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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Nothing stays the same

By Stuart Frost

I know nothing stays the same for very long, especially in large cities. New buildings are constructed and old ones are demolished or adapted. London is a very exciting city to live in lots of ways and the diversity of great architecture in the City is undoudtedly one of its many attractions. There aren’t many cities were you can see such a variety of buildings of different periods and styles side-by-side.

I was interested to read in the press recently debate about the impact of the construction of new buildings in proximity to the Tower of London. There is concern that these have had a negative impact on views of the City’s iconic castle. I first came to London eight years ago and remember the excitement I felt at seeing the Tower lit up at night as I waited on the platform at London Bridge for a train home. I still pass through London Bridge train station everyday, but I noticed some time ago that I could no longer see the Tower on my way to and from work. From time to time I still glimpse at where I used to be able to look across the Thames towards the castle.  The view is now completely blocked by recent developments. The White Tower is the most potent surviving architectural symbol of the Norman conquest and I feel clear views of it should be maintained. Whilst I recognise that change is inevitable, and that many new buildings are wonderful pieces of architecture in their own right, in this instance I’m more sympathetic to the view that some buildings and vistas are more important than others.

Canterbury Cathedral

I’ve been looking through the V&A’s collections of nineteenth century photographs recently, focussing on those that record medieval and Renaissance buildings and monuments. Many of these are wonderfully evocative images of buildings and cityscapes that have changed, often in quite subtle ways, sometimes more dramatic. They’re views of a world long gone. Some were taken of buildings before extensive restoration, or before urban growth tansformed their surroundings. Several examples even record buildings that no longer survive.

Click on the images for detailed views of two of my favourite photographs. We’re hoping to display a selection of twenty-five of the best photographs from the collections when the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries open. Selecting just twenty-five from the V&A’s extensive collection is, however, proving to be quite a challenge!

The object in last week’s Mystery Object blog entry is indeed a flower-holder. If anyone has seen a similar example elsewhere, either in another collection or a painting, please do let me know!

Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey

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