British Museum Handling Session: Micro-architecture

In February 2015 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman kindly permitted Courtauld staff and students to examine micro-architectural objects in the British Museum.

We saw two wonderful ivories with fairly generic Gothic baldachins, along with this extraordinary 10c (?) ivory cylinder with Passion narratives. This 12c censer cover is an especially wonderful example of dozens of similar objects, and later metalwork objects included this 15c Swiss shrine and this early 14c casket with French and English heraldry. Then there was a whole group of seals, including this from Langdon Priory, this remarkable 1322 seal impression from Cottingham Abbey, and this 13c double-sided seal matrix from Scotland. Finally we looked at this very curious lead object showing the Annunciation in an  elaborate architectural setting:

badge

Amongst others, we asked the following questions in relation to these objects:

1) does the object relate to ‘real’ buildings (if so, are these necessarily contemporary, and has this assumption been used to date the object?)
2) Does the architecture carry any specific symbolic/iconographic/representational meaning?
3) Is there evidence for setting out of the architecture (compass points, lines etc), which might reveal the setting out process (and, potentially, the role of drawing)
4) Is scale especially relevant to the object?
5) Might the object feasibly transmit architectural designs (and was it produced in quantity?)?
6) Does the object shed light on relations between masons/metalworkers etc?

In preparation for the session we held a Reading Group focused on the following texts:

  • Achim Timmerman, ‘Multum in parvo: Microarchitecture in the Medieval West, c. 800-1550’, In: Richard Etlin, ed, The Cambridge History of Religious Architecture of the World (forthcoming)
  • Paul Binski, Gothic Wonder. Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style, 1290-1350 (Yale UP, 2014), 121-60.
  • Sarah M. Guérin, ‘Meaningful Spectacles: Gothic Ivories Staging the Divine’, The Art Bulletin, 95: 1, 53-77.
  • François Bucher, ‘Micro-Architecture As the ‘Idea’ of Gothic Theory and Style’, Gesta, 15: 1-2, 71-89.
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