Travelling Treasures

By Stuart Frost

Reliquary Bust of St AntigiusColleagues at the V&A have been working hard to develop a touring exhibition of highlights from the medieval and Renaissance collections. The show will open at its first venue in the United States on the 23 June 2007. The Medieval and Renaissance Treasures show will then travel to four other venues in north America and one in the UK. After the exhibition closes at the final venue in May 2009 the objects will return to the V&A ready for installation in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.

There is vast amount of work involved in creating a touring exhibition, especially one that travels to six different venues. The logistics involved are rather daunting and a large number of people have been involved in pulling the exciting displays together. The venues have all been confirmed, the objects have been selected and the texts and catalogue have been written and edited. Conservation work on objects destined for the show has been taking place for some time. In many instances work for the touring exhibition has raised some significant new questions about how the objects should be displayed. 

Conservation Work in ProgressThe object illustrated here, a reliquary bust of St Antigius, is a good example. The bust is hollow and was designed to hold relics associated with the saint. The bust can be easily dismantled into several pieces. The head and neck for example can be lifted out of the shoulders. The relics are no longer present. When they were present most worshippers would not have been allowed to touch them, the privilege would only occasionally have been granted to high-ranking or wealthy individuals. The reliquary was designed to provide relatively easy access to its precious contents.

At a later date in the reliquary’s history, in the twentieth century but before it entered the Museum’s collection, a new internal supporting structure was added to hold the head more securely in place. During a recent examination of the object it became clear that the head and neck have been displayed at the V&A lower than originally intended. As a result St Antigius looked rather stocky and bull-necked. The photographs reproduced here show the head in the two different positions, with the head higher and lower. The images were taken in one of the Conservation Studios and show Metals Conservator Donna Stevens assessing the object. Click on the images for a larger picture and more information about the object.

Conservation Work in ProgressI don’t there is any doubt that the St Antigius looks more elegant when his head is supported on a longer neck. The head has now been raised about half-way up to its original height. It isn’t possible to fully extend the neck without revealing earlier iron repairs.

I’ll add more information about the touring exhibition here at a later date. If you’d like to ask a question about the reliquary bust or the exhibition please use the comment link. I’ll do my best to provide a helpful answer promptly.

2 thoughts on “Travelling Treasures

Sandi Caldwell:

You did not mention the sites and dates of the 4 US venues. I live in the US and am a member of a medieval reenactment group. I am very interested in seeing this exhibition if at all possible. Would you please let me know where and when the exhibitions will occur? Thank you.


Thanks for your question Sandi. The venues and dates for the touring show are as follows: Art Gallery of Ontario (23 June 2007 – 7 October 2007); Norton Museum, West Palm Beach (20 October 2007 – 6 January 2008); Speed Museum, Louisville (22 January 2008- 20 April 2008); The Metropolitan Museum, New York (20 May 2008 – 17 August 2008); High Museum of Art, Atlanta (11 October 2008 – 4 January 2009); Sheffield Millennium Galleries (29 January 2009 – 24 May 2009). It is possible that dates might change slightly so it is worth checking closer the time. A section about the touring show will be added to the V&A website shortly.

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