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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for the 'Arms and Armour' Category

Heralding in 2008!

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Stuart Frost

The Valence Casket, around 1290-1324. Museum no. 4-1865I apologise for the pun at the head of this page! I also apologise for the lateness of this first posting of 2008. However if we were following the old Florentine calendar I’d actually be rather early. I have been reliably informed that in Renaissance Florence the New Year was celebrated on the 25th of March. 

Hopefully those of you who have read several of these blog postings will need no convincing that traces of our medieval and Renaissance heritage are all around us. I’m sure everyone has there own rituals over the Christmas and New Year period. Mine include going to see the Boxing Day football match if the fixture list has been kind enough to produce a home game. This year I shared this rite with over 40,000 other Sunderland supporters. Sunderland Association Football Club has a history that stretches back a little over a hundred years, a longer history than many clubs, but of course not long enough to have a direct connection with the north-east’s medieval past. However there is a link to the art of the Middle Ages through the heraldic device that the club has adopted.  The example illustrated here is displayed above the ticket office. It is also embroidered onto the shirts worn by the players and the supporters. It is even printed onto the plastic cups.Heraldic badge of Sunderland AFC.

The art of heraldry originated in medieval Europe and has endured ever since. You don’t have to look hard to find numerous examples of contemporary usage. Just check the coins in your pocket in you don’t believe me. There are of course countless examples of heraldic devices on objects in the V&A’s collections and I’ve illustrated this blog entry with one of my favourites.  Sometimes a coat-of-arms may indicate the identity of the owner of the object, on other occasions it may represent a display of allegiance. The Valence casket, for example, features the royal arms of England but it wasn’t made for or owned by a member of the royal family. Click on the image to find out more about the object. Heraldry was, and still is, intimately linked to personal identity, belonging and status.

Now that I’ve justified the terrible title for this blog posting I can move on to consider the next twelve months for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project. This year promises to be a very busy and productive one for the project team. The gallery spaces are ready for construction work to begin. It is incredibly exciting, and a little daunting, to think of how much progress will have been made by the time we’re celebrating the next New Year on the 1 January 2009.

Silent Knight

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

By Stuart Frost

Medieval Helmet (IMG_9454)

I’m currently focussed on researching and developing low-tech interpretative devices for the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. At present I’m pre-occupied with a display provisionally titled ‘Hunting, Parades and Tournaments 1500-1600’. This subject will include some magnificent objects that highlight how much wealth Europe’s elite invested in arms, armour and equipment for hunting.

As part of the interpretation for the subject we’d like to commission a piece of armour that visitors can handle. To develop the idea further I visited recently one of the V&A’s collections stores with a specialist curator and an armourer. I spent the morning inspecting beautifully crafted pieces of armour in the company of two experts who could talk me through the history and manufacture of the objects.

Visiting the store brought back childhood memories. In particular the plate armour and helmets reminded me of drawing pictures of knights in history lessons at primary school, and watching swashbuckling films on Sunday afternoons after lunch. I know that for many people images of knights-in-armour capture the spirit of the ‘Middle Ages’. Audience research which we undertook at the start of the project revealed that knights-in-armour and castles feature in many peoples’ perceptions of the medieval period along with rain, plaque, sack-cloth and oppressive feudal lords.

Gauntlet (IMG_9455)

We established that from a practical point of view a gauntlet is probably the best choice for a handling object. It should be possible to design the activity so that visitors can actually try the gauntlet on, but unfortunately we won’t be able to provide an example as richly decorated as the one illustrated here. In fact very few people would have been able to afford a pair of gauntlets like these. They may have been made as gift for the future King Philip III of Spain and have been exquisitely damascened in gold and silver.

I was fascinated to see pieces of armour and weapons that had been made for young children, although I hope that none of the present generation of youngsters will be getting their own cross-bow for Christmas this year!