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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for January, 2007

Mystery Objects Part 2

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Ceramic Mystery Object (C.268-1921)

Two weeks have elapsed since my previous blog entry and as promised I can now reveal the function of the mystery object. Although some of you thought the object in question had a touch of the dungeon about it, I’m pleased to confirm that there is no connection with torture! The iron structure was once a horse-muzzle and it was collected by the V&A as a fine example of ironwork.

This week’s mystery object is a ceramic vessel that imitates the form of a book. Click on the thumbnail below to enlarge the image.  If the ‘book’ was placed vertically on a flat surface, so that the spine was upright, it would stand 17cm high. The vessel is almost 13cm wide and has a depth of 7cm. It is hollow and weighs 1kg.

You can see in this photograph, where the vessel has been laid flat rather than upright, that fine blue parallel lines have been used to represent the pages along the bottom and side edges of the book. These lines do not continue along the top edge (which is not visible in the photograph below). The top edge is crucial in establishing the function of the object. It contains seven small circular holes, each a little wider than a pencil. The holes have been decorated with six blue petals, making each hole look like a small flower. The holes give access to the hollow interior of the vessel.

The front and back covers are decorated with the same scenes. The central panel features a male figure, with a halo, wearing ecclesiastical vestments. The decoration also includes cherub heads and patterns of curling foliage.

To leave your opinion about the function of this week’s mystery object click on the comments link at the bottom of the page. You can also use this comments link to ask for clues and to ask questions about the object. If you post a comment or question I will answer within twenty-four hours. Again, I’ll reveal the identity of the object two weeks from today.

Good luck!

Mystery Objects

Monday, January 8th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

The V&A has a very large collection of medieval and Renaissance art. It isn’t necessarily easy to identify the precise function of the more obscure objects, even for an expert curator with a lifetime of specialist experience. Many of the objects from these periods are fragmentary and it isn’t always clear what the piece that survives once belonged to.

Mystery Object

I have been enlisting the help of colleagues to scour the collections for a selection of the most challenging artefacts. This is because we’re developing a Mystery Objects display for a Discovery Area in the forthcoming Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. We actually have a very strong list of candidates and we now need to make a final selection of the best. I thought that I’d use this blog as a way of testing reactions to some of the contenders. The first candidate is reproduced to the right. Click on the photograph for a larger image.

There is no substitute for looking closely at a real object in order to fully assess it. In order to counter the difficulties inherent in examining an object from a digital image alone, I’ll provide some helpful background.

The object was made in what is now Germany in 1543. You can see the date at the top of the object in the centre. Above the date are a series of letters. These read as ‘GHIVITDWGPE’ and are probably the initial letters of a German biblical text. Be warned, these letters aren’t particularly helpful in establishing the function of the object! The object is ‘facing’ the right way up and is made of blackened steel. It is about 20cm in height.

To leave your opinion about this mystery object’s function click on the comments link at the bottom of the page. You can also use the comments link to ask for clues. If you post a comment or question I will endeavour to respond within twenty-four hours. I’ll reveal the identity of the object two weeks from today, at which point I’ll also post another candidate for our Mystery Objects display. Good luck!