Thursday 24 November 2016

A research visit to the V&A by Elizabeth Chadwick

A few weeks ago I went to the V&A museum to see the Opus Anglicanum exhibition of medieval embroidery.  Click here for the V&A's exhibition details  It is utterly fabulous and well worth the £12 entrance fee.  It's also a one off as many of the exhibits come from other storage facilities and museums round the world and the fragility of some of the items means they will rarely be on display, and certainly not in a gathering of similar pieces.  So, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a collection of this wonderful English embroidery once world famous and coveted.   A tip that was passed on to me and which I found invaluable, is to take a magnifying glass so that you can see the fine detail of the stitches.
If you are unable to get to the exhibition, Yale University Press has produced a superb book detailing the story of this style of embroidery and including full colour photographs and 'biographical' details of all the exhibits.  It is not cheap at around £35-£40 but at the same time it's gorgeous, detailed and much more than a coffee table book (although it is big and heavy so you might need to rest it on a coffee table!).

Photography in the exhibition was not permitted, but the book has finely detailed images and the url above also displays some of the items on exhibit.

The themes are mostly religious, with the occasional moment of regal and baronial bling thrown in - such as fragments of horse trappings and seal bags bearing the lions of England.  The ecclesiastical copes are just stunning. My particular favourite exhibit was the one on the way out and is a pall belonging to the guild of Fishmongers, made in the early 16th century and depicting a wonderful  golden-haired mermaid holding up her mirror and with her reflection stitched inside it. I also rather liked some of the facial expression on the exhibits, especially the jolly, mischievous horses!

Although I couldn't take photographs at the exhibition,  photography was permitted elsewhere in the museum and I took the opportunity to visit several galleries. As well as the European Medieval galleries which I often visit,  I was particularly interested in Islamic Art of the Middle East this time around because my current work in progress, TEMPLAR SILKS, has deposited my hero William Marshal in the Middle East for two years of his life and there was so much cross culture in the region that he would have seen very similar items to those on display.  Here is a selection of the pictures I took for my visual archive.

13th  century Syrian glass lamp depicting a falconer
Rock crystal ewer 1000-1050 Egypt

Rock crystal container 975-1050 Egypt
Incense burner 1250-1300 Egypt or Syria 
writing box Egypt 1302

moulded earthenware water flask 1200-1400 Syria

Filter in the neck of a water jar to protect from impurities.


Joan Lennon said...

That magnifying glass tip is fabulous, and for just about any museum object - I'm always wanting to see more closely! Off to look for one with a travel case!

Penny Dolan said...

Treasures indeed. That glassware is so beautifully varied. Thanks for that "magnifying glass" tip from me too! Might even add a good quality, neatly-portable one to my Christmas List. (Oh dear. I know they almost always have handles and are light enough to be portable. Perhaps I should specify "folding?))

Marjorie said...

I went on Sunday - it's fascinating, isn't it? I liked the mermaid, too, and the cope with all the birds on.

Carol Drinkwater said...

What glorious craftsmanship. Thank you for sharing moments from the exhibition with us all.