Category Archives: Excursions

British Museum Handling Session: The Trinity

GodwinOn Wednesday 24 January 2018 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman once again welcomed a group of staff and students from The Courtauld and elsewhere, as well as Sophie Kelly, PhD student from the University of Kent. The focus of our session was objects in the British Museum collection with links to the Trinity.

We looked at eleven objects with Trinitarian iconography, the earliest of which was the walrus ivory seal die of Godwin the Thane, dating from the early eleventh century. Beautifully carved with iconography inspired by Psalm 109 (110), ‘The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand and I will make thine enemies thy footstool’. The decoration on the handle consists of God the Father and Son in relief, enthroned over a prostrate human figure. We were very interested to investigate the evidence of damage above the two figures which, we agreed, was likely to have once included a symbol of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove.

The Trinity also features on a fourteenth-century circular bronze seal-matrix (with wax impression) with a loop at top. Here the Trinity is depicted as three near-identical figures with an inscription ‘SCA TRINITAS.VHVS.DEVS’. The third seal which we saw was the fifteenth-century circular bronze seal-matrix (with wax impression) of the Friars of the Holy Trinity, Hounslow. Under a Gothic canopy with side-tabernacles the Trinity is depicted in a manner which allowed us to discuss different ways of representing the Trinity in the Middle Ages. Here, the iconography known as the Throne of Grace (Gnadenstuhl), is used. In these depictions of the Trinity, God the Father is seated and holds the cross upon which Jesus Christ is crucified in front of his lap, with the dove of the Holy Spirit alongside. This iconography became popular from the thirteenth century and is seen across a wide range of artistic media, including manuscripts, stained glass and stone carving. The Trinity depicted as the Throne of Grace also appeared on a late Medieval gold finger ring. With the help of a magnifying glass we were able to appreciate the detailed depiction of the Trinity on the oval bezel of the ring, which included the dove which is shown between Christ’s right arm and God the Father.

 

Black Prince badgeWe discussed Plantagenet devotion to the Trinity evidenced through the lead Badge of the Black Prince of c.1376 which shows the Black Prince kneeling before Trinity (although the dove is missing). The Black Prince wears a tabard with Arms of England and has thrown down his gauntlet before him; above him is an angel in clouds holding his shield. We also looked at two Anglo-Saxon ivory plaques depicting the Crucifixion. Above the head of Christ, the Hand of God is depicted, thereby alerting us to the presence of two persons of the Trinity. This led to discussion related to how we might understand images where one of the member of the Trinity is ‘missing’; can the presence of the other person be implied?

 

An object which we all found challenging was a wood-carved relief representing the Trinity (also in the Throne of Mercy composition) dated 1450-1500 and including depictions of the Annunciation, St Francis of Assisi, St Bernardino and St Sebastian. The largest object encountered was a late Medieval alabaster Coronation of the Virgin which still shows traces of painting and gilding. Here the Virgin is surrounded by the persons of the Trinity represented as three crowned figures.

close looking

In preparation for the handling session we read the following texts and discussed them at a reading group the night before:

 

Bernard McGinn, ‘Theologians as Trinitarian Iconographers’, In: Jeffrey Hamburger and Anne-Marie Bouché The Mind’s Eye. Art and Theological Argument in the Middle Ages, Princeton, 2006, 186-207

André Grabar, ‘Dogmas Expressed in a Single Image’, In: Christian Iconography. A Study of its Origins, London, 1969, 112-127

Jacobus De Voragine, ‘The Holy Spirit’, In: The Golden Legend, Princeton, 1993, 299-306

We looked at the definition of the Trinity in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford, 1997), and were interested to explore the tension between theology and iconography. In particular, how can dogma such as the Trinity be represented? Grabar and McGinn have contrasting views on what constitutes ‘successful’ iconography; McGinn sees artistic experimentation and lack of iconographic stability as positives, whereas Grabar suggests that the fact an image appears in limited or isolated circumstances makes it a failure. To aid our discussions, we looked at some manuscript images of the Trinity. These included: British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius C vi (Tiberius Psalter); British Library, MS Cotton Titus D. xxvii (Ælfwine’s Prayerbook); British Library, MS Add. 34890 (Grimbald Gospels); British Library MS Cotton B IV (Aelfric’s Hexateuch); British Library, MS Harley 603 (Harley Psalter); MS Lansdowne 383 (the Shaftesbury Psalter); Winchester Bible, Winchester Cathedral; and St John’s College, Cambridge, MS K 26 (St John’s Psalter). We discussed the experimental nature of Trinitarian iconography and how this might help us understand the chancel wall painting of the Throne of Grace at the Church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk which is unique, and the earliest known appearance of this motif.

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Doctoral Students Open Day at the British Library – Pre-1600 Collections

BLA reminder for PhD students with research interests relating to the ancient, medieval and early modern worlds: the British Library’s Doctoral Open Day for our pre-1600 collections will take place on 5 February 2018. The day is aimed at first-year doctoral students who would like to learn more about finding and using our collection material for their research. The approach is interdisciplinary and useful for students working on topics in classics, history, literature, history of art, religion, and the history of science and medicine. You can book your place on the Events page. A ticket to attend costs £10, including lunch and refreshments. The number of places is limited, so booking in advance is necessary.

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WALKING TOUR OF THE MEDIEVAL BOOK TRADE OF PARIS

medieval ParisWALKING TOUR OF THE MEDIEVAL BOOK TRADE OF PARIS, led by Christopher de Hamel and Sandra Hindman

Saturday April 8, 2017 Walk at 10 AM

Advanced registration essential: Tel +33 (0)1 42 60 15 58 info@lesenluminures.com http://www.lesenluminures.com
The group will meet outside the west front of Notre-Dame, where the outlines of the former medieval street of the rue Neuve-Notre-Dame are marked on the paving. Right here was the absolute dawn of the book trade in Europe. Here the earliest professional booksellers had their shops from around 1200, together with parchment-sellers, illuminators, scribes and book-binders. The locations of their shops can often be located precisely from the medieval tax records. We will conjure up the businesses in this little street of Emery d’Orléans, libraire (d.1246); Nicholas Lombard, libraire 1248-76; and others. We will stand where the husband and wife team of Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston illuminated romances in the fourteenth century. We see the precise spots where the celebrated Jacques de Besançon illuminated manuscripts in 1472-94 and where Simon Vostre sold luxurious printed books in 1486-1518. We will cross the Petit Pont and walk up the rue St-Jacques, towards the site of the great Dominican convent and publishers of the works of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

We will pass the locations of the shops of the booksellers Alain Spinefort, 1491-1506, Claude Jaumar 1493-1500, and others, turning right up the rue de la Parcheminerie, where many medieval scribes and illuminators had houses, including Ameline de Maffliers, a female illuminator in 1292-98, and from there into the little rue Erembourg de Brie (later rue des Enlumineurs). Many famous illuminators worked precisely here, including Honoré 1289-1312, Jean Pucelle (d.1334) and Jean le Noir (d. c.1380), illuminator of the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre and the Petites Heures of the duc de Berry. Finally, we will retrace our steps, back across the Ile de la Cité, over the Pont Notre-Dame, where the illuminator Maître François had his business on the left-hand side of the bridge in 1455-74, as later did the bookseller and printer Antoine Vérard (d.1513). We eventually reach Les Enluminures in the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the libraire principal of manuscripts in modern Paris, for a light lunch and an opportunity to see and buy original manuscripts illuminated and sold in the city in the Middle Ages.

Advanced registration essential: Tel +33 (0)1 42 60 15 58 or info@lesenluminures.com

les-enluminures—press-release-walking-tour

Locating Becket

How can the life and cult of Thomas Becket be traced through material culture? This was the question at the heart of the ‘Locating Becket’ workshop, sponsored by CHASE, and held at the British Library, British Museum and Courtauld Institute of Art on Tuesday 6th December 2016. Curators and scholars gathered first at the British Library to examine a number of manuscripts connected to Becket’s life and cult, including Cotton Claudius B II, with the earliest representation of Becket’s martyrdom (below). This fairly stable iconography  could be followed in later manuscripts, including the (very bloody) Huth Psalter (Add MS 38116 ), a 15th-century Book of Hours from Rouen (Harley 1251), and in two seals attached to Ch. 17353 and Harley Ch. 44 C 33.

martyrdom-thomas-becket-a80136-48

Becket’s martyrdom, from Alan of Tewkesbury’s letters, British Library Cotton MS Claudius B II, late 12th century. Image in the public domain.

An early collection of Becket’s miracles was also examined (Egerton MS 2818), as well as the early fourteenth-century ‘memorandum book’  of Prior Henry Eastry (Cotton Galba E. iv), which includes an inventory of Prior Eastry’s interventions, an extensive inventory of the sacristy, and an inventory of the library. Finally, we looked at the early fifteenth-century customary of Becket’s shrine (Additional 59616), with extensive instructions  for the celebration of his feast days, which is bound together with two copies of his lives which seem to have been kept at the shrine and read to pilgrims.

The afternoon was spent looking at the British Museum’s extraordinary collection of pilgrims’ badges, ampullae, reliquaries and other objects related to Becket, including the impression of the 15th-century seal of the Mercers Company (below), which shows Becket on a ship, returning from exile.

becket

Impression of a Mercers’ company seal matrix, after 1462

 

Below is a full list of the objects consulted at the British Museum:

Badges
1836,0610.32, ca. 1320-1450, Becket bust, purchased from Cureton.

1855,0804.70, ca. 1250-1350, Becket contained within a T, found Thames 1845, previous owner Chaffers, then Cureton.

1855,0724.5, head of Becket between two raised swords contained within an octofoil frame, ca. 1320-1450. Purchased from William Edwards.

1856,0701.2036, ca. 1300-1350, bust of Becket between a nine point star, inscription SANCTVS.THOMAS, found 22nd August 1850, purchased Charles Roach Smith.

1856,0701.2031 and 2032, two badges in the form of Becket’s bust, ca. 1320-1450, purchased Charles Roach Smith.

1856,0701.2039, ca. 1350-1400, four embossed fleur-de-lis in the form of a quatrefoil around a central boss, inscription SANTE.THOMA.OR.P.M., purchased Charles Roach Smith, previous collection Edward Wigan.

1868,0904.39, badge in the form of a kind of ship known as a cog, ca.1350-1400, donated by Franks.

2001,0702.1, Becket’s bust reliquary, ca. 1320-1375, found Billingsgate.

OA.1817, decorative sword sheath (referring to the relic of the sword tip) with Fitz Urse coat of arms, ca. 1350-1450.

2001,0702.2, Becket riding  a peacock, ca. 1250-1350, found Thames Exchange.

dec-2016-bm-handling-session

Ampullae

1891,0418.21, ampulla with circular openwork tracery. The obverse of the ampulla is embossed with the standing figure of St Thomas Becket in a bishop’s mitre and chasuble, with an equal-armed cross standing out from his breast. The reverse bears a representation of his martyrdom with Becket kneeling in the centre, inscription OPTIMUS EGRORVM.MEDICVS.FIT.THOMA.BONORVM, ‘May Thomas be the best doctor of the worthy sick’, ca. 1220-1420.

1896,0501.69, the front of the ampulla  depicts the standing figure of St Thomas Becket in mitre and chasuble,  making a gesture of benediction and holding a crosier. The reverse shows the  scene of his martyrdom with one knight faced by a kneeling Becket. The  frame is filled with openwork decoration of symmetrical sexfoil and fleur-de- lis motifs and a representation of the front- and back-view of a seated  Becket, depicted in episcopal garb, enclosed within a roundel. Inscription, REGENAKDVS.FILIVS HVRS:THOMAS:MARTIRIVM:FECE:FR., ‘Reginald Fitz Urse brought to pass the Martyrdom of Thomas’, donated by Franks.

2001,0702.3, chasse shaped ampulla, ca. 1250-1350, found Billingsgate.

2001,0702.6, ship-shaped ampulla (referring to Becket’s return from exile) with a high relief representation of Becket, ?ca. 1170-1250, found Billingsgate.

 

Seals

1880,0624.1, impression of Mercer’s company seal matrix, showing a  half-figure of St Thomas of Canterbury in a ship, inscriptions, ‘sigillu : anglicor in flandria : brabancia : hollandria: zeeladia : m’cat’ and ‘s. thomas catuar’, after 1462, found Harrow.

1913,1105.3, Langdon Priory seal matrices. On the obverse is a Virgin and Child seated in a canopied niche on a corbel. On the reverse is a scene of the  Martyrdom of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. 13th century. Inscriptions, ‘SIGILL’ . COMMVNE MONASTERII: ECCE: DE MARIE: DE: LANGEDON’ and ‘CAVSA: DOMVS: XPI: MORTEM: SIC: IRTVLIT ISTI’.

1981,1103.1, Seal-matrix: Warden of Greyfriars at Canterbury. Inscription, ‘SIG GARDIANI FRUM MINORU CANTUARIE’. Ca. 1330-1350.

casket-interior

Reliquaries and other objects

AF.2765, Reliquary pendant showing on the observes John the Baptist and possibly Thomas Becket on the reverse. Inscription, ‘A MON + dERREYNE’. Late 15th century, found Devizes.

1878,1101.3, Chasse depicting the martyrdom of Becket, ca. 1210, donated by Meyrick, previous collection Douce.

1852,0327.1, Henry of Blois plaques, made possibly in England, ca. 1150-1171. Inscriptions:
+ MVNERA GRATA DEO PREMISSVS VERNA FIGVRAT. ANGELVS AD  CELVM RAPIAT POST DONA DATOREM;. NE TAMEN ACCELERET NE  SVSCITET ANGLIA LVCTVS, CVI PXA VEL BELLVM MOTVSVE  QVIESVE PER ILLUM (= ‘The aforementioned slave shapes gifts pleasing to God.  May the angel take  the giver to Heaven after his gifts, but not just yet, lest England groan for it,  since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.’) + ARS AVRO GEMMISQ (UE) PRIOR, PRIOR OMNIBVS AVTOR.  DONA  DAT HENRICVS VIVVS IN ERE DEO, MENTE PAREM MVSIS (ET)  MARCO VOCE PRIOREM.  FAME VIRIS, MORES CONCILIANT  SUPERIS.  Also inscribed within the scene, HENRICUS EPISCOP  (‘Art comes before gold and gems, the author before everything.  Henry, alive in bronze, gives gifts to God.  Henry, whose fame commends him to  men, whose character commends him to the heavens, a man equal in mind to  the Muses and in eloquence higher than Marcus [that is, Cicero].’)

1854,0411.2, enamelled casket depicting the murder of Becket, 13th century, purchased from William Forrest.

1890,0809.1, alabaster panel showing the murder of Thomas Becket,

 

Prints and Drawings

1973,0512.3.2, Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea, Plate 2: the Trinity surrounded by angels in the upper section; two bishops in  brocaded cloaks in the lower section, after Niccolò Circignani, etching.

1973,0512.3.25, Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea, Plate 25: the martyrdom of St Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, the saint  kneeling before the altar, about to be martyred by a group of soldiers with  swords; scene separated from the background by a balustrade with balusters;  St Thomas named archbishop by Henry II at far left; saint kneeling before  Pope Alexander III seated on a throne, accompanied by two male attendants  at far right, etching.

illustration-to-bowyers-edition-of-humes-history-of-england-1793

Illustration to Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England, 1793

1853,1210.383, Illustration to Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England; the  assassination of Thomas Becket, wrestled to his knees by a gang of four  knights, one raising a bludgeon above him, his mitre and staff fallen at left.   1793, etching and engraving.

1856,0607.15, Portrait of Thomas Becket, head and shoulders to left, with hands joined in  prayer, wearing ecclesiastical robes, a sword wedged in his skull.  1647, etching.

The day concluded with a lecture at The Courtauld by Cynthia Hahn, ‘Like life-giving seeds: The Multiplication and Dissemination of Relics and Reliquaries‘.

This event was made possible through a CHASE Network Development Grant, with additional support from the University of Kent and The Courtauld.

British Museum Handling Session: Medieval Light

candlestock-bmOn 23rd November 2016 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman from the British Museum once again kindly allowed staff and students from The Courtauld to look at objects from the museum’s store rooms, focused on the theme of light.

We looked at a number of objects associated with the production of light, including a Byzantine brass lamp and polycandelon. This led to a long discussion about the kinds of shadows such objects would produce, and the use of olive oil for lamps across the Mediterranean. How would other objects on the altar be affected by the light from candles or lamps, we wondered, especially in relation to transparent reliquaries such as this late 13th- or early 14th-century example.

We then examined a number of candlesticks, including this bronze base for a candestick, probably made in 13th-century England; a Limoges pricket candlestick, of a kind found across medieval Europe; and a 15th-century silver candlestick, one of a set of altar implements from the church of Vera Cruz in Medina del Pomar (Spain). We wondered about the relative costs of olive oil vs wax, and the potential for collection and reuse of dripped wax.

We also discussed the custom of lighting candles around cult images, as implied by this 13th-century seal from York, and the story of St Blaise and the two wax candles, as shown in this 16th-century French seal. Finally, we spent a long time puzzling over the BM’s extraordinary candle-stock. This is one of a pair (the other is in Jesus College, Cambridge), but is otherwise a unique survival. It is made of wax and is tapered like a candle, but is richly decorated and completely hollow, so could never function like a candle. Instead it seems to have been a kind of disguised support for a candle, one that would give the impression that very large (and expensive) candles were being burnt.

We were accompanied in this handling session by Dr Mikkel Bille, an anthropologist from the University of Roskilde, who gave a lecture the previous evening as part of The Courtauld’s 2016 Frank Davies Lecture Series on Light and Darkness, organised by Tom Nickson and Stefania Gerevini. We were also joined by two artists from Lumen Studios. This was the latest in a series of workshops organised through the ‘Medieval Touch‘ research group.

light-handling-session

British Museum Handling Session: Becket and Pilgrimage

In January 2016 Courtauld staff and students enjoyed another chance to see some of the BM’s hidden treasures thanks to the kind help of Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman of the BM. This time the theme was the cult of Thomas Becket and other objects associated with pilgrimage

Becket 2 (1)

The BM has dozens of Becket pilgrims’ badges, produced in astonishing variety and throughout the Middle Ages. Most of these examples were dredged up from the river Thames:

13c badge showing Becket’s shrine

14c badge with a bell, inscribed with Thomas’ name

Best of all, the collection includes a number of moulds that are closely linked to badges, such as this one:

Late medieval badge showing Thomas on horseback

Mould for a badge

Or this one:

Becket gloves

Mould for gloves badge

Becket 2 (2)

We also looked at representations of Becket’s murder, from this early 13c Limoges reliquary chasse to this late medieval alabaster, as well as this 15c seal matrix showing Thomas in a in ship and this magnificent 13c seal from Langdon Priory. To finish off the session we also looked at a couple of late medieval prints promoting the shrine of the Beautiful Virgin at Regensburg: one showing the original church, the other the church planned (but never built) for the site.

This was partly an exploratory session for a series of workshops and conferences planned by Lloyd de Beer (UEA/British Museum), Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Emily Guerry (University of Kent) in the lead up to the anniversary of Becket’s death and translation in 2020.

In preparation for the handling session we read the following texts for a reading group the night before:

Sarah Blick, ‘Votives, Images, Interaction and Pilgrimage to the Tomb and Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 21-58
Martina Bagnoli, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann and James Robinson, eds, Treasures of heaven: saints, relics, and devotion in medieval Europe, Cleveland, Ohio, 2010, pp. 148-61 and catalogue nos 97-102
William D. Wixom, ‘In quinto scrinio de Cupro. A Copper Reliquary Chest Attributed to Canterbury: Style, Iconography, and Patronage’, In: Elizabeth C. Parker and Mary B. Shepard, eds, The Cloisters: studies in honor of the fiftieth anniversary, New York, 1992, 195-228
Jennifer Lee, ‘Searching for Signs: Pilgrims’ Identity and Experience made visible in the Miracula Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis’, In: Sarah Blick and Laura Deborah Gelfand, eds, Push me, pull you. Imaginative, emotional, physical, and spatial interaction in late medieval and Renaissance art, Leiden, 2011, 473-491.

 

The Constitutions of Clarendon blog also has a useful collection of images of Becket chasse reliquaries and manuscripts

BAA Study Day: Opus Anglicanum (26 Nov 2015)

embroidery_610[1]In the course of the later middle ages, embroiderers in England produced some of the masterpieces of the age. Incredibly detailed and painstakingly created their work was sumptuous and expensive. Often created as church vestments and commissioned by both ecclesiastical and secular patrons, the base textiles were embellished with gold and silver thread, a myriad of coloured silks, pearls and jewels. In advance of an exhibition devoted to this subject matter, and due to open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016, the BAA Study Day will examine some of the surviving treasures of Opus Anglicanum in store and on display at the Museum.  The day will begin at The Clothworkers Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at Blythe House (Kensington Olympia) and will continue in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at South Kensington.

Thursday, 26 November 2015
Blythe House

10.00am Welcome and coffee

10.30am Intro of pieces on show (Glyn Davies)

11am Techniques of making

11.30am Close looking and discussion

12.30am Lunch (independent – South Kensington)

V&A

2.00pm Reconvene at the V&A

2.15pm Embroidery displays in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (Glyn Davies leading)

3.15pm. Collecting Opus Anglicanum in post-Reformation and Victorian England (Emma Rogers)

3.45pm Discussion

4.15pm End/Tea in the Café

The cost of the day will be £20 for members. The event is free for students, for whom travel grants (to a maximum of £50) are also available.

 Places are limited to 20, of which up to 10 are reserved for students.

 To apply please e-mail Lloyd de Beer – ldebeer@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk –  by Thursday 12th November – either enclosing a cheque for £20 payable to the  ‘British Archaeological Association’ or stating that you are a student. In the event that a greater number of applications are received than there are places available a ballot will be held. Successful candidates will be contacted by email on Monday 16th November.