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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for June, 2009

The Robert H Smith Renaissance Sculpture Programme

Monday, June 29th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

A  number of events have taken place at the V&A recently as part of the Robert H.Smith Renaissance Sculpture Programme, a ten-year programme of events generously funded by Mr Smith. The programme includes conferences, seminars, publications and two demonstrations of sculpture techniques a yearDemonstration of techniques used in Renaissance sculpture by Tom Clark..

The V&A holds the national collection of sculpture, including the most important collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy, and the events supported by the Robert H. Smith programme create a forum where new ideas about the Renaissance sculpture and the V&A’s collection can be explored and discussed. The demonstrations, for example, encourage visitors to think about how the objects were made helping them to appreciate the process involved in producing finished works of art.

The first of the demonstrations took place in March and was led by sculptor Tom Clark. The demonstration showed how relief sculptures were produced using techniques employed by Renaissance sculptors. Tom chose to copy an Italian marble relief portrait of the poet, diplomat and humanist Francesco Cinzio Benincasa. The original relief will be displayed in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries as part of a display that looks at portraiture and indentity.

As you can see in the pictures the public responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to have a go at carving, with visitors of all ages eager to take their turn. Click on the pictures to see larger images or to find out a little more information about what is shown. I didn’t have room to include all of the photographs related to Tom’s demonstration here. If you’d like to see them I have posted them on the Medieval & Renaissance - V&A site on Flickr.

In December there will be a different sculpture techniques session when you can come and watch another expert in action and perhaps have a go yourself. The second annual lecture will also take place in December, given by Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery. I’ll post updates on other events via this blog and post extra pictures on Flickr.Demonstration of techniques used in Renaissance sculpture by Tom Clark.

The next Robert H Smith event is a one-day symposium on Leone Leoni: Sculptor to Princes, Emperors and Kings. The symposium marks the 500th anniversary of Leoni’s birth. Leoni worked primarily in bronze and attracted the attention of the wealthiest and most powerful patrons of his day, including the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and King Philip II of Spain. The event will take place in the Hochhauser Auditorium in the Museum’s new Sackler Centre between 10.00-16.45. Tickets are free but if you are thinking of coming advanced booking is recommended.

If you would like to know more about any of these events please look on the What’s On area of the V&A’s website or contact Caroline Bulloch on c.bulloch@vam.ac.uk to be added to the mailing list.

A Tunic from Egypt: Part 3

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Stuart Frost

If you’ve been following this blog for a long period of time you’ll know that I’ve written about the tunic from Egypt before (Museum no. 291-1891).  In fact I first wrote about the work Elizabeth-Anne Haldane, Senior Textile Conservator, was doing on the tunic back in June 2007 and provided another update in November 2008. Those entries are archived if you haven’t read seen them before. The gap between those blog entries, and this one, give some sense of how long the process of preparing an object for display can be. The team involved, however, have been working on other projects and objects at the same time. The previous blog entries also highlight how much new information can be gained about an object through intensive interdisciplinary research.Work in a progress on a replica of a tunic. Photograph by Simon Carter.

In developing the displays and the activities that go alongside them we’ve endeavoured to adhere to a number of key principles. One of those was that we wanted to offer visitors opportunities to actively engage with the displays and to experience some things directly for themselves. Whilst there will be plenty of materials for people to touch throughout the new galleries, we’ve worked hard to ensure that these activities are ‘minds on’ as well as ‘hands on’. The activities have to help enhance peoples’ understanding of the objects in a meaningful and enjoyable way.

We decided at an early stage that we’d like to include accurate replicas of clothing for visitors to try on in the Discovery Area spaces. The Egyptian tunic was an obvious candidate for various reasons, some of which were simply practical. For example the tunic is a garment that can easily be slipped over visitors’ existing clothing. The tunic was made between 642-800 and unlike later medieval clothing, often adorned with luxurious velvet and extravagant fur linings, the tunic was made from materials that we could replicate authentically without the cost soaring beyond the available budget.

After a number of meetings and discussions the project began to take shape.  As you can see from the pictures that illustrate this blog entry work on the facsimile tunic has made significant progress. Keira Miller has been working away in the Textiles Conservation studio at the V&A, making templates, cutting fabric and stitching the seams together. Click on the pictures more information about what is shown.  The production of the tunic, and a number of spares, is almost complete. It has been wonderful to see the results of Keira’s and Elizabeth-Anne’s work taking shape.A replica of a tunic from Egypt. Photograph by Keira Miller.

The replica of the Egyptian tunic adheres to another of the principles that underpins our approach to gallery based interpretation. It is informed by the results of new research stimulated by the redevelopment of the galleries. We wanted some of the interactives and activities in the gallery to reflect new research but to present in away that was meaningfully and engaging for visitors of all ages. I think the tunic will achieve this in a very effective way.  It is one thing to see a tunic hanging on a mount behind glass, quite another to pull it over one’s head and to experience moving around in a garment.  Experience from other projects at the V&A proves that adults enjoy trying on clothing as much as younger visitors. Whilst anyone will be able to try the tunic on, the replica will reflect the dimensions of the original and will look at its best on an adult.

We were keen that the replica should be as authentic as possible and the results of the research into the object have helped us achieve that objective. The cost of commissioning real tapestry decoration to be stitched to the tunic was beyond the available budget. However Elizabeth-Anne sourced a digitally printed alternative of high quality that was produced and supplied by Zardi and Zardi. You can see the printed fabric in both pictures.

When the replica tunic is finished I’ll post some more pictures here and hopefully a short film showing what the tunic looks like when it is worn. If you’d like to know more about the conservation work and the results of the research into the original tunic an article by Elizabeth-Anne will published in November 2009 in the V&A’s Conservation Journal. As ever if you have any questions or comments please post them below and I’d do my best to respond promptly and helpfully.

Wryttyng is sumwhat tedius and paynfull….

Friday, June 5th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Detail from a Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.For a dynasty that ran its course almost five hundred years ago the Tudors have a remarkably high profile in popular culture today. Painted portraits of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are amongst those that adorn a current issue of postage stamps issues by the Royal Mail.

Of all the Tudor monarchs it is Henry VIII who is looming largest this year. His reign is being scrutinised and reassessed in exhibitions in museums, galleries, libraries and palaces in the capital and across the country. The reason for all of this activity is that 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne. I’m sure he would be pleased that his fame has endured for so long.

There are numerous objects in the V&A’s collections that have a strong connection with the Tudor dynasty and Henry VIII in particular. The pictures that illustrate this blog entry are of one of the more remarkable artefacts, a leather lined writing box adorned with the heraldic badges of Henry VIII and his first queen, Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536). The desk must have been made before Henry began divorce proceedings against Katherine in 1527.A Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.

Henry owned many writing boxes, a number of which were listed in inventories of his possessions made after his death in 1547. The history of this particular example isn’t known which makes it possible to speculate. It is tempting to imagine Henry sat in front of the box penning a lover letter to Anne Boleyn. Rather less appealing is the thought that the box was made as a royal gift that passed out of royal ownership soon after it was made.

The object is not currently on display at the V&A. It has travelled a short distance across the capital to the British Library, where it is part of a fascinating exhibition, Henry VIII - Man and Monarch. The exhibition has been curated by a team headed by David Starkey. 

In the first of three lectures to coincide with the exhibition Starkey talked about the writing desk. The desk is also centre stage in his introduction to the catalogue where it is described as ‘the real seat of Henry’s power’. There is certainly plenty of evidence in the exhibition to support the view that Henry was an unusually literate and literary monarch who constantly annotated documents, books and manuscripts.

Despite Henry’s statement that he found writing tedious and painful the evidence of his own handwriting  shows that he spent plenty of time sat at a desk with pen in hand. Faced with a vast pile of papers and documents requiring urgent attention, there must have been many moments when he longed to be engaged in more pleasurable pursuits. I’m sure that is a feeling that desk-bound employees across the country will be able to empathise with!

Click on the link to see the short online film, A Royal Writing Box.

Click here to find out more about the exhibition Henry VIII - Man and Monarch at the British Library.