Tangled Up in Time

By Stuart Frost

There are so many colleagues working on so many different aspects of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project that it is difficult to know where to start when trying to update people about progress. In fact I won’t even try to be comprehensive. At the moment every member of the project is fully occupied by the challenge of juggling multiple tasks simultaneously.

Developing ideas for timelines and orientation graphics.From an interpretation point-of-view work is continuing on a wide range of interactives and other devices. The concepts for many of the activities were finalised quite easily. Other interactives have proved much more difficult to resolve. Something that has been proving particularly challenging to crack is the concept for a large graphic timeline. This will occupy the wall of a corridor that will connect one of the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries with the study centre. There are at least two appropriate approaches for a large scale graphic here.

One viable approach is to provide a graphic to remind visitors of scope of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project at the V&A before they reach (or leave) a key orientation area at the heart of the gallery sequence. There are ten galleries spaces on four different levels. The photograph included here shows one option which my colleagues Simon and Elin mocked-up to test. One object is used to represent each of the ten Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, the gallery images are then arranged in the roughly chronological order visitors will probably experience them in. Each image is accompanied by a short description of the gallery narrative.

The second approach is to opt for a timeline covering the date range 300-1600, providing visitors with key dates, facts and context to help give them a sense of the scope of the period covered by the displays. Images of key objects would be used to provide visual enticement to draw visitors in. Some well known dates and events would be included to provide visitors with familiar reference points. Other less familiar dates would be added to support the project narratives. However how do you cover 1300 years of history adequately over 8 or so meters of wall? It is impossible to include everything and everyone will have their own view of what should be included and what shouldn’t be omitted. If too much information is provided people won’t be able to take it in.

We have drawn up a short list of dates. I suspect that many of them will be completely unfamiliar to most people.  Do you know off hand, for example, the major historical events that occurred in 313, 410 or on Christmas Day 800? Do you know the dates for any historical events between 300-1600 at all?  Are there any dates that you feel have to be included on the timeline? If you have any comments please post your responses via the comments facility below.

This timeline conundrum is just one small aspect of the intellectual framework for the galleries. In the overall scheme of things it isn’t an expensive or technically complex piece of interpretation. However that it isn’t preventing it from being quite a challenge to finalise. Fortunately we have Holmes-Wood, the graphic designers for the galleries, to work with and they are bringing all of their expertise to bear to help develop a solution. I’m sure that the project team will get this timeline right. However once it is in place I doubt that visitors will have any idea of how much thought and effort went into developing it.

From my own point of view the completion of the project in November 2009 no longer seems so distant. I often find it hard to believe that I have been working on the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project since June 2002. There were four of us at the first project meeting.  Now the Medieval and Renaissance project impacts on just about everybody working at the V&A in some way. I’ve started feel in recent weeks that time is slipping away more rapidly than ever and that in terms of the overall project timeline we have really entered the final stages.

2 thoughts on “Tangled Up in Time


1300 years across eight meters of wall — that’s a bit more than a half-centimeter per year, isn’t it? You could have a horizontal line across the wall, with highlighted items from the collection above the line, relevant historical events below the line, and tick marks across the line to point out the years.

(Perhaps it would make more sense to go by decade, though; that way, you’d have a bit more room for the timeline events, and you wouldn’t have to have the type be vertical. Plus, there wouldn’t be as much pressure to find something particularly relevant about each possible year — just the highlights of that decade, perhaps? Births and deaths of important people; reigns of kings & queens; significant battles and wars; artwork & architecture & literature, etc.)

Lots of historical dates between 300-1600 that really ought to be on the timeline, of course! Is there a particular section of the timeline that’s looking a little thin, date-wise?

Frost Stuart:

Thanks for posting your comment – much appreciated. Datewise I’d say the section that needs most work is between 400-800. Any suggestions would be welcome! Part of the challenge is finding events that really connect with people and draw them into the period. For example, I don’t think it is enough just to say:

800 Charlemagne crowned Emperor of the Romans

I think there needs to be an additional sentence that helps set the event into a meaningful context.

We’ve thought about breaking the timeline down into three sub-categories: People, Art & Architecture, and Historical Events.

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