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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for September, 2007

Sacred Art

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Cover of Devotional Booklet, about 1330-1350, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Museum no. 11-1872.We have been working on the interpretation for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries for some time. We are now a stage where we can begin to commission and build some of the high-tech interactives that will be integrated with the new displays. Audience research has helped us shape our plans for developing the interpretative framework for the galleries.

It is clear that there are some unique challenges with this project. I’ll mention just three here. The sheer chronological span, from 300-1600, is a vast period of time that is unfamiliar to most visitors. In addition, the changing political geography is also quite challenging too. The political map of Europe, whether in 300, 800 or 1500 was radically different to that of the continent today. A third area relates to religion, predominantly that of Christianity but also Judaism and Islam. There are some significant artefacts that reflect how the Jewish and Islamic faiths were perceived by the Christian majority.

Recent research has indicated that England is one of the fastest secularising societies in Europe. In addition many of the visitors who come to the V&A will belong to a different faith tradition. Therefore for many of today’s visitors the stories and scenes that are represented on medieval and Renaissance objects are unfamiliar ones. How many of the symbols depicted on the image of the ivory booklet shown above can you recognise and explain? In addition the original function of many of the liturgical objects in the collection, whether altarpiece, pyx, chalice or paten will not be obvious. Devotional Booklet, about 1330-1350, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Museum no. 11-1872.

We have chosen to develop a high-tech interactive to allow visitors to explore a    beautifully made ivory devotional booklet. The booklet has two beautifully carved covers, and fourteen painted scenes between them. This provided the owner with a focus for prayer and devotion. In the gallery it is only possible to show either the cover or two of the fourteen scenes. The interactive, however, will allow the visitor to explore all of the openings and to learn more about the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection. As we develop this interactive we will test it with different audience groups to help ensure that is as effective as it can be.Devotional Booklet, about 1330-1350, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Museum no. 11-1872.

The Sacred exhibition at the British Library has been one of the most interesting I’ve seen in terms of exploring the connections between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. If you haven’t been able to visit the exhibition the online resources for the Sacred exhibition are excellent.