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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for November, 2007

Old Friends & New Places

Monday, November 26th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Temptation of Christ C .237-1928The amount of progress that has been made in preparing the gallery spaces for installation of the new displays is incredible. I had a glimpse behind the Gallery 50 hoardings recently and was staggered to see how the space has been transformed. All of the objects that were once there have either been removed or protected in-situ with hoarding. The room is now a vast empty hall waiting for construction work to begin in 2008.

The preparation necessary for the installation of a sequence of displays as large as the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries means, of course, that there will be some disruption. It is inevitable that the number of objects on display at the V&A has to be reduced for a time.

However there are some significant benefits too as a number of the most important objects can be displayed in a new context, whether in a new gallery at the V&A or as part of a temporary exhibition elsewhere. I’ve mentioned the touring exhibition previously. Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the V&A is currently at the Norton Museum of Art in the USA.

I visited the National Gallery at the weekend. I enjoyed their current major temporary exhibition, Renaissance Siena: Art for a Cit, very much. The vast majority of the objects were ones that I hadn’t seen before, but I did also recognise a number of old friends from the V&A. One on these was the bronze Lamentation over the Dead Christ relief by Donatello which you can see in the image below. It was fascinating to see it a new context, juxtaposed with different objects and displayed in a manner which drew fresh nuances out of the work.Lamentation over the dead Christ, by Donatello. Museum no. 8552-1863

Also at the National Gallery currently is a more focussed display, Art of Light: German Renaissance Stained Glass (7 November 2007-17 February 2008) which also draws upon the V&A’s collections. I’d already been to the Renaissance Siena exhibition so on this weekend’s visit I spent most of my time looking at this display. It was fascinating to see superb drawings, paintings and glass panels side-by-side. I’ve included an image of one the glass panels at the top of this page to give a sense of how refined painting on glass can be. The exhibition includes a display of a complete programme of glass from one of the windows of the cloister of Mariawald Abbey. The glass from Mariawald will be a major feature of the new Gallery 50, The Renaissance City 1350-1600, when it opens at the V&A late in 2009.

The links below will provide with more information about the displays described above. I’ll continue to use the blog to highlight other temporary exhibitions featuring medieval and Renaissance objects from the V&A as they arise.

Find out about Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the V&A at the Norton Museum of Art.

Find out about Art of Light at the National Gallery.

Find out more about Renaissance Siena: Art for a City. 

Beowulf

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.