Jump to navigation

V&A logo

V&A blogs

Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

RSS web feed image

Archive for March, 2007

Room 117: Makers and Markets

Monday, March 26th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Head of

If you have been to the V&A recently you’ll have noticed that there is great deal of work underway as part of the development of new facilities and displays. You may have noticed new hoardings related to the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, one of several major projects currently underway. When these are all complete the experience for visitors to the V&A will be significantly improved.

In order for building work to take place, and for new displays to be installed, it is inevitable that some galleries have to be closed temporarily and the objects in them removed. This has provided an opportunity for the Museum to create a touring exhibition of medieval and Renaissance treasures so that the objects can be seen more widely. I’ll provide more information about this is in my next entry. However the V&A is also working hard to ensure that as much of the collections are kept on display as possible. 

With regard to the medieval and Renaissance collections there are several highlights galleries which will remain for as long as possible. Room 46 includes highlights of objects from 300-1500. Rooms 17-20 feature many of the Museum’s most important Renaissance works from 1400-1600. In addition a new display has just been installed in Room 117. It includes sculptures by renowned artists like Michelangelo and Giambologna, but also examples of metalwork, enamelling and ceramics. My favourite object is a small bronze sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini.

Head of Medusa - Frontal View

Artists from the medieval and Renaissance period can seem very distant or remote figures, and it is sometimes difficult to get a sense of them as real people. Cellini is one of several exceptions. No one could ever accuse him of lacking personality. He wrote an extraordinary autobiography which gives a remarkable account of his life and the times in which he lived. Like any autobiography it is selective. He doesn’t mention, for example, the charges that were brought against him for sodomy, nor is he balanced in his judgements about his fellow artists and their work. He does however provide a fascinating account of the casting of the statue of Perseus, for which the V&A’s Medusa’s head was a model. The account of the casting of the Perseus makes it one of the best-documented sculptures of the Italian Renaissance. The casting of the figure almost failed but, against the odds, Cellini rescued the statue by throwing all his pewter kitchen utensils into the furnace. Whenever I look at his Head of Medussa, which isn’t often enough, this colourful passage from his book comes to mind.  His autobiography is easily available and I recommend it unreservedly as a rip-roaringly good read. 

For those of you who are unable to visit Room 117 additional information about the small display has been added to the website. If you have been to see the display please post a comment to let us know what you think of it. 

Find out more information about the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries

Roodlofts and Candlesticks Part 2

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Detail of Sculpture on the Roodloft

Work continues on preparing Gallery 50 so that building work can commence on schedule. I went to the gallery today to see how work has progressed in relation to the roodloft (see the last blog entry for more information). One of the four figures from the lowest tier has already been removed. The others will be taken down later this week so that they can all be conserved and stored safely. Once building work is complete the figures will be restored to their original positions. Conservation work on the whole object, together with new lighting, will help ensure that the roodloft looks spectacular at the heart of the new Renaissance City display in 2009.

The roodloft is a complex object. It was originally located in the cathedral of St John in Hertogenbosch. It separated the public areas of the church from those reserved for the clergy.  The platform supported an organ and a crucifix (the rood) was suspended above the roodloft. I have just written the label for this object. It proved quite a challenge to summarise its complex iconography and rich history in seventy-five words! The story of the object is intimately linked to the story of the Reformation and the political history of Hertogenbosch.

The city was part of the Spanish Netherlands when the roodloft was built between 1610-1613. The roodloft was intended to reflect the commitment of the city to Roman Catholicism. This was particularly significant in a city which had experienced religious unrest and which was close to areas of the northern Netherlands under Protestant rule. Hendrick de Keyser was sub-contracted to produce the figure of St John the Evangelist, the cathedral’s patron saint. De Keyser was based in the in the city of Amsterdam to the north and incurred the wrath of the Protestant Reform Church authorities in that city when they became aware that he was producing work for Catholic patrons. They insisted he stop work immediately. A detail of his figure of St John is illustrated below.

Detail: Figure of St John the Evangelist

The project team have decided to place a short gallery book alongside the object in the gallery. This will benefit visitors who are interested in finding out more about the object and its context. I’ve started work on the book and hope to have finished it by the end of July 2007. One of my colleagues, Kitty Jacobs, has been helping me to locate photographs, drawings and paintings that show the roodloft when it was still in its orginal location. The process of obtaining permission to reproduce images can be quite time consuming. I’m enjoying having the opportunity to research and write about such a fascinating object.

If you click on any of the images you will be able to read the new label I’ve written for the object. Please feel free to post a comment to let me know what you think of it!

Find out more information about the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project