Jump to navigation

V&A logo

V&A blogs

Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

RSS web feed image

Archive for the 'Other exhibitions' 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…

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna

Monday, September 21st, 2009

By Stuart Frost

In order to mark the opening of phase one of the Ceramics galleries at the V&A last week I thought I should select a ceramic object for this blog entry. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of my favourite ceramic objects and in discovering new pieces I’ve not seen before. 

In the old displays one of the objects I was particularly drawn to was a nineteenth century piece depicting two boxers, one of whom was Tom Sayers (1826-1865).  Sayers was a bare-knuckle fighter who fought for the world title in a fight which lasted a remarkable sixty-one rounds. His celebrity status is reflected in objects like the V&A’s ceramic figurine, his splendid tomb in Highgate cemetery and the fact that over ten thousand people followed his funeral procession. However, as there is no connection here with anything medieval or Renaissance I’d better move along!Microwave Oven Safe Madonna, by Philip Eglin, 2001. Musuem no. C.8-2002.

My favourite medieval ceramic objects in the new displays are tiles that were found in Tring, Hertfordshire. These rare survivals depict apocryphal scenes from the early years of Christ’s life in a format rather like a cartoon strip. The tiles depict miracles that aren’t mentioned in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. However the Tring tiles deserve a blog entry in their own right so I’ll return to them later.

Amongst my favourite contemporary pieces in the V&A’s collections is Philip Eglin’s Microwave Oven Safe Madonna. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about it for some time. There are countless contemporary artists and designers who’ve looked back to the medieval period for inspiration and Philip Eglin is one of my favourites.

The overall form of this white porcelain figure was inspired by a medieval woodcarving of a seated Virgin and Child in the V&A’s collections. If you look carefully at Eglin’s Madonna you’ll be able to see a fragmentary foot on her lap. Like the original medieval carving that informed the work the figure of the infant Christ that should be sat on the Virgin’s lap is missing. Not everything is as it first appears. Whilst the figure retains some of the same qualities of the medieval sculpture it also includes a number of references to modern living. Here the Virgin is actually sat on a paper bag rather than a seat or bench.

I’m sure that the Ceramics galleries will inspire thousands of different creative responses from the visitors who come to see them and I’m certain that the Medieval & Renaissance Europe galleries will do the same.

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna was one of the works that was exhibited alongside medieval works at the V&A in the exhibition, Philip Eglin, held at the Museum in 2001. You can find out more about this exhibition by following the link to the archived website that I’ve provided below.

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

Click here to find out more about Philip Eglin at the V&A.

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

Wryttyng is sumwhat tedius and paynfull….

Friday, June 5th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Detail from a Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.For a dynasty that ran its course almost five hundred years ago the Tudors have a remarkably high profile in popular culture today. Painted portraits of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are amongst those that adorn a current issue of postage stamps issues by the Royal Mail.

Of all the Tudor monarchs it is Henry VIII who is looming largest this year. His reign is being scrutinised and reassessed in exhibitions in museums, galleries, libraries and palaces in the capital and across the country. The reason for all of this activity is that 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne. I’m sure he would be pleased that his fame has endured for so long.

There are numerous objects in the V&A’s collections that have a strong connection with the Tudor dynasty and Henry VIII in particular. The pictures that illustrate this blog entry are of one of the more remarkable artefacts, a leather lined writing box adorned with the heraldic badges of Henry VIII and his first queen, Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536). The desk must have been made before Henry began divorce proceedings against Katherine in 1527.A Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.

Henry owned many writing boxes, a number of which were listed in inventories of his possessions made after his death in 1547. The history of this particular example isn’t known which makes it possible to speculate. It is tempting to imagine Henry sat in front of the box penning a lover letter to Anne Boleyn. Rather less appealing is the thought that the box was made as a royal gift that passed out of royal ownership soon after it was made.

The object is not currently on display at the V&A. It has travelled a short distance across the capital to the British Library, where it is part of a fascinating exhibition, Henry VIII - Man and Monarch. The exhibition has been curated by a team headed by David Starkey. 

In the first of three lectures to coincide with the exhibition Starkey talked about the writing desk. The desk is also centre stage in his introduction to the catalogue where it is described as ‘the real seat of Henry’s power’. There is certainly plenty of evidence in the exhibition to support the view that Henry was an unusually literate and literary monarch who constantly annotated documents, books and manuscripts.

Despite Henry’s statement that he found writing tedious and painful the evidence of his own handwriting  shows that he spent plenty of time sat at a desk with pen in hand. Faced with a vast pile of papers and documents requiring urgent attention, there must have been many moments when he longed to be engaged in more pleasurable pursuits. I’m sure that is a feeling that desk-bound employees across the country will be able to empathise with!

Click on the link to see the short online film, A Royal Writing Box.

Click here to find out more about the exhibition Henry VIII - Man and Monarch at the British Library.

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.

Big Brother Medieval (and Renaissance) Style

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Even when I’m off-duty I find it hard to avoid getting engaged with something that has a connection to medieval and Renaissance history. A couple of weekends ago I made a rare foray out of London to visit some friends who live in Pickering, North Yorkshire. I accompanied them and their vintage car to Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole on the Sunday. I was happy to wander around the village where I used to stay over the summer holidays when I was a young boy. Crofter's Cottage, Ryedale Folk Museum.

It was fascinating to explore Ryedale Folk Museum and to see how much I could remember of my childhood visits. I think because I’m so removed from rural life I really enjoyed visiting the farm areas and looking at the different breeds of pigs, hens and so on. I also found it fascinating to explore the reconstructions of period homes and interiors and to try and imagine myself living in the past. Needless to say I spent most of my visit exploring a modern reconstruction of a medieval crofter’s cottage (of around 1450). I’ve included some photographs here. 

Perhaps it was because it was a hot and sunny day but the longer I looked at the cottage the more appealing a late medieval crofter’s lifestyle seemed to be. The crofter’s cottage had a greater floorspace than the flat I rent in south-east London. It also had more character, personality and charm: oak beams rather than plasterboard, natural surfaces with rich textures rather than bland modern finishes.The view, looking out onto wooded hillsides rather than grey pebble-dash walls and urban sprawl, was also substantially better. Other plus points included a small but attractive garden filled with practical herbs. In south-east London almost everyone who is fortunate enough to have a garden seems to have covered it with concrete or tarmac.Crofter's Cottage, Ryedale Folk Museum.

The design of the house must have encouraged a very close knit and sociable lifestyle: the open fire at the heart of the home, for example, would have a been a focal point for social interaction. Everyone shared the same space.

The late medieval crofter had a lifestyle much more in harmony with nature than our own. They used fewer of the earth’s non-renewable natural resources, created much less pollution and lived a far more sustainable lifestyle. Work was only a short walk away: no two-hour daily commute to cope with. Perhaps if everyone who commutes has a small holding instead there’d be less long faces on the trains and tubes? 

The downside of rural life in the fifteenth century are probably fairly obvious and I’m sure visiting the Crofter’s Cottage in the middle of January when food was running low would have led my imaginative flight-of-fancy into a completely different direction. Nevertheless I think it would be fascinating to try and live like a 15th century crofter for a couple of months and to see how the experience compared to modern living. I think the next batch of Big Brother contestants should be asked to live a medieval lifestyle in a reconstructed village: perhaps that really would be a social experiment worth watching?

Click here to find our more about Ryedale Folk Museum.

The Da Vinci Code

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

By Stuart Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Alfred the Great?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anglo-French Relations: Old and New

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

The detail you can see here is a heraldic device that adorns a vast bronze jug, destined for the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. The coat-of-arms is that of King Richard II. If you look closely you can see that the shield is quartered, and decorated with the fleur-di-lis of France and the lions of England. The coat-of-arms reflects the English claim to the French crown. Click on the image to find out more about the coat-of-arms and the object it adorns.

Jug cast with the royal arms of England, Museum no. 217-1879.The French, of course, no longer have a monarchy. President Sarkozy is making a state visit to Britain this week and it appears that a closer relationship between Britain and France is developing. In recent years there has occasionally been friction between the French and English governments but fortunately nothing to compare with the hostility that existed during the later Middle Ages when the French and English kingdoms were almost constantly fighting in a period now known as the Hundred Years War.

Today we have the media to keep us informed about diplomatic relations, and a great deal of less essential information about the private lives of the great, the good and the d-list celebrity. For the Hundred Years War the greatest chronicler was Jean Froissart, perhaps the closest parallel for a modern journalist in the fourteenth century. I have to admit that the journalist parallel isn’t a very good one.

Froissart was born in 1337 into a Europe very different to our own. His home town was Valenciennes, Hainault (now on the French-Belgian border) but he travelled widely. Around 1361-62 he crossed the Channel to England to join the court of Philippa of Hainault, King Edward III of England’s queen. Here he wrote a rhymed history of the recent wars between England and France, but continued to rewrite and expand his work throughout his life, turning from poetry to prose. His Chronicles cover the period between 1325 and 1400 including evocative accounts of the great English victories at the battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356).

The reason I mention this is that I’ve been reading his Chronicles in search of quotes that we might be able to use on subject panels to help try and give a personalised view of the period covered by the Medieval and Renaissance displays. I also visited an exhibition, The Chronicles of Froissart, at the Royal Armouries in Leeds at the weekend. 

The temporary display at the Armouries is based around a single illuminated manuscript of Froissart’s text known as the Stonyhurst Chronicles. This manuscript was brought back to England after the Agincourt campaign by Sir John Arundell in 1415. In 1837 James Arundell gave the manuscript to Stonyhurst College, and the College have loaned the manuscript to the Royal Armouries for the exhibition. I’m always interested to see how other museums go about developing displays around manuscripts as books aren’t the easiest things to display and we’re integrating a significant number throughout the new galleries.
The Chronicles of Froissart exhibition runs until 6 April 2008 so you haven’t got much time if you want to see it. However you can find out more via the exhibition microsite on the Royal Armouries website. For the most vivid insights into the events of the fourteenth century, and the life of a man who lived through remarkable times, I’d recommend reading the Chronicles themselves. Froissart’s book is in print, is easy to track down and it is also great read for anyone with an interest in history.

Click here to find out more about The Chronicles of Froissart exhibition.