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Archive for the 'Films and Animations' Category

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…

Living with the Past - Part 2

Monday, February 1st, 2010

By Stuart Frost

Gallery 64b at the V&A, 29th August 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.In my last blog entry I posted some photographs documenting the installation of the glass roof for the new day-lit gallery, work that took place in July 2009. This new piece of architecture, the first on the V&A site for over one hundred years, is one of the most exciting aspects of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. I’m posting some futher photographs here that were taken on 29th August 2009. The first two photographs were provided by the architects, MUMA. I’ve posted some additional images on the Medieval & Renaissance Flickr site. Click on any of the pictures here and you should be able to access the other photographs.

The new gallery space contains a number of vast architectural objects, including a rare timber façade of a wealthy merchant’s London town-house. The façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house was one of the few timber framed buildings to survive the Great Fire of London of 1666. It was fascinating to see this complex object completly dismantled in preparation for its move to the daylit gallery and to watch it being reassembled. The facade looks remarkable in its new context.Gallery 64b at the V&A, 29th August 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.

Another of the most impressive objects in this space is also made of oak and is a vast staircase with three landings. The staircase once occupied the impressive central room of a townhouse in Morlaix, Brittany. Click on the link below to find out more about just how complex this object is. The installation of the staircase in the daylit gallery, like the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, must have been one of the most complex undertaken as part of the project. 

I’m sure that visitors to the daylit gallery will be so engrossed in enjoying the architecture and the objects displayed there that they’ll give little thought to the process that was involved in achieving the end result. That is probably how it should be.Gallery 64b Living with the Past, January 2010. In fact some object installation is still to take place, but as you can see from the photograph below the space does look stunning as it is currently.

The photographs that I’ve posted here hopefully give some sense of the massive effort that was involved in delivering Gallery 64b Living with the Past, and the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries project as whole.  It has been a fantastic project to be involved with.

Click here to see a short film about the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, including footage of the construction of the daylit gallery.

Click here to see what was involved in dismantling the façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house.

Click here to find out more about the oak staircase from Morlaix.

Click here to find out more about Sir Paul Pindar’s House.

Palm Sunday Processions

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Palmesel Figure, 1470-1490, German. Museum no. A.1030-1910.The Easter weekend is almost upon us which means that Palm Sunday has already passed. Palm Sunday is an important date in the Christian calendar as it marks the beginning of the events which led up to the Crucifixion of Jesus and his Resurrection. The Gospel accounts tells us that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on an ass and that he was greeted by a great crowd who spread palm branches before him.

There is a long tradition of the use of sculptures of Christ on an ass (known as Palmesels) in processions that commemorate Palm Sunday. The Palmesel figure in the V&A’s collection, shown in the pictures shown to the right here, was made around 1480 in Southern Germany. The locations of around two-hundred and seventy fourteenth-century Palmesel processions have been identified but only eight of the Palmesel figures from this time appear to have survived. There are more later figures in museums around the world, like the one at the V&A.

Most of the medieval Palmesels that have survived are no longer in active use but a number of Palmesel processions do still take place every year. Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to see one in the Austrian village of Thaur. Thaur is a few kilometres from Innsbruck and has a spectacular location, surrounded by snow capped mountains. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a selection of photographs of the procession and posted others on Flickr. Click on a picture to find out more about what is shown.

Palm Sunday Procession in Thaur, Austria,  5th April 2009. The procession started just before 8.30am. The Palmesel figure was led from the main church in Thaur by two choirboys and processed to the smaller church of St Vigil. There the procession was greeted by the villagers who lined the streets, holding palm sticks decorated with banners, fruit and pretzels. After a blessing service outside the church of St Vigil the procession returned to the main church for Mass.

At 13.00 the procession left the main church and made its way up a steep pathway to the Chapel of St Romedius. The Palmesel was pulled by eight choirboys and watching the procession slowly climbing upwards to my vantage point was a spectacular sight. After a short service the procession returned back down the pathway and then turned towards the village of Rum.

Palm Sunday Procession, Thaur, Austria  5th April 2009.As the procession approached Rum the vicar and choirboys from the village church came out to meet the procession and followed into the church. After a short service the procession returned to Thaur where it arrived at around 3.00pm greeted by chiming church bells. Half-an-hour or so later I saw the Palmesel returning to the home of the family that own it and where it will stay until Palm Sunday 2010.

The procession was a remarkable experience which has made me think about the Palmesel in V&A’s collection very differently. It was fascinating to see the importance of the procession to the local community. The procession was filmed and the footage will be edited to create a short silent video for the  Religious Procession 1300-1500 display in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. We are very grateful to the church and people of Thaur for allowing us to film the procession.

Harold Godwinson, Hastings and Hollywood

Friday, February 27th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Conservation work on a section of a 19th photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, February  2009.Long term readers of this blog will know that the Bayeux Tapestry is a subject that is close to my heart. Conservation work was recently completed on a section of one of two nineteenth-century photographic copies of the Bayeux Tapestry at the V&A.

One of the V&A’s photographs exists as a complete roll matching the length of the original tapestry. The other photograph was also once a roll but it was seperated into twenty-five sections in the past. It is one of these sections that has benefited from the attention of conservators Merryl Huxtable and Victoria Button at the V&A.

The surface of the photograph has been delicately cleaned. The photograph has also been removed from the textile to which it was attached, allowing the print(s) to be remounted onto Japanese paper. This will help reduce some of the unevenness in the print and will ensure that it looks as good as possible when it is mounted and displayed in a Discovery Area in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Click on the photographs to find out more about the work that has been completed. I’ve posted other photographs of the work on our Flickr site. I hope to produce a longer online subject about the Bayeux Tapestry photographs so more information will follow at a later date.

Conservators working on the Bayeux Tapestry photograph, February 2009.Hollywood appears to have finally discovered the Battle of Hastings. There are apparently no fewer than three creative teams preparing to dramatise the events of 1066 for the big screen in multi-million pound epics. The story clearly has the potential to make a great film and hopefully the competition between rival filmmakers will bring out the best in all concerned. The medieval source material varies in reliability but the Bayeux Tapestry is one of the best. It is actually some of the less trustworthy sources that provide some of the most dramatic stories and I hope that some of those make it through into one of the films.

The events leading up to the death of King Harold Godwinson on 14 October 1066 have everything a scriptwriter could want: envy, murder, exile, brother betraying brother, the breaking of sacred oaths, endless ambition, bravery, heroism, lust, love and loss.  Hopefully the universality of these themes will draw in American audiences for whom the events of 1066 are of marginal significance, just as they were for 11th century superpowers like the Byzantine Empire.

I want the film versions of 1066 to be good – the story deserves it – and with the right attention to period detail there could be some stunning set-piece scenes. However quotes like “In Hollywood terms it is a ‘buddy’ movie about two men which ended in tears” set alarm-bells ringing. The film archives at the British Film Institute provide plenty of evidence that bad men-in-tights films out-weigh the good ones. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

The Bayeux Tapestry, 19th century copy based on photographs taken for the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).In 1885 the V&A’s photographic copies provided thirty-five members of the Leek Embroidery Society with the inspiration and source material to embroider a full copy of the Tapestry. The work was completed in 1886 and after an eventful history their copy found a home in the Museum of Reading where it remains today. Each woman stitched her name beneath the section she embroidered. The detail reproduced here features the name of Elizabeth Frost, no relation!

We are about to commission sets of clothing based on garments illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. Visitors to the new galleries will be able to try on an 11th century style tunic and find out more about medieval fashion and textiles.

Rudolph II and Prague: On Location Part Four

Friday, October 10th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Emperor Rudolph II, Adriaen de Vries, Prague 1609. Museum no. 6920-1860.‘It is generally agreed amongst the Catholics in Prague that the Emperor has been bewitched and is in league with the devil. I have been shown the chair in which His Majesty sits when holding conversations with the Prince of Darkness himself. I have seen the little bell His Majesty uses whenever he wished to summon the spirits of the departed to do his bidding.’

Cardinal Filippo Spinelli writing to Pope Clement VIII, 1600 (Quote from Hans Holzer, The Alchemist, New York 1985) 85 & 91.

Whilst we can’t take the passage I’ve quoted above too literally there is no doubt that the Emperor Rudolph II was an interesting character. Rudolph had a deep interest in both alchemy and scientific enquiry. It is clear that some of the people who enjoyed his patronage did stray into territory that could be described as occult. On a cold, damp and dark October evening the corridors and courtyards of Pražský hrad, or Prague castle, take on a slightly Faustian atmosphere. It isn’t too difficult to imagine an alchemist in the Powder Tower working late into the night and straying into supernatural territory.

The bronze bust of the Emperor Rudolph in the V&A’s collections conjures up an unambiguous impression of a ruler who is not to be crossed. The powerful profile and jutting jaw convey a strong sense of a man who is confident, determined, decisive and authoritative. He wears armour decorated with a lion’s mask and an image of the classical hero Hercules. The bust is supported by the outstretched wings of an imperial eagle. The impression created the sculptor Adriaen de Vries is deliberately deceptive.

Prague Castle, October 2008.The bust was made in 1609 by which time Rudolph had little meaningful power or authority. Although depicted in armour, he never actually led an army into battle. Indeed he rarely left Prague Castle. He preferred to spend his time studying his vast collection of art, scientific instruments and natural wonders. Rudolph’s great collection once filled many of the rooms of the vast castle that still dominates Prague. The V&A’s bust itself was once part of the collection there.

I’ve illustrated this blog-entry with several photographs which I took last week when working in Prague on the third in a series of three People & Place gallery films. Regular readers of this blog will already have read about Charlemagne and Aachen, and Donatello and Florence. With the Rudolph and Prague film we’re hoping to give visitors insights into the man portrayed in bronze, the world in which he lived and the context to which his bronze bust belonged.  

The White Tower, Prague Castle. October 2008.I felt extremely fortunate to be able to spend a few days following in Rudolph’s footsteps and tapping into curator Norbert Jopek’s specialist knowledge. Whilst I’m delighted that the films we first thought about making several years ago have now begun come to fruition, I have to confess that I’m a little saddened that the location filming has already come to an end. It has been fantastic to work with the curatorial team and to see the depth of their enthusiasm for their subjects. It has also been a real pleasure to work with John Wyver, Linda Zuck and Ian Serfontein of Illuminations.

Our main aspiration for the trio of films is to enhance vistors’ understanding of three key objects, artworks from a time that might seem too remote to have real meaning. We also hope that the films will inspire some visitors to the galleries to travel to the continent and to explore Europe’s rich medieval and Renaissance heritage at first hand. Travelling to just three different locations has given me a vivid reminder of just how great Europe’s medieval and Renaissance heritage really is.

Click here to find out a little more about Prague Castle.

Donatello and Florence: On Location Part Three

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Florence September 2008 025Last week I was fortunate enough to spend three days in Florence with chief curator Peta Motture working on the second of our three People and Place gallery films. Filming the location footage for Donatello and Florence posed a different set of challenges to the Charlemagne and Aachen film the previous week.

Anyone who has been to Florence will be able to confirm that it has an extraordinary wealth of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. Donatello would recognise many of the elements that still dominate the modern cityscape. The remains of the Aachen that Charlemagne knew are few, fragmentary and have been significantly altered over time.

The locations selected for the Donatello and Florence film included the Old Sacristy in the Church of San Lorenzo; the Baptistery, Duomo and Campanile; the Medici Palace; and the Church of Orsanmichele. Footage of these buildings will help viewers understand the different contexts for which Donatello produced sculptures.

The Medici Palace, Florence.One the first day filming started at 7.30am in the Old Sacristy. It was remarkable to be inside the church and to be able to enjoy the atmosphere almost alone. By 6pm we had moved to the Piazalle Michelangelo which provided us with a magnificent view of the city laid out below, the River Arno dividing it into two. The picture I’ve used here, at the top of the page, shows the Duomo to the right and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio to the left. The cathedral and the centre of government dominated the medieval and Renaissance city.

The higher number of different locations for this film meant that there was more walking between places than previously. Walking through a city as attractive as Florence is no great hardship of course, although cameraman Ian and director Linda may disagree as they were the ones who were carrying all of the equipment! Rapidly moving mopeds, buses and horse-drawn carriages posed a different sort of challenge.

Florence September 2008 008Florence attracts a vast number of tourists throughout the year and the historic core of the old city is a busy, bustling place. Aachen attracts far fewer and it was much easier there to take shots without inquisitive tourists wandering into view. In both cities I was struck by how accommodating and helpful the authorities were. A particular highlight was the opportunity to film Donatello’s famous bronze statue of David, only recently returned to a vertical position and still under-going a remarkable programme of conservation work in the Bargello.

The location filming for Donatello and Florence is now complete but work on editing the footage and finalising the captions still remains to be done. We also need to film Donatello’s Ascension relief, a star object in the V&A’s collections, and to integrate film of that object with the location footage.

The finished Donatello and Florence film will be available in Gallery 64 Donatello and the Making of Art from late November 2009 onwards. It will also be added to the V&A’s website.

If you’d like to find out more about some of the locations mentioned here please click on the weblinks I’ve provided below. I’ve also posted some additional photographs on the Flickr site for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project.

Click here to find out more about the Medici palace.

Click here to find out more about the Bargello.

Click here to find out more about the conservation of Donatello’s David. The text for this site is Italian but there is a good selection of pictures.

Charlemagne and Aachen: On Location Part Two

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Out More

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

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

On Location Part One

Monday, September 8th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Emperor Rudolph II Where did the summer go? Is it really September already? Time certainly seems to be flying by. Work is progressing on the project at a rapid rate. My main priority at the moment is six short gallery films for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Each film focuses on one object, two examples of which are illustrated here. Click on the image for more information about the object and the film.

The films will delivered in the galleries via small screens carefully placed alongside the artworks to which they relate. One of the main aims of these films is to encourage visitors to spend more time looking at the actual objects and to highlight elements which they might otherwise miss. Placement of the screens is crucial.

Each film will be around three minutes in length. This might appear to be very short but visitors will view the films whilst standing. Audience research indicates that under these circumstances anything of longer duration is unlikely to hold peoples’ attention. Watching a film when you’re at home sat in a comfortable armchair is a completely different scenario. Regular museum visitors will know how the ability to concentrate decreases in direct proportion to the amount of time you’ve been on your feet. When you have children in tow, or a less enthusiastic partner standing at your shoulder, attention spans are reduced even further.  Anyone who visits museums and galleries regularly will know how quickly saturation point can be reached.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been working on planning schedules for the filming with the production companies we’ve appointed to make them. The draft scripts were written earlier this year. All of the films involve filming on location and filming of objects at the V&A. The location filming will begin next week. Flights were booked and travel arrangements confirmed some time ago. The locations on mainland Europe include Florence, Aachen and Prague. The film company has had the challenging task of negotiating permissions to film inside a large number of historically important buildings including churches, palaces and cathedrals. 

The idea of filming in beautiful cities like these is needless to say, very exciting. However anyone who assumes that those involved will have plenty of leisure time to take in the views and soak in the atmosphere is sadly mistaken. The schedules are very tight and in order to maximise the available time the days will be very long. Early starts will be essential as some of the filming has to be completed before the buildings open to the visiting public. The number of the locations means moving from one place to another throughout the day.Reliquary Casket, 1185-95. Museum no. 7945-1862

Two of the six films are part of an established series of How was it made? films at the V&A.  These two films will follow contemporary artists as they replicate techniques used to make two objects, a sixteenth century woodcut and a twelfth century casket with enamelled plaques. Both of these films will help visitors appreciate the great skill that was required to make the objects them see. The films also highlight that techniques which originated over 500 years ago are still with us, although usually utilised in a distinctly modern way.

I’ll document work on the films with a series of digital images and blog updates over the coming weeks.


Monday, November 12th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Brooch (fibula), Anglo-Saxon, 7th century. Museum no. M 110 1939 FavershamI saw a production of Faustus in Richmond two weeks ago. The play was loosely based on the text of the Tudor playwright Christopher Marlowe. However contemporary British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman were as central to the story as Dr Faustus himself. I’ve been enjoying watching the Tudors on BBC2 on Friday evenings and I’m looking forward to watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age at the cinema at some point during the next week or two. The public’s fascination with the Tudor history has been remarkably enduring. It seems as though the public appetite for Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Shakespeare’s work is undiminished despite an endless stream of documentaries, dramas and plays. Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII is one of my favourite recent interpretations of England’s most famous king.

The medieval period, by contrast, maintains a lower and more erratic public profile. Recent highpoints have included The National Theatre’s excellent production of St Joan (Joan of Arc). The Globe Theatre company also staged a fantastic production, In Extremis, which was unsual in focussing on the twelfth-century characters of Peter Abelard, Heloise and St Bernard of Clairvaux. The earlier middle ages appear to have been even more under-utilised even though it is an age as rich in drama, stories and epic struggles as any other. Perhaps the forthcoming film-version of Beowulf will encourage other filmmakers and writers to look back to the so-called Dark Ages with new enthusiasm?

Brooch (Fibula), Anglo-Saxon, 7th century. Museum no. M 109 1939 MiltonThe film version of Beowulf is based on an epic Anglo-Saxon poem, a masterpiece of literature that vividly reflects the values of the culture from which it emerged. I’ve heard the poem skillfully recited in the original language which was a remarkable experience. Even though I couldn’t understand a word if felt as through the distance between the past and present had collapsed. The first part of the poem is the most well known. The young Beowulf comes to the aid of King Hrothgar whose people are terrorised by the monster Grendel. Whilst Angelina Jolie is ‘box office’ she certainly isn’t the most obvious choice to play the mother of the hideous Grendel. I hope that the film does the spirit of the poem justice.

I‘ve illustrated this blog-entry with a selection of objects which belong to the same era as the poem. Whilst the Museum doesn’t hold many Anglo-Saxon artefacts you can see from these pieces of jewellery that what material there is is incredibly beautiful. The people who were buried with these brooches may well have been familiar with the heroic deeds of Beowulf. Hopefully after the film version has completed its run a whole new generation will also be able to recount the outline of the story, and will have been inspired to go back to the orginal text.

Animating the past

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

By Stuart Frost

Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly familiar with the V&A’s fantastic medieval and Renaissance collections. Those of us fortunate enough to be developing the new galleries all have our favourite objects. The 19th century photographic copy of the Bayeux Tapestry is certainly one of mine, even though it isn’t a real medieval artefact.

Brass Jug. Museum No. M. 25-1939At the moment I’m particularly enamoured with a wonderful brass jug with three feet. Click on the picture to the right for a better view. The jug is destined for a new home in 2009, when it will become part of a display exploring dining between 1350-1500. I’ve been trying to think why I like this jug so much. It isn’t a world famous treasure, it wasn’t made by a well-known artist, nor was it owned by a famous patron. It isn’t made of a precious materials and its decoration is plain. It does, however, have undeniable personality and charm. When I first saw it I thought it looked as though it might come to life at any moment, scamper down of its shelf and start running around on its three stumpy legs. At first I thought this might be a sign that I needed a holiday. Then I realised that subconsciously I’d made a connection between the jug and a sequence in Walt Disney’s Fantasia where Mickey Mouse, dressed as a wizard, casts a spell that results in mops and buckets running amock.

In fact this type of connection isn’t as implausible or ridiculous as it might sound at first. ‘Once Upon a Time, Walt Disney’ at the Grand Palais (16 September 2006 to 15 January 2007) is an exhibition that highlights the sources of inspiration for some of Disney’s greatest animations. Many of the ideas were developed from medieval or Renaissance sources. The castle in Sleeping Beauty takes some elements from the castles of Louis II of Bavaria and others from the lavish illuminations of a famous book of hours (Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry). The wicked Queen in Snow White was based partly on a Gothic sculpture of Queen Uta that can be seen in Naumberg Cathedral, Germany. Pinocchio’s hometown was inspired by the medieval town of Rothenburg in Bavaria. Identifying these sort of obscure links and reference points is strangely satisfying.

Most of the films mentioned above were made before 1940 but medieval and Renaissance culture continues to provide inspiration for the film industry and theatre. The costumes and set designs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were inspired by the culture of the medieval and Renaissance world. The city of Gondar was inspired by Sienna for example, and I’m sure there must be many other examples in recent films and cartoons. Our initial audience research indicated that films like Robin Hood and the Lord of the Rings were important reference points for many of our visitors, helping shape their perceptions of the medieval period in particular.

As part of the plans to redisplay the collections we did consider developing a series of short animations to run on small screens in the galleries alongside the relevant objects but in the end we decided to develop other ideas instead. Still, given the links with the Middle Ages maybe we’ll be able to show Snow White as part of a film festival to accompany the opening of the galleries?

If you’ve yet to find your own favourite medieval or Renaissance object at the V&A highlights are displayed currently in Rooms 46 and 17-20.

You can also Search the Collections online


Click here to find out more about Once Upon a Time, Walt Disney: The Disney Studios’ Artistic Sources