Jump to navigation

V&A logo

V&A blogs

Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

RSS web feed image

Archive for April, 2009

Saint George’s Day

Monday, April 20th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Scenes from the Story of St George, Museum no. A. 41 1954.St George’s day falls this week on Thursday 23 April. I have written about St George previously, in April 2007 in fact, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. I noted then that although there are a large number of images of St George in the V&A’s collections most of them are not English. George was a very popular saint across medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is, for example, represented on works of art from Spain, Italy and Germany in the V&A’s collections.

St George is believed to have died around AD303. His legend was popularised in western Europe through a text known as The Golden Legend. The book contains biographies of saints, Apostles and martyrs and was compiled in the thirteenth century by Jacobus de Voragine. The book was published in English in 1483 by William Caxton and is still in print today in various scholarly and popular editions.

Every year the press debates whether the English fail to celebrate St George’s day enough. Inevitably comparisons are drawn with St Patrick’s Day which is celebrated on a much larger scale by Irish communities around the world. This year the Mayor of London has adopted a more active role in promoting St George’s day. It remains to be seen how London will respond.Scenes from the Story of St George, Museum no. A. 41 1954.

My own contribution to marking St George’s day is to include a few pictures of a wonderful statuette carved with stunning virtuosity. Although the subject matter was obviously significant to the person who owned the piece originally, the sculpture must have been prized particularly for the quality of the artist’s work. It is a wonderful object to inspect carefully and rewards close and sustained attention. For a better view of the object, and to find out more about it, click on the image.

To find more images of Saint George search in the V&A’s collections visit Collections Online.

Palm Sunday Processions

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Palmesel Figure, 1470-1490, German. Museum no. A.1030-1910.The Easter weekend is almost upon us which means that Palm Sunday has already passed. Palm Sunday is an important date in the Christian calendar as it marks the beginning of the events which led up to the Crucifixion of Jesus and his Resurrection. The Gospel accounts tells us that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on an ass and that he was greeted by a great crowd who spread palm branches before him.

There is a long tradition of the use of sculptures of Christ on an ass (known as Palmesels) in processions that commemorate Palm Sunday. The Palmesel figure in the V&A’s collection, shown in the pictures shown to the right here, was made around 1480 in Southern Germany. The locations of around two-hundred and seventy fourteenth-century Palmesel processions have been identified but only eight of the Palmesel figures from this time appear to have survived. There are more later figures in museums around the world, like the one at the V&A.

Most of the medieval Palmesels that have survived are no longer in active use but a number of Palmesel processions do still take place every year. Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to see one in the Austrian village of Thaur. Thaur is a few kilometres from Innsbruck and has a spectacular location, surrounded by snow capped mountains. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a selection of photographs of the procession and posted others on Flickr. Click on a picture to find out more about what is shown.

Palm Sunday Procession in Thaur, Austria,  5th April 2009. The procession started just before 8.30am. The Palmesel figure was led from the main church in Thaur by two choirboys and processed to the smaller church of St Vigil. There the procession was greeted by the villagers who lined the streets, holding palm sticks decorated with banners, fruit and pretzels. After a blessing service outside the church of St Vigil the procession returned to the main church for Mass.

At 13.00 the procession left the main church and made its way up a steep pathway to the Chapel of St Romedius. The Palmesel was pulled by eight choirboys and watching the procession slowly climbing upwards to my vantage point was a spectacular sight. After a short service the procession returned back down the pathway and then turned towards the village of Rum.

Palm Sunday Procession, Thaur, Austria  5th April 2009.As the procession approached Rum the vicar and choirboys from the village church came out to meet the procession and followed into the church. After a short service the procession returned to Thaur where it arrived at around 3.00pm greeted by chiming church bells. Half-an-hour or so later I saw the Palmesel returning to the home of the family that own it and where it will stay until Palm Sunday 2010.

The procession was a remarkable experience which has made me think about the Palmesel in V&A’s collection very differently. It was fascinating to see the importance of the procession to the local community. The procession was filmed and the footage will be edited to create a short silent video for the  Religious Procession 1300-1500 display in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. We are very grateful to the church and people of Thaur for allowing us to film the procession.