Tag Archives: British Museum

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

Conference Sicily: Heritage of the World British Museum 24-25th June 2016

PalermoThis two-day conference accompanies the exhibition Sicily: culture and conquest.   It will focus on two periods of enlightenment that stand out in Sicily’s history – Greek settlement from the 8th to 3rd centuries BC, and Norman rule in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. There will be papers on recent research, new excavations, and the economy and architecture of the island, as well as highlighting the importance of the island’s UNESCO sites.

A full programme is attached.  Booking is essential through the British Museum website.

Tickets £50
Members/Concessions £35

The event will be held in the Stevenson Lecture Theatre.  Registration begins at 09.30 with the first presentation at 10.00.
Organised by the British Museum in collaboration with the Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana.
Sicily conference programme 24-25 June 2016

Talk: The Making of the British Museum’s ‘Sicily’ Exhibition 1st June 2016

sicily_lead_624The Making of the British Museum’s Sicily Exhibition

Dr Dirk Booms, Department of Greek and Roman, British Museum, in conversation with Dr Caroline Goodson.

Dr. Booms, the curator of the current landmark exhibtion Sicily: Culture and Conquest, will discuss the process of developing this exhibition, from first concept to final installation.

6 pm, 1 June 2016 Room G16, Main Building (Malet Street) Birkbeck, University of London Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX

This event is free; all are welcome to attend.

For further information, email: c.goodson@bbk.ac.uk

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.

British Museum Handling Session: Agnus Dei

In November 2015 Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman of the British Museum treated Courtauld staff and students to another handling session, this time of a diverse range of objects with the iconography of the Agnus Dei. The session was kindly led by Irene Galandra Cooper, who is studying the Agnus Dei as part of her PhD, which forms part of the Domestic Devotions project at Cambridge: Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600.

Agnus Dei 1

Throughout the Middle Ages and Early Modern period the Agnus Dei iconography was closely associated with the wax discs made from the remains of the Paschal candles at St Peter’s, stamped with the Lamb of God, and distributed by the Papacy as gifts. This 16c print gives a sense of the near-industrial scale of this operation, while a number of Agnus Dei medallions and pendants testify to the apotropaic associations these objects soon acquired. We also looked at this niello plate medallion inscribed with the YHS, a late medieval pilgrim badge, an Agnus Dei seal impression, a reliquary case and 14c signet ring. As ever, it was the moulds that provoked particular discussion:

Agnus Dei 2

The lower of these two, apparently cast in bronze, appears to have a number of low relief moulds in which soft lead could be pressed, presumably to make brooches and badges to be pinned to clothes and hats. This record of the kinds of ephemeral objects that rarely survive raised lots of questions: who would use a mould like this, and what market does it attest to? Did these badges signal political and social affiliations, religious beliefs, or something more superficial? The wonderful fragment of a Wheel of Fortune was thought particularly intriguing.

In preparation for this session we read the following texts:

Lightbown, Chapter 22, ‘Pendants: II’, Medieval European Jewellery, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992

Cherry, ‘Containers for Agnus Dei’, Through a Glass Brightly: Studies in Byzantine and Medieval Art and Archaeology Presented to David Buckton, ed. C. Entwistle, Oxford, 2003, 171-84

S. Bertelli, Chapter 1, The King’s body : the sacred rituals of power in medieval and early modern Europe; translated by R. Burr Litchfield, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

 

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.

 

British Museum Handling Session: Master W and Key and late-gothic architectural prints 

an00059980_001_lThanks to the assistance of Lloyd De Beer and Naomi Speakman, both in progress with individual collaborative PhDs at the British Museum, the Courtauld has organised several handling sessions for postgraduate students over the past few years – you can read a report from an earlier session here.
The March session was kindly hosted by the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings department, and focused on Master W and Key (active c. 1465–1490), an anonymous Netherlandish engraver named after the shape of his monogram. Most of the eighty-two extant works by this artist are ornament prints, but he is also known for his engravings of ships, the first known representations of this kind.
Both aspects of the Master’s production were discussed during the handling session, when we had the opportunity to analyze several prints by the artist, including:
While the ships may be connected with the ducal fleet of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, scholars have generally interpreted the architectural prints as patterns to be used by craftsmen in the workshop. Nevertheless, discussion during the session raised many questions on the cost, circulation and market of such early prints. Although a modern perspective may see the printed image as a cheap, mass-produced medium, these early architectural  examples are very complex, and often required the painstaking engraving of more than one plate, printed on multiple sheets. Would such time-consuming creations really have offered a more convenient alternative to the exchange of drawings among workshops? What other reasons may have contributed to the spread of such designs?
Although this remained an open question, consideration of prints such as Alart du Hameel’s Design for a Gothic baldachin  revealed that early architectural prints could be intentionally used to advertise their maker’s expertise in design and geometry: this print features a prominent signature, a mason’s mark, and an abbreviated ground-plan which seems to imply superior technical expertise. The same consummate skill is show in Wenzel von Olmütz’s Elevation of a Gothic Pinnacle with a Hexagonal Ground Plan, although in contrast to du Hameel, Olmütz did not sign his creation, and positioned plan and elevation one above the other, as typical of other Gothic drawings and of the Gothic design process in general.
Other treats of the handling session included Emperor Heraclius entering Jerusalem with the upright True Cross, designed by Alart du Hameel but signed ‘Bosche,’ presumably in an attempt to partake of the painter’s fame; Master ES’ figured alphabet; Albrecht Dürer’s large coloured drawing of a Gothic table fountain.
Objects for the session were selected by Dr Ursula Weekes, Dr Tom Nickson and Costanza Beltrami. We also put together a short list of suggested reading on the theme of late-Gothic architectural prints and alphabets:
Kik, Oliver, ‘From Lodge to Studio: Transmissions of Architectural Knowledge in the Southern Low Countries, 1480–1530.’ In The Notion of the Painter-Architect in Italy and the Southern Low Countries, edited by Piet Lombaerde (Turnhout, 2014)
Waters, Michael, ‘A Renaissance without Order: Ornament, Single-sheet Engravings and the Mutability of Architectural Prints,’ Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 71, no. 4 (December 2002), pp. 488-523
Kavaler, Matt, ‘Gossart as Architect,’ and the entries on The Virgin and Child with Musical Angels (p. 126) and The Malvagna Diptych (p. 136) in Maryan W. Ainsworth (ed.), Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jean Gossart’s Renaissance: The Complete Works (New Haven and London, 2010)
Boekeler, Erika, ‘Building Meaning: The First Architectural Alphabet’. In Push Me, Pull You: Art and Devotional Interaction in Late Medieval & Early Modern Europe, eds S. Blick & L. Gelfand; E.J. (Brill, 2011), pp. 149-195.