23 December 2014

Tuesday is drawing day - medieval gallery at the V&A

What treasures there! A person could be very happily drawing any of them. The first thing that caught my eye were these carvings of St Catherine of Alexandria and St Barbara (it must have been the gold) -
and after a moment you notice the man ... "I have no idea what that man is doing under my skirt," said St Barbara ... though perhaps she's crushing her infidel father. She is meant to protect people from sudden death, and is the patron saint of, among others, miners and mathematicians. She is invoked against thunder and lightning and all accidents arising from explosions of gunpowder.

Next to these gilded wood carvings were another St Barbara, and my object of choice, St Anne holding the Virgin and Child. These three have been painted by Leonardo (1499) and Masaccio (1424), Two of the three are the fruit of immaculate conception. St Anne was Mary's mother; the question is, why is she holding a book? Anne is the patron saint of infertile and pregnant women; the grouping (known as Anna Selbdritt in Germany) celebrates the virtues of motherhood and female domesticity.

The carving comes from Mechelen, Belgium, made 1500-1520. In addition to this carving, in a different configuration, and several others, the V&A has yet another carving of the trio, sitting under a canopy, made in the 1520s; the notes for it say: "The earliest examples of this composition date from the late 1400s. Most of the surviving pieces were made in the 15th and 16th centuries. These three-figure groups were made as a single religious image. From the 1400s onwards the group was often part of a larger composition known as the Holy Kindred or 'Heilige Maagschap' .This showed St Anne as a young woman with the Virgin and Christ Child. It also included St Anne's three husbands, and her three daughters with their husbands and children."

I couldn't resist adding just a bit of colour -
On the way to the cafe we encountered a carol concert - the choir in the gallery in front of the Hereford Screen -
a sizeable crowd gathering to listen - it was lovely! In the middle of the dazzling sunlight, you might just be able to make out the museum's ultramodern xmas tree -
After coffee, a revisiting of the objects from our sketchbooks, and a search for information on other seen in passing - for instance the "inhabited vine scroll" -
My second chosen object was a stall end made in King's Lynn about 1419; at the time the city was a major port. The museum has two stall parts from St Nicholas Chapel there -

The carving has a gamut of celestial phenomena - moon, stars, clouds, sun ... and a strange shape below the sun. What look like raised bands for the waves are actually troughs, carved into the wood. It's hard to see the fish properly, as there's a low railing at some distance from the wall.

Mike drew our attention to the Luck of Edenhall, a famous glass with a good legend attached.
The glass was made in Syria in the middle of the 14th century, and the case was made in France in the 15th century. Its survival is thought to be due in part to the Christian IHS initials on the case, sparing it from destruction as an "infidel" object. The glass eventually descended into the possession of the Musgrave family, of Edenhall in Cumberland, England, and gained a reputation as a fairy cup, left behind by fairies who, it was said, had been disturbed while drinking at St Cuthbert's Well in the Garden of Edenhall: "being interrupted by the intrusion of some curious people, they were frightened, and made a hasty retreat, and left the cup in question: one of the last screaming out, 'If this cup should break or fall, Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.' "

Jo was intrigued by this elephant candlestick -
which is a lot easier to see on a bright screen than in the lowered lighting of the gallery.

From the V&A's description: "This candlestick highlights a fashion in the 12th and 13th centuries for designs of beasts and monsters on domestic objects. The Elephant and Castle represented here was an exotic motif inspired by the use of elephants in Eastern warfare. Towers were placed upon the backs of the elephants from which soldiers could fire arrows or throw missiles. Elephants were a source of great fascination in medieval Europe because they were little known. In England only the King owned an elephant in his menagerie at the Tower of London."

Looking ahead
Some desirable objects for "next time" at the V&A - in the medieval gallery, this column -
In the cast courts, this screen has enticing ribbons and punctured leaves (bottom right) -
 An "austere jar" in the Korean display, made 100-500, before the introduction of glazing - it has lovely incised marks and a jaunty angle -
But first I'd like to take forward some of the images from recent weeks; museum sessions resume on 6 January, but there are two Tuesdays in between, for drawing in the studio.

1 comment:

magsramsay said...

Good choices! Sorry to have missed joining in but hopefully on another occasion....