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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for January, 2010

Living with the Past: Part One

Monday, January 18th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

I have spent over seven years, or thereabouts, working on the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. I find it hard to believe that my role on the project has finally come to an end. The project team offices are in the process of being cleared and I have taken up a new job at the British Museum. Most of you will know that the galleries opened to the public on Wednesday 2nd December. The response from the press and the public has been magnificent.

Over the last twelve months work on the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries progressed at a particularly remarkable rate. Noteworthy milestones receded into the distance at such a rapid rate that they’d vanished over the horizon before I’d had the opportunity to write about them. Installing the glass roof for Gallery 64b at the V&A, July 2009. Image courtesy of MUMA.

I wanted to use the blog to document work-in-progress on the glass roof of the new day-lit space, one of the most exciting aspects of the galleries. Therefore I’m posting this blog entry about The Simon Sainsbury Gallery retrospectively. The gallery space is open to the public although a number of objects are still to be installed. Although there is still a little bit of work to do the area looks wonderful, especially in the evening.

The day-lit gallery has been created from previously unused space between external facades. The photograph reproduced here shows the installation of glass beams measuring up to nine meters in length. These beams span the void between the walls, which in conjunction with a new floor, create the light filled gallery that houses large architectural objects. The blue colour of the glass beams in the picture results from protective coverings that have now been removed.

I’ve posted some additional photographs on Flickr which you should be able to reach by clicking on the picture provided here. I should point out that the photograph used here were taken in July 2009. The completed gallery roof looks very different.

The theme for the gallery is Living with the Past and the displays here highlight the often substantially altered buildings and monuments that survive in our towns and cities. The construction of this new space at the V&A allowed MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) to design an orientation point which contains a study area with computer terminals where visitors can access online resources and a vast graphic timeline. The day-lit gallery is a remarkable addition to the V&A building.

I would like to thank MUMA for providing the photograph that illustrates this page and for their permission to use it. I’ll provide more information on the daylit gallery in the next blog entry and focus on some of the vast architectural objects that occupy the space.

A Missal from the Abbey of Saint Denis, Paris

Monday, January 4th, 2010

By Stuart Frost

Page from a missal from the abbey of Saint-Denis, 1350. Museum no. MSL/1891/1346.The pages that illustrate this blog entry are from a magnificent missal in the V&A’s collections, one of the finest surviving examples of a fourteenth century Gothic manuscript. A missal is a book which contains all the texts and music needed by a priest to celebrate Mass. This particular missal was made for use at one of the altars in the royal abbey of St Denis, Paris. The book is displayed in Room 9 The Rise of Gothic 1200-1350.

Visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to see manuscript but also to explore a larger selection of openings from the book through a touch-screen interactive placed nearby. In addition, for the first time visitors will also be able to hear a recording of one of the chants preserved in the musical notation written on the missal’s pages. 

The missal waA missal from Saint Denis, Paris. MSL/1891/1346 393vs commissioned for the abbey of St Denis and because it was used there it includes specific references to both the abbey and its patron saint, Saint Denis. Saint Denis is the patron saint of France. He was believed to have been sent to Gaul to convert pagans to Christianity in the third century. Although St Denis preached initially with great success he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded. His martydom is depicted in the illumination depicted in the photographs that heads this blog entry.

The strong connection between the manuscript and Saint Denis dictated that if we were to record only one piece from the missal it should ideally be a piece that related to the abbey or its name saint. Staff, students and professional singers from the Royal College of Music recently recorded Salve Pater Dyonisi (Hail Father Denis). the notation and words for which can be seen in the images to the left and below.  This piece would have been performed on the Feast Day of Saint Denis. Salve Pater Dyonisi comprises seven verses which praise St Denis and two other saints who were martyred with him, Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius. The words are sung in Latin to music that was adapted from pre-existing pieces to create a fresh work.

A missal from Saint Denis, Paris. MSL/1891/1346 394rA short film that introduces the missal and which documents the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi has just been posted on Vimeo. If you’d like to see the film please click on the link provided below. The superlative artistic qualities of the missal are easy to appreciate but the recording of some of the music that its written upon its pages will hopefully give visitors a greater feel for how the manuscript was originally intended to be used. 

I’m delighted that visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to hear for the first time a piece of music that was originally performed in Saint Denis abbey around 1350. The recording will also be made available online. Watch this space for more information. Happy New Year to everyone!

Click here to see the film about the Saint Denis Missal and the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi on Vimeo.