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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for July, 2008

New York, New York!

Friday, July 18th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Medieval and Renaissace Treasures from the V&A, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.I spent last weekend visiting friends and family in York. The city’s museums hold some tremendously rare survivals but anyone with an interest in medieval history will know the architectural riches that York offers.

York Minster, the largest medieval cathedral in England, is full of graceful architectural detail and other historically important treasures. The city itself is enclosed by a circuit of walls that run for almost two miles and thanks to modern restoration it is possible to stroll along the wall-walk for the entire length. There are the remains of two castles, Clifford’s Tower and on the other side of the river Ouse the remains of a motte. I haven’t even mentioned the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, the numerous parish churches and the secular architecture that includes magnificent guildhalls and the street known as the Shambles.

However the main purpose of this blog entry is related to New York in the United States rather old York in North Yorkshire. The American city does contain many medieval and Renaissance masterpieces but unlike old York they’re confined to museums and galleries rather than embedded in the fabric of the city itself. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an outstanding collection of medieval and Renaissance art but the displays at the Museum have recently been enhanced by a group of thirty-five objects. The exhibition, Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum, will be at the Metropolitan Museum of art until August 17 2008.

The display is comprised of outstanding objects that are rarely lent including five Carolingian ivory panels that formed the front cover of a Gospel book, Donatello’s bronze Winged Putto with Fantastic Fish and one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. Of the photographs I’ve reproduced here, one highlights one of the displays just after the objects have been installed.  The other shows staff at the Metropolitan Museum taking the opportunity to view the objects before they were installed in the cases. Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the V&A at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

After the exhibition closes at the Metropolitan Museum it will move to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 13 September 2008 - 4 January 2009. Then the objects will return to the UK to be installed at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield , 29 January - 24 May 2009. After the display at Sheffield draws to a close the objects will return to the V&A to be installed in the new galleries which open late in 2009. By the time that are back in South Kensington many of thousands of visitors in north America and in Yorkshire will have had an opportunity to see some of the V&A’s most historically significant and aesthetically beautiful objects.

Click here to find out more about Medieval and Renaissance Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tintagel Castle and Arthurian Myth

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Tintagel Castle, May 2008.

The pictures that I’ve reproduced here are of the ruins of Tintagel Castle, the remains of which cling perilously to the north Cornish coastline. Tintagel is linked intimately with the legend of King Arthur. Given the popularity of Arthurian Romance in north European medieval culture, especially literature, I’m surprised that I haven’t written about Arthur before. In my defence there are only a small number of objects in the V&A’s medieval and Renaissance collections that have a connection with the legends that developed around King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Most of those relate to the story of Tristan and Isolde.

The reason for addressing the subject of Arthur now is simply because I’ve been looking at some photographs I took of Tintagel Castle during a recent visit to Cornwall. I’ve reproduced a couple here to give a sense of the ruinous state of the remains and to try and reflect the romance of the location. 

If castles are viewed as purely military structures then Tintagel makes little sense. It is on a site that could be easily isolated and starved into submission. However castles were always far more than just military structures. The site of Tintagel was associated only with the conception of Arthur (Camelot that was King Arthur’s own fortress). The historical associations of the site of Tintagel were probably as important as its defensive qualities.

The ruins that we can see today are largely the work of Richard Earl of Cornwall  (born 1209 – died 1272), a man whom we know to have had imperial ambitions. By associating himself with the legend of the great King Arthur by building a castle at Tintagel was he trying to present himself as Arthur’s true heir, and therefore entitled to the full support of the Cornish people? It is even possible that the castle Richard had built was deliberately anachronistic, that it consciously reflected an older mythological Arthurian age. What people believed to be true is as important as what was really the case.Tintagel Castle, May 2008.

The Arthurian legend has remained a potent source of inspiration for poets, playwrights and filmmakers.  Perhaps the greatest and most influential version of the story is Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, first published by William Caxton in 1485 and still in print today. In the nineteenth century Arthurian Romance influenced figures such as the designer William Morris, the artists Aubrey Beardsley and Sir Edward Burne-Jones and writers of the stature of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. 

In more recent years actors such as Sean Connery, Richard Gere and Keira Knightly have starred in films with an Arthurian theme. I’m sure that we will have a film season as part of the programme of events that will support the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries in November 2009. I’m equally sure that one of the films is bound to be a swashbuckler related to King Arthur, Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. If anyone has a favourite swashbuckling film do let me know! Likewise it is always useful to know if there are films that should be avoided at all costs!

Tintagel Castle is now under the care of English Heritage.  If you are interested in finding out more about the castle or would like to plan a visit their website.