Jump to navigation

V&A logo

V&A blogs

Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

RSS web feed image

Archive for September, 2008

Donatello and Florence: On Location Part Three

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Florence September 2008 025Last week I was fortunate enough to spend three days in Florence with chief curator Peta Motture working on the second of our three People and Place gallery films. Filming the location footage for Donatello and Florence posed a different set of challenges to the Charlemagne and Aachen film the previous week.

Anyone who has been to Florence will be able to confirm that it has an extraordinary wealth of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. Donatello would recognise many of the elements that still dominate the modern cityscape. The remains of the Aachen that Charlemagne knew are few, fragmentary and have been significantly altered over time.

The locations selected for the Donatello and Florence film included the Old Sacristy in the Church of San Lorenzo; the Baptistery, Duomo and Campanile; the Medici Palace; and the Church of Orsanmichele. Footage of these buildings will help viewers understand the different contexts for which Donatello produced sculptures.

The Medici Palace, Florence.One the first day filming started at 7.30am in the Old Sacristy. It was remarkable to be inside the church and to be able to enjoy the atmosphere almost alone. By 6pm we had moved to the Piazalle Michelangelo which provided us with a magnificent view of the city laid out below, the River Arno dividing it into two. The picture I’ve used here, at the top of the page, shows the Duomo to the right and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio to the left. The cathedral and the centre of government dominated the medieval and Renaissance city.

The higher number of different locations for this film meant that there was more walking between places than previously. Walking through a city as attractive as Florence is no great hardship of course, although cameraman Ian and director Linda may disagree as they were the ones who were carrying all of the equipment! Rapidly moving mopeds, buses and horse-drawn carriages posed a different sort of challenge.

Florence September 2008 008Florence attracts a vast number of tourists throughout the year and the historic core of the old city is a busy, bustling place. Aachen attracts far fewer and it was much easier there to take shots without inquisitive tourists wandering into view. In both cities I was struck by how accommodating and helpful the authorities were. A particular highlight was the opportunity to film Donatello’s famous bronze statue of David, only recently returned to a vertical position and still under-going a remarkable programme of conservation work in the Bargello.

The location filming for Donatello and Florence is now complete but work on editing the footage and finalising the captions still remains to be done. We also need to film Donatello’s Ascension relief, a star object in the V&A’s collections, and to integrate film of that object with the location footage.

The finished Donatello and Florence film will be available in Gallery 64 Donatello and the Making of Art from late November 2009 onwards. It will also be added to the V&A’s website.

If you’d like to find out more about some of the locations mentioned here please click on the weblinks I’ve provided below. I’ve also posted some additional photographs on the Flickr site for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project.

Click here to find out more about the Medici palace.

Click here to find out more about the Bargello.

Click here to find out more about the conservation of Donatello’s David. The text for this site is Italian but there is a good selection of pictures.

Charlemagne and Aachen: On Location Part Two

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Front Cover of the Lorsch Gospels, Aachen, about 810. Museum no. 138-1866.I promised regular updates on progress with the development of six gallery films and so here is the first of several. Location filming for the Charlemagne and Aachen gallery film took place in Germany earlier this week. This film is part of a series that aims to contextualise key objects in the V&A’s collection by reuniting them with the places they were most associated with before they entered the Museum’s collections.

It seems fitting given the European scope of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project that work on the films began in Aachen, a city now in Germany but which was once the imperial centre of a great European empire ruled over by Charlemagne (768-814). Charlemagne’s empire included much of modern Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and much else besides. His influence was felt far beyond the borders of the territories over which he had direct authority. Charlemagne continues to loom large over European history, both ancient and modern. 

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Charlemagne established a palace at Aachen, the original chapel of which still survives today at the centre of the cathedral. The chapel was the main focus of the first day’s filming. Some of the greatest artists and intellectuals of the age were drawn to the palace where they served the emperor. Under Charlemagne there was an artistic revival, Latin was restored as a literary language and many great books were produced. I wonder how different the later history of Europe would have been without the revival or renaissance that took place under Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors?

The five ivory panels you can see here were once part of a magnificent Gospel book made in Aachen around 810. The panels formed part of the front cover. They highlight the artistic heights reached by Carolingian artists but also their debt to late Roman art. Charlemagne intended Aachen to be a second Rome. The Palatine Chapel was based on late Roman models. The columns displayed inside, framed within round arches, were brought from Rome and Ravenna. Bronze casting was revived in order to produce the magnificent doors and railings which still survive. Charlemagne himself was buried within a sarcophagus originally carved in the second century AD and brought from Rome to Aachen.

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Filming inside the chapel was a fascinating experience. The cathedral authorities were remarkably helpful, providing us with a guide who was extremely informative and accomodating. There were challenges which the film crew worked hard to overcome. On arrival we discovered that one of the bays of the octagon was enclosed in scaffolding and hoarding as part of a long-term conservation project. However thanks to the ingenuity of the camera-man and director no one will know from the final film that the hoarding was there.

The efforts that the film crew went to to get the best shots are exemplified by the photograph illustrated here. The director, John Wyver, managed to persuade the owner of a ferris wheel (only present for two days a year) to start it up early in the morning to allow cameraman Ian to get some great footage of the cathedral from the air. After Aachen the team moved onto Lorsch Abbey, the home of the Lorsch Gospel covers from the early 800s until 1563.

Further photographs of the filming that took place at Aachen and Lorsch are available via the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries site on Flickr. Click on one the images above if you’d like to see additional pictures and find out more. Further updates will follow at fortnightly intervals.

Find Out More

The Lorsch Gospel covers are on display at the High Museum in Atlanta until 4th January 2009.

Click here for more information about Aachen Cathedral. The 360 degree panorama on this official cathedral website gives an excellent impression of the interior of the octagon as it appears today.

On Location Part One

Monday, September 8th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Emperor Rudolph II Where did the summer go? Is it really September already? Time certainly seems to be flying by. Work is progressing on the project at a rapid rate. My main priority at the moment is six short gallery films for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Each film focuses on one object, two examples of which are illustrated here. Click on the image for more information about the object and the film.

The films will delivered in the galleries via small screens carefully placed alongside the artworks to which they relate. One of the main aims of these films is to encourage visitors to spend more time looking at the actual objects and to highlight elements which they might otherwise miss. Placement of the screens is crucial.

Each film will be around three minutes in length. This might appear to be very short but visitors will view the films whilst standing. Audience research indicates that under these circumstances anything of longer duration is unlikely to hold peoples’ attention. Watching a film when you’re at home sat in a comfortable armchair is a completely different scenario. Regular museum visitors will know how the ability to concentrate decreases in direct proportion to the amount of time you’ve been on your feet. When you have children in tow, or a less enthusiastic partner standing at your shoulder, attention spans are reduced even further.  Anyone who visits museums and galleries regularly will know how quickly saturation point can be reached.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been working on planning schedules for the filming with the production companies we’ve appointed to make them. The draft scripts were written earlier this year. All of the films involve filming on location and filming of objects at the V&A. The location filming will begin next week. Flights were booked and travel arrangements confirmed some time ago. The locations on mainland Europe include Florence, Aachen and Prague. The film company has had the challenging task of negotiating permissions to film inside a large number of historically important buildings including churches, palaces and cathedrals. 

The idea of filming in beautiful cities like these is needless to say, very exciting. However anyone who assumes that those involved will have plenty of leisure time to take in the views and soak in the atmosphere is sadly mistaken. The schedules are very tight and in order to maximise the available time the days will be very long. Early starts will be essential as some of the filming has to be completed before the buildings open to the visiting public. The number of the locations means moving from one place to another throughout the day.Reliquary Casket, 1185-95. Museum no. 7945-1862

Two of the six films are part of an established series of How was it made? films at the V&A.  These two films will follow contemporary artists as they replicate techniques used to make two objects, a sixteenth century woodcut and a twelfth century casket with enamelled plaques. Both of these films will help visitors appreciate the great skill that was required to make the objects them see. The films also highlight that techniques which originated over 500 years ago are still with us, although usually utilised in a distinctly modern way.

I’ll document work on the films with a series of digital images and blog updates over the coming weeks.