In Touch with Our Past

Stuart Frost

Bronze Door Knocker, 1550-1600, Venice. Museum No.  M.30-1951Over the last week or so I’ve been focussed on writing draft labels for a series of touch objects for the new Medieval and Renaissance displays.  If you’d like to read one or two examples click on the images reproduced here to see the text. We’ve tried to ensure that in each of the ten galleries there will be at least one original object that visitors can handle. We want the experience of visiting the displays to be a multi-sensory one where people can actively explore. 

We selected the objects quite some time ago. My curatorial colleagues suggested objects that they thought would be suitable. We visited each one in the relevant store to establish a list of the strongest contenders. Then the Collection was asked to approve the use of the object, and the Conservation Department made an assessment of its suitability. I’ve illustrated this blog entry with a selection of those that have made it on the final list.

Given that the collections cover the period 300-1600 I’m sure you’ll appreciate that it hasn’t always been easy to identify appropriate objects, particularly for the earlier centuries. The ideal touch object has to be durable enough to withstand daily contact without suffering any damage. At the same time the object has to offer an interesting tactile experience otherwise there is little point in including it.Glass replica of the 'Chellini Madonna, glass, made around 1976.

We have made things a little more difficult for ourselves by picking objects that help illustrate characteristics of the major period styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerism. The touch object for the Romanesque style needed to fall within a date range of approximately 1000-1200 and proved particularly challenging. Nevertheless we’ve managed to identify a fantastic architectural detail from a church doorway. I’m very pleased with the selection of objects that we’ve made. Some of the objects are wonderfully large and hopefully will encourage social use and discussion.

Each object will have a standard label and a descriptive text in Braille. I have written draft descriptions and later in November we’ll be testing them with visitors to help us further refine them. A number of visually-impaired visitors have kindly agreed to give up some of their time to help. They will come to the V&A, test the touch-objects and evaluate the Braille descriptions so that we can finalise them.Linenfold Panel, 1500-1600. Museum No. Circ.156-1928

There is still plenty of work to be done. The mounting of some of the objects, because of their scale or weight, will test the ingenuity of the design team. The touch objects needed to be fully integrated with the relevant subject display but without disrupting the overall aesthetic. They need to be at a height that’s suitable for all visitors. The graphic designers will have to find an elegant way of communicating to visitors that they can touch these objects. In short, there is still plenty of work to be done!

Please use the comment facility below to let us know what you think of our touch objects and draft texts. The texts are in the process of being reviewed by curatorial specialists so they represent work in progress. They will be edited by our internal editor, Lucy Trench, in due course.

4 thoughts on “In Touch with Our Past

Martha Schreffler:

Stuart, thank you for posting the pictures of the Tristan quilt. I corresponded with Helen Persson several years ago with many questions while I worked on a wallhanging in the same style. I am currently putting together a new quilt in the same sequence of squares, i.e. six main story squares with the side and bottom borders. I have more questions now that it’s out and being looked at. Is it possible to correspond with you about it? Thanks in advance – Martha Schreffler


Hi Martha,

I’m glad you like the pictures of the quilt. My colleague Simon took them on a recent store visit. I’ll post a blog entry about the quilt in due course – it is a fantastic object. In the meantime I’ll contact you directly with some more information about the quilt. It is great to know that it is providing people like yourself with inspiration for their own work.

Thanks for posting your comment.


Linda Mazzoleni:

Dear Stuart Frost,
I`m an Italian graduate of the Art History (the Sapienza University of Rome) and now I am in London because my specialist final dissertation is focused on the British Galleries at the V&A
and the other new areas. I`m interested in the Museum Studies and if it is possible I would like have brochures and articles on Medieval and Renaissance new sections, please.
Yours sincerely,
Linda Mazzoleni
(Student of the Specialist degree in Museum and Cultural Heritage Education in the Sapienza University of Rome)


Dear Linda,

The FuturePlan web-site is useful for up-to-date information about the project. You can find details of our front-end audience research on the Research section of the main V&A website.

I’ll also email you some documents that you might find helpful.

Good luck with your dissertation.

Best wishes,


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