Picturing the Past

May 20, 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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