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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for October, 2008

Rebuilding the Renaissance City

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Stuart Frost

Object installation in Gallery 50 at the V&AOn any project there are significant milestones, key dates by which critical stages on the road to completion have been reached. For the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project one of these was reached on Friday 26th September. Regular visitors to the V&A will have become used to the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries hoarding in the Grand Entrance. The colourful facade, adorned with photographic details taken for some of the V&A’s greatest artworks, has masked the gradual transformation of one of the Museum’s grandest and largest exhibition spaces.

Behind this screen over a period of many months the objects that formed the old displays were painstakingly removed from the walls and the floor. The objects included several vast tomb monuments built into the Museum walls as well as numerous heavy freestanding sculptures.

Once all of the objects had been removed the site was then handed over to the contractors so that work could begin on preparing the space for the new displays. The original mosaic floor was revealed once again and carefully restored. A vast framework of scaffolding was erected which filled the volume of the room, facilitating essential work on the ceiling. Construction work has created several new vistas that will significantly enhance visitors’ understanding of the V&A’s architecture, establishing new connections between gallery spaces that are located on different levels and floors.

Stemma by Luca della Robbia and workshop. Museum no.6740-1860By the end of September 2008 the contractors had finished their work on the site and were able to hand Gallery 50a back to the V&A. This meant that the Museum’s technical services team were able to begin the installation of objects for the new displays. 

The pictures that I’ve provided here show two vast objects that are currently being installed. The one at the top of this page shows the installation of the Stemma of King René of Anjou in progress.  If you look carefully you can that the team have just begun to add the border that surrounds the central roundel. The stemma has a diameter of over three meters. The picture to the right shows what the object looks like when complete. Click on the image to find out more about the stemma.

The photograph below and to the right shows work in progress on the installation of a window frame which originally faced into the courtyard of the Château de Montal. Again click on the picture for more information about the objectObject installation in Gallery 50 at the V&A..

In November 2009 Gallery 50 will reopen to the public in its new guise as The Renaissance City 1350-1600. By the time the galleries open over two hundred objects will have been installed in Gallery 50 and almost one thousand eight hundred objects throughout the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries as a whole. Fortunately the majority of them will not have been quite as involved as the two examples I’ve provided here.

I’ll post a series of photographs that highlight the transformation of Gallery 50 to the Medieval and Renaissance Flickr site over the next week or so.

Rudolph II and Prague: On Location Part Four

Friday, October 10th, 2008

By Stuart Frost

Emperor Rudolph II, Adriaen de Vries, Prague 1609. Museum no. 6920-1860.‘It is generally agreed amongst the Catholics in Prague that the Emperor has been bewitched and is in league with the devil. I have been shown the chair in which His Majesty sits when holding conversations with the Prince of Darkness himself. I have seen the little bell His Majesty uses whenever he wished to summon the spirits of the departed to do his bidding.’

Cardinal Filippo Spinelli writing to Pope Clement VIII, 1600 (Quote from Hans Holzer, The Alchemist, New York 1985) 85 & 91.

Whilst we can’t take the passage I’ve quoted above too literally there is no doubt that the Emperor Rudolph II was an interesting character. Rudolph had a deep interest in both alchemy and scientific enquiry. It is clear that some of the people who enjoyed his patronage did stray into territory that could be described as occult. On a cold, damp and dark October evening the corridors and courtyards of Pražský hrad, or Prague castle, take on a slightly Faustian atmosphere. It isn’t too difficult to imagine an alchemist in the Powder Tower working late into the night and straying into supernatural territory.

The bronze bust of the Emperor Rudolph in the V&A’s collections conjures up an unambiguous impression of a ruler who is not to be crossed. The powerful profile and jutting jaw convey a strong sense of a man who is confident, determined, decisive and authoritative. He wears armour decorated with a lion’s mask and an image of the classical hero Hercules. The bust is supported by the outstretched wings of an imperial eagle. The impression created the sculptor Adriaen de Vries is deliberately deceptive.

Prague Castle, October 2008.The bust was made in 1609 by which time Rudolph had little meaningful power or authority. Although depicted in armour, he never actually led an army into battle. Indeed he rarely left Prague Castle. He preferred to spend his time studying his vast collection of art, scientific instruments and natural wonders. Rudolph’s great collection once filled many of the rooms of the vast castle that still dominates Prague. The V&A’s bust itself was once part of the collection there.

I’ve illustrated this blog-entry with several photographs which I took last week when working in Prague on the third in a series of three People & Place gallery films. Regular readers of this blog will already have read about Charlemagne and Aachen, and Donatello and Florence. With the Rudolph and Prague film we’re hoping to give visitors insights into the man portrayed in bronze, the world in which he lived and the context to which his bronze bust belonged.  

The White Tower, Prague Castle. October 2008.I felt extremely fortunate to be able to spend a few days following in Rudolph’s footsteps and tapping into curator Norbert Jopek’s specialist knowledge. Whilst I’m delighted that the films we first thought about making several years ago have now begun come to fruition, I have to confess that I’m a little saddened that the location filming has already come to an end. It has been fantastic to work with the curatorial team and to see the depth of their enthusiasm for their subjects. It has also been a real pleasure to work with John Wyver, Linda Zuck and Ian Serfontein of Illuminations.

Our main aspiration for the trio of films is to enhance vistors’ understanding of three key objects, artworks from a time that might seem too remote to have real meaning. We also hope that the films will inspire some visitors to the galleries to travel to the continent and to explore Europe’s rich medieval and Renaissance heritage at first hand. Travelling to just three different locations has given me a vivid reminder of just how great Europe’s medieval and Renaissance heritage really is.

Click here to find out a little more about Prague Castle.