Tag Archives: handling session

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.

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.

 

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

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.