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Archive for the 'Stained Glass' 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



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.

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

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A medieval and Renaissance Christmas….

Friday, December 21st, 2007

By Stuart Frost

The Adoration of the Magi, Germany, about 1500. Museum no. C.74-1919, C.75-1919. Given by J. Pierpont Morgan Jnr.Christmas is almost upon us. Everyone working on the project is looking forward to having a well earned break.  Naturally enough Christmas has been a popular subject for discussion in the press this week.  Midnight Mass, for example, is being held earlier in many churches this year to avoid disruption by members of the public who have over indulged in pubs and bars. Apparently attendance at churches at Christmas has been increasing since 2000.

The subject of whether Nativity plays should be held or not has been raised and debated again. Apparently one school cancelled their play so that the students could concentrate on their studies instead. The band Girls Aloud are taking part in their own version of a Nativity play on TV. It sounds interesting but I will probably give it a miss.

I’ll avoid any controversial contemporary debates here. Instead I’ve just selected a couple of images of beautiful objects that have a festive connection. They are both linked by the theme of gift-giving. The glass panel above illustrates the Adoration of the Magi. Here the three kings have brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to present to the infant Jesus. In medieval and Renaissance art the three kings were often understood as representing the known world, Europe, Asia and Africa. The three gifts also had symbolic meaning.

St Nicholas Crozier, Winchester, England (probably) 1150-1170. Museum no. 218-1865

The ivory crozier head to the left was once part of a ceremonial staff that belonged to a bishop or abbot. It’s connection with gift-giving is through the presence of Saint Nicholas. If you look carefully at the outer curve of the crozier, to the right, you should be able to Nicholas stretching upwards.  He is giving a bag of money to an impoverished nobleman, thus saving the three daughters of the man from prostitution. In the centre of the crozier head an angel supports a tendril which places Jesus at the centre of the composition, on one side is the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), on the other the infant Christ.

The crozier head is an exquistely carved object that required a remarkably high level of skill and craftsmanship to make. It was probably owned by an abbot or bishop who belonged to an institution dedicated to Saint Nicholas or perhaps simply shared the same name. The story of Saint Nicholas was a popular one at this time. 

Today, of course, it is the names Santa Claus and Father Christmas that tend to dominate the Christmas festivities and celebrations. I hope that everyone enjoys the festive break. The next blog entry will be posted here early in January 2008.

Old Friends & New Places

Monday, November 26th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Temptation of Christ C .237-1928The amount of progress that has been made in preparing the gallery spaces for installation of the new displays is incredible. I had a glimpse behind the Gallery 50 hoardings recently and was staggered to see how the space has been transformed. All of the objects that were once there have either been removed or protected in-situ with hoarding. The room is now a vast empty hall waiting for construction work to begin in 2008.

The preparation necessary for the installation of a sequence of displays as large as the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries means, of course, that there will be some disruption. It is inevitable that the number of objects on display at the V&A has to be reduced for a time.

However there are some significant benefits too as a number of the most important objects can be displayed in a new context, whether in a new gallery at the V&A or as part of a temporary exhibition elsewhere. I’ve mentioned the touring exhibition previously. Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the V&A is currently at the Norton Museum of Art in the USA.

I visited the National Gallery at the weekend. I enjoyed their current major temporary exhibition, Renaissance Siena: Art for a Cit, very much. The vast majority of the objects were ones that I hadn’t seen before, but I did also recognise a number of old friends from the V&A. One on these was the bronze Lamentation over the Dead Christ relief by Donatello which you can see in the image below. It was fascinating to see it a new context, juxtaposed with different objects and displayed in a manner which drew fresh nuances out of the work.Lamentation over the dead Christ, by Donatello. Museum no. 8552-1863

Also at the National Gallery currently is a more focussed display, Art of Light: German Renaissance Stained Glass (7 November 2007-17 February 2008) which also draws upon the V&A’s collections. I’d already been to the Renaissance Siena exhibition so on this weekend’s visit I spent most of my time looking at this display. It was fascinating to see superb drawings, paintings and glass panels side-by-side. I’ve included an image of one the glass panels at the top of this page to give a sense of how refined painting on glass can be. The exhibition includes a display of a complete programme of glass from one of the windows of the cloister of Mariawald Abbey. The glass from Mariawald will be a major feature of the new Gallery 50, The Renaissance City 1350-1600, when it opens at the V&A late in 2009.

The links below will provide with more information about the displays described above. I’ll continue to use the blog to highlight other temporary exhibitions featuring medieval and Renaissance objects from the V&A as they arise.

Find out about Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the V&A at the Norton Museum of Art.

Find out about Art of Light at the National Gallery.

Find out more about Renaissance Siena: Art for a City.