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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Microwave Oven Safe Madonna

September 21st, 2009

By Stuart Frost

In order to mark the opening of phase one of the Ceramics galleries at the V&A last week I thought I should select a ceramic object for this blog entry. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of my favourite ceramic objects and in discovering new pieces I’ve not seen before. 

In the old displays one of the objects I was particularly drawn to was a nineteenth century piece depicting two boxers, one of whom was Tom Sayers (1826-1865).  Sayers was a bare-knuckle fighter who fought for the world title in a fight which lasted a remarkable sixty-one rounds. His celebrity status is reflected in objects like the V&A’s ceramic figurine, his splendid tomb in Highgate cemetery and the fact that over ten thousand people followed his funeral procession. However, as there is no connection here with anything medieval or Renaissance I’d better move along!Microwave Oven Safe Madonna, by Philip Eglin, 2001. Musuem no. C.8-2002.

My favourite medieval ceramic objects in the new displays are tiles that were found in Tring, Hertfordshire. These rare survivals depict apocryphal scenes from the early years of Christ’s life in a format rather like a cartoon strip. The tiles depict miracles that aren’t mentioned in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. However the Tring tiles deserve a blog entry in their own right so I’ll return to them later.

Amongst my favourite contemporary pieces in the V&A’s collections is Philip Eglin’s Microwave Oven Safe Madonna. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about it for some time. There are countless contemporary artists and designers who’ve looked back to the medieval period for inspiration and Philip Eglin is one of my favourites.

The overall form of this white porcelain figure was inspired by a medieval woodcarving of a seated Virgin and Child in the V&A’s collections. If you look carefully at Eglin’s Madonna you’ll be able to see a fragmentary foot on her lap. Like the original medieval carving that informed the work the figure of the infant Christ that should be sat on the Virgin’s lap is missing. Not everything is as it first appears. Whilst the figure retains some of the same qualities of the medieval sculpture it also includes a number of references to modern living. Here the Virgin is actually sat on a paper bag rather than a seat or bench.

I’m sure that the Ceramics galleries will inspire thousands of different creative responses from the visitors who come to see them and I’m certain that the Medieval & Renaissance Europe galleries will do the same.

Microwave Oven Safe Madonna was one of the works that was exhibited alongside medieval works at the V&A in the exhibition, Philip Eglin, held at the Museum in 2001. You can find out more about this exhibition by following the link to the archived website that I’ve provided below.

Click here to find out more about Ceramics at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about Philip Eglin at the V&A.

Click here to find out more about how you can contribute to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries Appeal.

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Saint Sebastian

September 10th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

a. Reliquary of St Sebastian before conservation, M.27-2001. Photograph by Gates Sofer.Some objects, like the V&A’s vast tapestry woven with scenes of the Trojan War, have required extensive conservation work to prepare them for display. Conservation of the tapestry, which began in October 2004, was completed recently after approximately 4000 hours of work by specialist conservators. Other objects have required far less time, but the attention to detail has been the same.

The reliquary of Saint Sebastian, the focus of this blog entry, is a case in point. This superb example of the art of the metalworker was made in Augsburg in 1497, probably to a design by Hans Holbein. St Sebastian was believed to have been martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian for refusing to renounce his Christian beliefs. Sebastian was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. He miraculously survived the agonising ordeal, only to be clubbed to death subsequently. Sebastian was a popular saint and was represented frequently in medieval and Renaissance art.d. Three stages in using cuttle fish bones to create moulds.Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The photograph that heads this page depicts the reliquary before conservation treatment. If you look carefully you will see that there are only two silver-gilt arrows still in-situ. However there are holes for a further six and it was recently decided to make replacement arrows for five of these so that when the object is redisplayed visitors will have a better sense of it’s original appearance. Click on the image for a larger picture and a better view.

Metals Conservator Gates Sofer devised an ingenious method for casting the replacement arrows using moulds made from cuttlefish bone. A brass copy of one of the arrows was made and then pressed into cuttlefish bones that had been flattened and paired. This created a mould into which molten metal could be poured. Three stages are shown in the photograph reproduced here, above and to the left. On the left are two cuttlefish bones, in the centre the bones have been flattened and prepared for casting, and finally to the right a mould that has been opened after the casting process. Click on any of the pictures for more information about what is shown. I’ve posted some additional pictures on the Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr if you’d like to find out a little more about the work.e. Forge and cuttlefish moulds. Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The casting took place at the V&A. The picture to the right shows a forge in one of the Museum’s workshops, with the ladle used to pour the molten metal to the left, and five cuttlefish moulds standing upright in a pan filled with sand. The cast arrows required additional work once they’d been removed from the mould. The surface of the arrows required working to remove the pattern created by the texture of the cuttlefish bone. In addition the arrows were gilded with eighteen carat gold. 

As a general rule conservators like to ensure that any modern additions, like these arrows, can be easily identified and not mistaken for original work. Each of the new arrows bears a tiny V&A logo that was added with a small punch. This mark would be difficult to spot with the naked eye but not a magnifying glass. The addition of the arrows, and the replacement of a missing silver rope used to bind Sebastian to the tree, has subtly transformed the appearance of the object. The reliquary was also carefully cleaned revealing previously obscured details such as a pattern on the border of Sebastian’s garment. j. New cast silver arrows before gilding, Museum no.27-2001. Photograph by Gates Sofer.

The reliquary was made by a master craftsmen and is of superb quality. The picture to the left shows the reliquary after the recent conservation work. The object will be looking at its best when it is displayed in Room 10: Devotion & Display. Here St Sebastian will form part of a display about reliquaries. The pedestal of the figure still contains two relics, one is wrapped in silk. The other is thought to be made of wood and was perhaps believed to have been fragments of one of the actual arrow shafts that pierced Sebastian’s body.

I’d like to that Gates for allowing me to use her photographs and for taking the time to talk to me about her work. If you have any questions please post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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A Replica Tunic from Egypt: Part 4

August 24th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

When I last wrote about this Egyptian tunic in June of this year I promised readers that I’d provide an update. The conservation work on this rare survival is now complete and the garment is ready for installation into Gallery 8: Faiths and Empires 300-1250, one of ten Medieval & Renaissance Galleries at the V&A which will open later this year.

The replica of the Egyptian tunic alongside the original in Textiles Conservation.When installed in the display case the tunic will be supported on a specially constructed form or structure that will ensure the delicate object is displayed effectively and appropriately.  The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will include over one thousand eight hundred objects, a vast number of objects of all shapes, materials and sizes. The logistics involved in installing such a large number of objects is mind-boggling. Object installation has had to be phased over a long period of time to enable staff at the Museum to cope with the demanding workload. The Egyptian tunic will be installed in its case during September, a few months before the public opening date. 

The tunic can’t be displayed as it would have been worn because this would create creases and folds that would expose the garment to unacceptable levels of stress.  However visitors will be able to try on a complete replica which will give an extremely accurate sense of what it was like to wear the tunic. When I wrote about this replica in June, work was still in progress but as you can see from the pictures that illustrate this entry the project is now complete. Keira Miller has made three tunics whilst working in the Textiles Conservation studio at the V&A. One of the tunics will be displayed in a Discovery Area in new galleries where visitors will be able to try it on. The other two tunics will be kept as spares and will be rotated when the Discovery Area garment needs to be sent for dry-cleaning.

My colleagues in the Photo Studio at the V&A, Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmermann, were fascinated about the work that had been undertaken on the tunic and very kindly agreed to make a short film documenting the project. The film was shot in the Textiles Conservation Studio at the V&A and features Senior Textiles Conservator, Elizabeth-Anne Haldane talking about the project with the original tunic laid out on a table. If you’d like to see the film please click on the link provided below.

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 was published in Issue 57 of the V&A’s Conservation Journal. A digital version of this edition will be added to the website shortly so I have provided the link below. Elizabeth-Anne is also writing an online subject about the tunic and this will be added to the website late in 2009. Watch this space for more details.

If you have any questions that you’d to ask, or comments that you’d like to make, please post them below.

Click here to see the film about the Egyptian tunic on Vimeo.

Click here to read the V&A’s Conservation Journal online.

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The Listening Gallery Part 2: Medieval to Baroque

July 23rd, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Performing medieval chant, 17 June 2009. Photograph by Lorena Meana.Music was part of daily life in medieval and Renaissance Europe and talented musicians and composers were often as highly regarded or sought after as other artists. Music was an important art form in its own right. The central role of music in medieval and Renaissance culture is reflected in many objects in the V&A’s collections. Thanks to a partnership with the Royal College of Music funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) we will be able to integrate a large number of high quality recordings into the Medieval and Renaissance galleries in an innovative and exciting manner.

Rehearsals and recordings of music for the new galleries have been taking place over recent weeks, thanks to the efforts of Giulia Nuti at the Royal College of Music. I’ll focus on one example here. The picture below this paragraph and to the left is of a page from a medieval manuscript known as the Saint Denis Missal. The book was made in Paris around 1350 and was used at the royal abbey of Saint Denis. Click on the picture for more information about it and to see other openings from the book. The Saint Denis Missal is a remarkably fine example of a Gothic manuscript and features some magnificent examples of calligraphy and illumination. It is largely because of the artistic qualities of the book that the V&A acquired it.Page from a missal from the abbey of Saint-Denis, 1350. Museum no. MSL/1891/1346.

The pages of the missal, however, also carry countless lines of musical notation and it is some of this notation that was performed and recorded earlier this week. The work of Professor Anne Robertson on the service books of St Denis allowed Jennifer Smith of the Royal College of Music to prepare sheet music that could be rehearsed and performed by a choir of talented singers. Listening to the choir perform a piece of music that was originally sung in Paris over seven hundred and fifty years ago certainly stands out as one of my personal highlights whilst working at the V&A. The pictures  at the start and end of this blog entry show the choir at work with Jennifer.

Each of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A will contain at least one audio-point, most of which will be built into seats. Visitors will be able to sit down, select an option from a small touch-screen and listen to an audio track delivered through a handset or a set of headphones. Many of the audio-points have been placed in a direct relationship with a key object. Visitors will be able to look at the Saint Denis Missal, for example, whilst listening to music that is written on its pages. Each of the audio-points will include recordings provided by the Royal College of Music. We hope that the recordings will help visitors to the galleries understand the culture that produced the objects displayed around them, to stimulate their imagination and to enhance their feel for medieval and Renaissance culture. Performing medieval chant, 17 June 2009.Photograph by Lorena Meana.

The first phase of the Listening Gallery project led to the integration of a number of beautiful recordings of music within the recent temporary exhibition Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence. If you have visited the exhibition I’m very keen to hear your views about how the recordings playing in the exhibition space impacted on your visit. For those of you unable to visit the exhibition physically a number of recordings are available to download online.

The Listening Gallery Project has been a fascinating one to be involved with. The commitment, expertise and passion of all the staff and students at the Royal College of Music involved with the project has been truly inspirational. Thanks to Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmermann at the V&A we’ve been able to film some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in making the recordings. A series of short online films will be made available over the coming weeks. Watch this space for more details and further information.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

Click here to download recordings of music associated with Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence.

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Mounting and Fixing

July 13th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Woman's girdle, about 1540-80, Italy or France, Museum no. T.370-1989.There will be approximately one thousand and eight hundred objects for visitors to enjoy in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Regular readers of this blog will know that object installation has been underway for sometime. As the opening of the galleries approaches rapidly, mounting and fixing has been coming ever closer to the fore. 

Every object to be displayed in the new galleries has been the subject of discussion to establish how it can be displayed to best effect. There are numerous factors which need to considered and sometimes conflicting demands that need to be reconciled. For example, if an object is displayed too far back from the front of a case, or if the angle it is displayed at isn’t quite right, visitors will be unable to fully enjoy the object. Many exhibition cases bear the marks left by visitor’s noses or foreheads in their desperate attempts to get a good view of a beautiful object. However some objects are too fragile to be displayed at the ideal angle for a visitor so finding the ideal solution can be a challenge.

G. Preparing the Mount for a Woman's girdle, about 1540-80, Italy or France, Museum no. T.370-1989.  Photograph by Constanze Zimmer.The production of mounts for objects has now been taking place at the V&A for sometime. Some objects are comparatively straightforward and can sit, for example, on a shelf within a case without any external or internal support. Other objects pose significantly greater challenges testing the ingenuity and skills of those involved to the limit. The object illustrated here in the top right corner definitely falls into the latter category. 

The picture of the object laid flat isn’t very helpful in suggesting the original function of the object and demonstrates just how important way an object is displayed is. Despite the concertinaed appearance in the photograph the object is a 16th century girdle that would have been wrapped once around a woman’s waist and then tied in front. At 3.75m it is a remarkably long girdle which suggests that it might have been worn by a rather tall lady with a wider than average waist. The ends of the girdle are weighted with knots would have ensured that it hung loose at the hem of her gown. To find out a little more about the girdle, or to see a larger image, please click on the picture.

J. Making a mount for a girdle. Photograph by Constanze Zimmer.The girdle is made from silk and metal threads and despite its fragile and delicate appearance it is surprisingly heavy. It will be displayed in a subject display called What People Wore and Why. After considerable debate, discussion and experimentation it has been decided to suspend the girdle in the case with the ingenious use of a mount that will project from the back wall of the case. The overall aim is to produce a mount that fully supports the girdle whilst remaining as discreet as possible and giving the viewer a clear sense of how the object would have been worn. The object’s weight and its length made the mount-making process particularly challenging and demanded a creative solution.

The first stage of mount production involved shaping clear acrylic into a waist shaped support and then covering it with padding and textile. The image above and to the left shows the girdle pinned to this waist-shaped mount. The full length of girdle couldn’t be displayed in the case. There is an aperture in the back of the mount that allows some of the textile to sit inside and rest on the bottom plate. The acrylic plate, or lid, that you can see in the picture will be covered with a dark textile.

The picture above and to the right shows the girdle temporarily pinned to the almost finished mount in the Textiles Conservation Studio at the V&A. The trailing ends of the girdle rest on cut acrylic which can’t be seen in the photograph. The mount is now finished which means that the object can installed inside the relevant case in due course. If you’d like to see more pictures of the production of the mount for the girdle there are ten pictures posted on the V&A Medieval & Renaissance site on Flickr. You can reach the Flickr site by clicking on any of the photographs reproduced here.

I would like to thank Constanze Zimmer for providing the photographs to illustrate this blog entry and for additional information about the mount-making process. If you have any comments or questions please post them below. When the object is finally installed I’ll provide an update here.

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The Robert H Smith Renaissance Sculpture Programme

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.

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A Tunic from Egypt: Part 3

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.

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Wryttyng is sumwhat tedius and paynfull….

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.

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Picturing the Past

May 20th, 2009

 By Stuart Frost

Untitled, about 1858. William Lyndon Smith (1835-65). Museum no. E.292-2008. Given by David Lyndon Smith.A major milestone was reached last month when the gallery space that will become The Renaissance City 1350-1600 was handed back to the V&A by the contractors. With the opening of the galleries a little over six months away everyone who is working on the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries is working at a formidable level. Major and minor milestones are passing, and receding into the distance, at a rapid rate.

Installation of complex objects in Gallery 50 is continuing to make good progress. The gallery texts have been through the third proofing stage. Work is also almost complete on the publications that will complement the galleries. From my own point of view the development of gallery films, touch-screen interactives, audios and other more hands-on activities continues at a pace. I’ve been posting images of the manufacture of handling objects, such as a 16th-century gauntlet, on Flickr intending to use them in blog entries but then failing to do so. I must catch up!

Untitled, About 1858, Roger Fenton (1819-69). Albumen print. Museum no. 31:986.There has been a concerted effort amongst the team to track down any remaining photographs of buildings or objects that are required for gallery graphics or interactives. The V&A has significant collections related to both photographs and architecture so in obtaining images we’re aware that we have high standards to maintain. In 1858 the V&A (or South Kensington Museum as it was then) became the first museum to host a major exhibition of photographs.

Over the course of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project I’ve developed a deepening appreciation for photography generally and architectural photography in particular. A selection of fifteen photographic prints will be included in the exciting new daylit gallery space in a display entitled Living With The Past. These photographs will highlight some of the most significant buildings built in medieval and Renaissance Europe through a nineteenth century lense. The prescence of daylit, filtered through a remarkable glass roof, means that of necessity only reproduction prints will be displayed in this space. However visitors will be able to see the original photographs in the Print Study Room by appointment should they wish to do so.

The Photography Gallery, Room 38a, at the V&A has always been one of my favourite rooms. The display has recently been rehung and I was keen to see which photographs had been selected from the Museum’s vast collections. Some of the photographs chosen have been hung in a way that evokes the approach used in the 1858 exhibition. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a couple of examples that I think are particularly appropriate. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do. As always if you’d like to know more about the image, click on the picture.

The photograph immediately above shows the west facade of Lincoln cathedral. The picture at the top of this blog entry is of a ruined Gothic church that remains enigmatically unidentified in the label text. If you do recognise the building please post your identification below!

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Saint George’s Day

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.

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