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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for April, 2008

King Alfred the Great?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Reliquary Cross, about 1000. Museum no. 7943-1862.It is the nature of history that only the names of a comparatively few people are remembered after their deaths. For the medieval period the people we know most about tend to be the most powerful, exceptional or notorious figures. 

Medieval chroniclers were fond of adding an adjective after an individual’s name. Some rulers were more fortunate than others in the label posterity gave them. Charles the Great, William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion Heart are all at the acceptable end of the spectrum, but who would want to be known as Louis the Fat, Charles the Bald or John Soft-sword?

The word great is arguably over-used today. Such and such is a great singer, footballer or actor. It is difficult to really assess someone’s merits without the perspective that the passage of time brings. However if there is one English figure who truly deserves the epithet great then it is Alfred of Wessex (849-899), ruler of the only Anglo-Saxon kingdom to survive the Viking onslaught in the ninth century. 

If you need convincing about Alfred’s credentials then I’d recommend visiting Winchester to see the exhibition: Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom. The exhibition closes on 27 April 2008. The display is small but it includes some beautiful objects which are also of immense historical importance. The V&A has loaned the remarkable Anglo-Saxon reliquary illustrated above to Winchester for the duration of the display. Click on the object to find out more about the object and its link with Alfred’s achievements.

The legacy Alfred left his sucessors allowed them to consolidate the Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually bring all of England under the control of one monarch. The origins of modern England can arguably be traced back to Alfred’s reign. Winchester became Alfred’s main city and throughout the middle ages the city was extremely important. There is enough evidence around the modern town to give a sense of just how impressive medieval Winchester was.

Alfred’s achievements ensured that he would never be forgotten. The photograph illustrated below shows 19th century remodelling at Arundel Castle. The relief sculpture is difficult to see but it shows ‘King Alfred instituting Trial by Jury on Salisbury Plain’, evidence of Alfred’s enduring reputation as a model monarch.North Side of Quadrangle, Arundel Castle, 1852-54, Benjamin Brecknell Turner. Museum no. PH 44 1982

Click here to find out more about Alfred the Great: Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom.

Conservation and Research

Friday, April 4th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Kuppelreliquiar V&A, Dach nach Abnahme der Beschläge mit GrubenschmelzA remarkable amount of work has been going behind the hoardings in the Museum and away from the public gaze elsewhere. In fact there is so much activity taking place that its impossible to mention it all here.

There is an increasing amount of effort going into the creation of new content for the website with a large number of colleagues across the V&A contributing. Much of this will only go online when the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries open in 2009.

However we have just added three subjects to the website highlighting recently completed work on a trio of very different objects. These online-only subjects provide short summaries of projects that were extremely complex and which involved wide-ranging specialist expertise.

The deinstallation of the facade of Sir Paul Pindar's House, Museum no. 846-1890Stephanie Seavers, part of the curatorial team in the Metalwork department, has produced a summary of a collaborative research project that focussed on a beautiful twelfth-century enamelled container previously thought to be a reliquary from Cologne. The image I’ve used here, above and to the right, gives a wonderful impression of just how  rigorously and carefully the object was examined. Enamelled panels have been removed exposing the wooden core.

Nick Humphrey, a curator in the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department focussed on the recent deinstallation of the vast timber façade of a town house built around 1600 for the wealthy merchant Sir Paul Pindar. Visitors to the V&A may remember the façade in its previous location in the old Museum shop. However I suspect that many people failed to notice its considerable presence due to the distraction of all the colourful merchandise at eye level. The façade will be reinstalled in a new daylit gallery which in itself will represent another significant technical achievement.

Zoe Allen, a specialist frames conservator in the Conservation section has written about work she undertook on a frame associated with a magnificent panel painting of the Virgin and Child by an artist known as Peregrinus (or Pellegrino di Giovanni). Here there were questions about whether the frame associated with the panel painting really belonged with it. There was also a significant amount of work needed on the frame which had become very fragile and warped over time. You can see the painting minus the frame in the image below.

Painting by Peregrinus (without frame), dated 1428. Museum no. 6559 and A-1860I’m very grateful for all the work that colleagues have contributed to the website. We’re hoping to add more online subjects to the website as the project develops. I’ll also continue to use this blog for more updates on object-based work taking place in the Conservation Studios and elsewhere.

Click here to see the recently added content about a Medieval Tabernacle from Cologne.

Click here to see the recently added content about the façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s House.

Click here to see the recently added content about a painting by Peregrinus of the Virgin and Child with Angels.