innovative museum interpretation you’ve come across. Feel free to post below…

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?

The Role of the Catalogue

Monday, July 19th, 2010

By Glyn Davies

You may be wondering why this post is accompanied by a photo of a party. Where is the art, you say? What does this have to do with the Medieval and Renaissance periods? Have I stumbled on someone’s Facebook page?

Well, I thought you might like to see one of the less obvious results of our work preparing for the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. While the galleries were being designed and built, there was a huge amount of research going on behind the scenes to re-assess some of our greatest treasures. One of the curators carrying out research was Dr Paul Williamson, the head of the Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass department, who is one of the world experts on medieval ivory carving. Paul spent a year researching and writing a new catalogue of our early medieval ivories - one of the most important parts of our earlier collections. We weren’t able to publish it in time for the opening of the new galleries in November, but the advance copies have now arrived, and the book will be going on sale to the public soon. Paul, by the way, is the man with the glasses and dark jacket sitting towards the front.

Medieval Ivories Book Launch

I’m often asked why we didn’t issue a catalogue to accompany the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The answer to this is simple - we issue catalogues to accompany temporary exhibitions, but not permanent displays. The permanent collections are catalogued according to media type, and we have been issuing catalogues of different areas of the collection every few years for a long time now!

Paul’s new book is the first of a series of three which will completely catalogue all the V&A’s ivories, a collection of about 500 objects. Ivory may today seem an odd sort of material to be a major art form during the middle ages, but it enjoyed periods of real popularity during the period. It’s hard to know why exactly this was, but it is noticeable that most of the luxury arts of the medieval period used raw materials that were exotic and hard to obtain - think of silk, gold and silver, or the lapis lazuli pigment used for the finest blue details in paintings. The whiteness of ivory, its durability, and the very tactile nature of ivory carvings (you have to really restrain yourself from touching them) were all probably part of its appeal.

The picture shows a little reception that Paul held to celebrate the completion of the book. I say ‘little’, but even with a single-author book like this, you can see that a large number of people ended up contributing to it! In the photo are staff from the V&A Conservation studios, who carried out scientific examination and testing on the objects; staff from the Photo Studio, who took the wonderful photographs that fill the book; experts from other parts of the Museum, like Rowan Watson, the curator responsible for our medieval manuscripts; the editors and staff of V&A Publications; and many more. Paul is having a more official launch party this week - but it was lovely for all those closely involved in the project to come together to mark its completion.

But of course, it’s never complete. No catalogue is truly the last word on the subject. And now Paul and I have started work on Volume II, which will take up where this catalogue leaves off, and go from 1200 to 1550, covering another 300-odd objects. Volume III is also in the process of being written, by Marjorie Trusted. This kind of scholarship on the collection may not be of any obvious significance for many of our visitors. But in reality, it decisively shapes the ways in which the objects are presented and discussed within the galleries. Many people who would never read Paul’s academic catalogue will certainly see our objects differently because of his research. For instance, one of our greatest treasures, the ivory crozier telling the story of Saint Nicholas, has always been described as English (have a look at it on http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O70467/staff-head-the-st-nicholas-crozier/). Paul convincingly demonstrates that it is French, and this will transform the ways in which it is presented in the future.

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.

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries are open!

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries opening night, 1st December 2009.The first meeting of the Concept Team, a group of four people whose role was to shape and steer the development of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, took place in June 2002. The official opening of the galleries took place last week on the evening of Tuesday 1st December 2009.

On Wednesday 2nd December the galleries opened to the public. As I hadn’t been into the galleries over the final three weeks of work I was stunned to see how much had been achieved in such a short period of time. The last time I had walked through the spaces they were still very much a work in progress.  Objects and cases were still being installed and there was a huge amount of work to do. When I walked into the spaces on the opening night I was stunned at the transformation. It was wonderful to see the galleries finally completed but also more than a little emotional. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that my role on the project, and that my time at the V&A, is over.

The Director of the V&A at the opening of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.I’ve included some pictures from the opening night here. It was a very special occasion for the V&A and for everyone who has contributed to the project. I found it hard to believe that I was walking through the galleries and seeing the displays for the first time as the public would see them, rather than looking at design drawings on A3 sheets of paper. The evening also reminded me of just how many colleagues have been involved in the project over the years.

Perhaps the most exciting and nerve wracking moment for me was walking through the galleries on Saturday afternoon, a few days after the public opening, and watching people moving through the displays and interacting with objects. It was fascinating to look at their faces and to see how they were reacting. Some of the most beautiful, significant and inspiring art works in the Museum’s collections now on display and are there for visitors to discover and enjoy. It is exciting to think about the vast number of different experiences and responses that visitors will have in these new galleries over the coming years.

Music from the leaf of a choirbook

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Leaf from a choirbook, about 1250, Germany or northern Netherlands.  Museum no. 1519I’ve chosen to illustrate this blog entry with a manuscript leaf that was orginally part of a choirbook made around 1250, probably in Germany. The leaf is decorated with an illuminated letter that depicts the Annunciation, the moment when the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and tells her that she will give birth to Christ. Click on the image for a larger picture and more information about the choirbook leaf.

The leaf also contains the musical notation and the Latin words for a piece of Gregorian chant, Missus est Gabriel or the Angel Gabriel was Sent. Thanks to the efforts of staff and students and the Royal College of Music visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to listen to a recording of this piece of music in the gallery where the choirbook leaf is displayed. The music will be delivered through headphones and an audio-point built into one of the gallery seats.

If you’d like to know more about the choirbook leaf and the recording of the piece of music I’ve provided a link below to a short film that we made to document the work. In the film curator V&A Rowan Watson explains why the V&A has a large collection of individual manuscript leaves, the female choir is shown rehearsing the piece of music and Jennifer Smith of the Royal College of Music explains the work involved in transcribing the notation from the original manuscript.

Recording peformances of medieval chant in a church, 17 June 2009. Photograph by Lorena Meana.Chants like Missus est Gabriel originated in monasteries where the singing of the Divine Service seven times a day was required of those following the Rule of St. Benedict. Gregorian chant accompanied the celebration of Mass and other services that took place throughout the liturgical year. Chant has a long history and although it has been subject to many changes and reforms over the centuries it remains in use for worship today.

The choirbook leaf will be displayed in Gallery 8 Faiths & Empires 300-1250 as part of a display about Great Chuches and Monasteries. The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will open to the public on Wednesday 2nd December 2009. It is hard to believe that after so many years the project is almost finished.

Click here to see the film about the choirbook leaf and the recording of Missus est Gabriel on Vimeo. The recording of Missus est Gabriel will also made be available on the V&A’s website in due course.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Listening Gallery Part 4: Music for the harpsichord

Monday, November 9th, 2009

By Stuart Frost 

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will open to the public on Wednesday 2nd December 2009. As you might expect installation of the objects and displays is dominating the work of the project team at the moment and will continue to do so over the short period of time that remains.

For those of you who are keen to get an impression of what is going on behind the scenes I have posted some photographs on the Medieval & Renaissance Flickr site. I’ll add further photographs on a weekly basis. The easiest way to reach the Flickr site is by clicking on the image below.

Harpsichord by Giovanni Baffo, 1574, Venice. Museum no. 6007-1859From my own point of view most of my time over the last couple of weeks has been focussed on the final scripting and recording of over forty audio tracks. These will integrated with the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries via fourteen audio-points, small touch-screen computers with headphones located at fixed points throughout the displays. Most of the tracks will also be available online via the V&A’s website. The recording and post-production of over eighty-four pages of script is now complete which I have to say is something of a relief. I’ll focus on just one audio track here.

The richly decorated instrument that illustrates this blog entry is a harpsichord made in Venice in 1574 for a member of the wealthy Florentine Strozzi family. The keyboard will be part of Palace and Home, a display that focuses on the elite Renaissance interior and the activities that took place there. The decision to provide recordings alongside the harpsichord to give visitors a sense of what the instrument sounded like was one of the more straightforward ones.

The V&A’s harpsichord, made by Giovanni Baffo, is no longer in playable condition. The instrument was acquired by the V&A primarily because of the superlative quality of its wonderfully rich and elaborate decoration. However there is an early harpsichord in the Museum at the Royal College of Music that is in playable condition. Thanks to our collaboration with the Royal College we were able to obtain a number of recordings of tracks that were performed on this instrument by Giulia Nuti.

The piece of music that visitors to Gallery 62 will be able to listen to is called Passemezzo di nome antico and was written by Marco Facoli. Facoli was born in Venice where he flourished as a composer in the late 16th century. The musical notation for this piece of music, contemporary with the Baffo harpsichord, is preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Royal College of Music. It is exceptional for the period for such a long and complex piece of solo music written out at length in a manuscript to have survived.

There are several advantages to obtaining recordings of previously unrecorded tracks like Passemezzo. One of the most significant benefits is that the pieces of music can be matched very closely to the objects which they are being used to interpret. New recordings can also be made more widely and freely available via the V&A’s website without getting involved in complex and sometimes expensive licensing issues.

To find out more about the harpsichord made by Giovanni Baffo from curators James Yorke and Kirstin Kennedy, and to watch footage of the recording of Passemezzo at the Royal College of Music, click on the link to the short film provided below. If you have any questions or comments please do post them below and I’ll respond to them as soon as I can.

Click here to see the film about the Baffo harpsichord on Vimeo.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Listening Gallery Part 3: A Notation Knife

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

By Stuart Frost

I’ve written about The Listening Gallery project before. It  is a two-year collaboration between the Royal College of Music and the V&A. The project draws on recent research in music, art & design and technology. One of the aims of the project is to connect key objects in the V&A’s collections with recordings of music that help visitors understand both the objects, and the cultural contexts to which they belonged, more fully.Notation Knife, Museum no. 310-1903.

New and existing recordings of music were integrated into the V&A’s major Spring 2009 exhibition, Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (4 April to 19 July 2009) as part of the first phase of the Listening Gallery. A series of over thirty new recordings have been made for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (opening 2 December 2009). The music will be available in the galleries and online via the V&A’s website. My colleagues, Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmerman, very kindly agreed to film some of the work involved in producing the recordings. A series of short films are now complete and will be added to the website over the coming weeks. 

The first film focuses on a knife made around 1550, the blade of which is etched on both sides with musical notation. The flat blade indicates that the knife was probably used to serve or present slices of meat. The object has been the focus of a great deal of thorough research undertaken by Flora Denis who has investigated a number of key questions. Why was musical notation engraved on the blade? Was this music actually meant to be sung? How many other knives like this one survive and was the V&A’s knife part of a larger set? The notation on the knife was recently transcribed, rehearsed and recorded at the Royal College of Music. To watch the film and find out more about the knife, the research, the music and the Listening Gallery project please click on the link provided below.  

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

Click here to see the film about the notation knife on Vimeo.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project. 

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.