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Archive for the 'Exhibition Development' Category

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.

The Listening Gallery Part 2: Medieval to Baroque

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Performing medieval chant, 17 June 2009. Photograph by Lorena Meana.Music was part of daily life in medieval and Renaissance Europe and talented musicians and composers were often as highly regarded or sought after as other artists. Music was an important art form in its own right. The central role of music in medieval and Renaissance culture is reflected in many objects in the V&A’s collections. Thanks to a partnership with the Royal College of Music funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) we will be able to integrate a large number of high quality recordings into the Medieval and Renaissance galleries in an innovative and exciting manner.

Rehearsals and recordings of music for the new galleries have been taking place over recent weeks, thanks to the efforts of Giulia Nuti at the Royal College of Music. I’ll focus on one example here. The picture below this paragraph and to the left is of a page from a medieval manuscript known as the Saint Denis Missal. The book was made in Paris around 1350 and was used at the royal abbey of Saint Denis. Click on the picture for more information about it and to see other openings from the book. The Saint Denis Missal is a remarkably fine example of a Gothic manuscript and features some magnificent examples of calligraphy and illumination. It is largely because of the artistic qualities of the book that the V&A acquired it.Page from a missal from the abbey of Saint-Denis, 1350. Museum no. MSL/1891/1346.

The pages of the missal, however, also carry countless lines of musical notation and it is some of this notation that was performed and recorded earlier this week. The work of Professor Anne Robertson on the service books of St Denis allowed Jennifer Smith of the Royal College of Music to prepare sheet music that could be rehearsed and performed by a choir of talented singers. Listening to the choir perform a piece of music that was originally sung in Paris over seven hundred and fifty years ago certainly stands out as one of my personal highlights whilst working at the V&A. The pictures  at the start and end of this blog entry show the choir at work with Jennifer.

Each of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A will contain at least one audio-point, most of which will be built into seats. Visitors will be able to sit down, select an option from a small touch-screen and listen to an audio track delivered through a handset or a set of headphones. Many of the audio-points have been placed in a direct relationship with a key object. Visitors will be able to look at the Saint Denis Missal, for example, whilst listening to music that is written on its pages. Each of the audio-points will include recordings provided by the Royal College of Music. We hope that the recordings will help visitors to the galleries understand the culture that produced the objects displayed around them, to stimulate their imagination and to enhance their feel for medieval and Renaissance culture. Performing medieval chant, 17 June 2009.Photograph by Lorena Meana.

The first phase of the Listening Gallery project led to the integration of a number of beautiful recordings of music within the recent temporary exhibition Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence. If you have visited the exhibition I’m very keen to hear your views about how the recordings playing in the exhibition space impacted on your visit. For those of you unable to visit the exhibition physically a number of recordings are available to download online.

The Listening Gallery Project has been a fascinating one to be involved with. The commitment, expertise and passion of all the staff and students at the Royal College of Music involved with the project has been truly inspirational. Thanks to Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmermann at the V&A we’ve been able to film some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in making the recordings. A series of short online films will be made available over the coming weeks. Watch this space for more details and further information.

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

Click here to download recordings of music associated with Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence.

Mounting and Fixing

Monday, July 13th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Woman's girdle, about 1540-80, Italy or France, Museum no. T.370-1989.There will be approximately one thousand and eight hundred objects for visitors to enjoy in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Regular readers of this blog will know that object installation has been underway for sometime. As the opening of the galleries approaches rapidly, mounting and fixing has been coming ever closer to the fore. 

Every object to be displayed in the new galleries has been the subject of discussion to establish how it can be displayed to best effect. There are numerous factors which need to considered and sometimes conflicting demands that need to be reconciled. For example, if an object is displayed too far back from the front of a case, or if the angle it is displayed at isn’t quite right, visitors will be unable to fully enjoy the object. Many exhibition cases bear the marks left by visitor’s noses or foreheads in their desperate attempts to get a good view of a beautiful object. However some objects are too fragile to be displayed at the ideal angle for a visitor so finding the ideal solution can be a challenge.

G. Preparing the Mount for a Woman's girdle, about 1540-80, Italy or France, Museum no. T.370-1989.  Photograph by Constanze Zimmer.The production of mounts for objects has now been taking place at the V&A for sometime. Some objects are comparatively straightforward and can sit, for example, on a shelf within a case without any external or internal support. Other objects pose significantly greater challenges testing the ingenuity and skills of those involved to the limit. The object illustrated here in the top right corner definitely falls into the latter category. 

The picture of the object laid flat isn’t very helpful in suggesting the original function of the object and demonstrates just how important way an object is displayed is. Despite the concertinaed appearance in the photograph the object is a 16th century girdle that would have been wrapped once around a woman’s waist and then tied in front. At 3.75m it is a remarkably long girdle which suggests that it might have been worn by a rather tall lady with a wider than average waist. The ends of the girdle are weighted with knots would have ensured that it hung loose at the hem of her gown. To find out a little more about the girdle, or to see a larger image, please click on the picture.

J. Making a mount for a girdle. Photograph by Constanze Zimmer.The girdle is made from silk and metal threads and despite its fragile and delicate appearance it is surprisingly heavy. It will be displayed in a subject display called What People Wore and Why. After considerable debate, discussion and experimentation it has been decided to suspend the girdle in the case with the ingenious use of a mount that will project from the back wall of the case. The overall aim is to produce a mount that fully supports the girdle whilst remaining as discreet as possible and giving the viewer a clear sense of how the object would have been worn. The object’s weight and its length made the mount-making process particularly challenging and demanded a creative solution.

The first stage of mount production involved shaping clear acrylic into a waist shaped support and then covering it with padding and textile. The image above and to the left shows the girdle pinned to this waist-shaped mount. The full length of girdle couldn’t be displayed in the case. There is an aperture in the back of the mount that allows some of the textile to sit inside and rest on the bottom plate. The acrylic plate, or lid, that you can see in the picture will be covered with a dark textile.

The picture above and to the right shows the girdle temporarily pinned to the almost finished mount in the Textiles Conservation Studio at the V&A. The trailing ends of the girdle rest on cut acrylic which can’t be seen in the photograph. The mount is now finished which means that the object can installed inside the relevant case in due course. If you’d like to see more pictures of the production of the mount for the girdle there are ten pictures posted on the V&A Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr. You can reach the Flickr site by clicking on any of the photographs reproduced here.

I would like to thank Constanze Zimmer for providing the photographs to illustrate this blog entry and for additional information about the mount-making process. If you have any comments or questions please post them below. When the object is finally installed I’ll provide an update here.

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.
 

Behind the Scenes

Monday, March 30th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Regular visitors to South Kensington will have become used to the brightly coloured hoarding that currently runs along a major part of the V&A’s Cromwell Road facade. The hoarding is decorated with striking large colour images of objects from the medieval and Renaissance collections. Behind the hoarding nine different space are being transformed into the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries and a new day-lit gallery is being constructed.A glimpse through the hoarding into Room 50 at the V&A, 12-03-2009.

Visitors to the V&A have been provided with one or two strategic peep holes that offer glimpses through the hoarding into the new gallery spaces. For the benefit of those of you who are not able to visit the Museum physically I took a picture, to the right, last week from Room 117 through the viewing window in Room 50. In November 2009 the hoarding will come down and visitors will be able to walk from the Grand Entrance into the new display, The Renaissance City 1350-1600.

I recently visited the construction site with a number of colleagues from the Learning and Interpretation division. Work is underway on shaping the events programme that will accompany the galleries throughout the first year of opening. It is remarkable to see how the gallery spaces have been transformed and how rapidly they are changing and taking shape.

I regularly meet friends and colleagues in the Grand Entrance of the building. I often take then to the viewing holes so they can look into the new spaces. They are always impressed by how much work has taken place with such a limited impact on the rest of the public areas of the Museum. I’m sure that The Renaissance City 1350-1600 will be one of the most impressive of the new eleven rooms. The vast size of the space and many of the objects within it will create a dramatic space that will be beautifully lit. It will also be a wonderful space for a wide range of events and for simply sitting, relaxing and contemplating. 

The internal deadline for final content related to the events programmes is at the end of May 2009 so my colleagues are busily pulling together their plans for activities for different audiences. Time is running away so rapidly that the opening will soon be upon us but I’m more excited than anxious. I am looking forward to watching visitors walk through the new displays and seeing how they respond to them. It will be fascinating to discover how different audiences begin to use the collections for their own creative journeys and enjoyment.

Treasures from the V&A 400-1600 in Sheffield

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Treasures from the V&A 400-1600AD at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield.Regular readers will know that I’ve used this blog to provide occasional updates about a touring exhibition of highlights from the V&A’s medieval and Renaissance collections. The exhibition has been to five museums in north America and has now opened in its sixth and final venue before the objects return to South Kensington late in May 2009.

The exhibition closed at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on 4 January 2009 and opened at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield on 29th January 2009.  As the exhibition title indicates the objects included in the display are some of the greatest medieval and Renaissance treasures in the V&A’s collections.

With a touring exhibition like this one there is a vast amount of work involved. The objects had to be carefully removed from the display cases in Atlanta, packed securely and then transported across the Atlantic to Yorkshire. The exhibition team at Sheffield have been working over many, many months to plan the exhibition and to link it with their own collections.

Unpacking the Lorsch Gospel Covers, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield 2009. My colleagues on the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project have been involved in different aspects of the touring exhibition. Some have been involved in deinstallation of the objects at one venue, accompanying the artifacts as they travel between museums and then in helping with their installation once the objects have arrived at the next gallery. Others have been involved in giving lectures, gallery talks or in writing entries for the beautifully illustrated book that complements the display.

I had my first opportunity to visit one of the venues for the exhibition when I travelled to Sheffield during the last week in January. In September 2008 we travelled to Aachen and Lorsch Abbey in Germany to shoot footage for a short film about the Lorsch Gospel covers. These five ivory panels were carved around 810 in Aachen and attached to the front cover of a magnificent Gospel book.

The Lorsch Gospel covers have been part of the Medieval and Renaissance Treasures touring exhibition so we’ve had to wait until the exhibition returned to Britain to film them. The photograph above left shows the case containing the Gospel covers after its arrivial at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. The photograph was taken just before case was opened, the object checked and carefully unpacked. Now that the Lorsch Gospel cover has been filmed the first edit of the Charlemagne and Aachen gallery film can be produced.

Click here to find out more about Treasures from the V&A 400-1600 at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. The exhibition runs until 24 May 2009. If you have an opportunity to visit the exhibition I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts about it.  You can post your views and comments below. 

Byzantine Intrigue

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

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

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

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

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

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

Scenes from the Apocalypse

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Conservation work on a triptych with scenes from the Apocalypse, Museum no. 5940-1859.Since February 2008 one of the most enigmatic objects in the V&A’s collections, and one of the earliest acquisitions, has been the focus of a remarkable programme of conservation work. The object, a larger central panel with two hinged wings, is an altarpiece. The panels were made and painted in northern Germany around 1400.

The photograph to the right shows the altarpiece in the paintings conservation studio at the V&A. The wings have been detached to facilitate conservation work.

The painting on the front of the altarpiece consists of forty-five scenes illustrating most of the chapters of the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible that describes events at the end of the world. The scenes from the last five chapters are missing which suggests the altarpiece is no longer complete. Most of the scenes are accompanied by text taken from the work of a friar who in the mid-13th century attempted to explain the events of the Book of Revelation in historical terms.

The altarpiece will be included in the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries. In preparation for this the painting was the subject of a technical examination and assessment by conservators Lara Wilson, Rachel Turnbull and Nicola Costaras. X-rays, for example, revealed the extent of later over-painting as well revealing clearly the structure of the wooden panels. Tests were carried out to establish the age of the restoration (probably 19th century) and to assess the condition of the original painting beneath the later layers of dirt and varnish.Detail from a triptych with scenes from the Apocalypse, Museum no. 5940-1859.

Conservators and curators discussed different options for conservation work, assessed the consequences of each and then agreed the final programme of work. What conservation work did the object require and how could the object be displayed to best effect? Some of the paint had become loose and needed to be consolidated. The dirt that had accumulated over time and the varnish had both muted the original colours so it was agreed that both would be removed.

The vast majority of the painting is original but some areas where paint has been lost had been restored. The team at the V&A have decided to remove the areas where restorers had painted over losses with their own speculative compositions. Although work is still in progress it is clear that triptych will be transformed by the conservation work. The pictures that I’ve reproduced here show how vivid the colours are once the surface is cleaned. Detail from a triptych with scenes from the Apocalypse, Museum no. 5940-1859.

The close inspection of the painting as work has progressed has provided new insights and raised other avenues for research. The question of the attribution, for example, is being assessed again. The quality of the painting revealed by the recent work suggests that the altarpiece was made in the workshop of Master Bertram and that it should be added to the number of other surving paintings associated with this artist.  A number of articles exploring different aspects of the triptych will be published in due course and I will post-updates here. If you’d like to know more please post questions below and I’ll do my best to provide answers.

Thanks to Nicola Costaras and Rachel Turnbull for providing the information and pictures for this blog entry. I’ve posted additional images on the Medieval and Renaissance V&A site on Flickr. Click on each of the images here to find out more.