S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Return to the Renaissance

When printperson and I went through the V&A's At Home in Renaissance Italy show, we rushed it in the last 45 minutes of museum opening time. I returned today with visiting geesepalace for a proper look around the show. I still loved the rooms sketched out in life-sized metal frames, still thought their impact on lost, being black and black. But this time through, with more patience, many of the paintings which had previously felt gratuitous weren't. Small devotional images made sense when placed in the context of a devotional part of the show. Several of the paintings were also birth trays, which I hadn't noticed in last time's rush. (Birth trays: decorated trays used to give presents to newborns, usually later displayed as decorative objects in their own right.)

One of the highlights this time was the linen (handkerchief) press, a decorative wooden press with screws to exert pressure on the fabric. Another was a short metal fountain pen - from the fourteenth century! How did I not know that fountain pens went back at least that far? The sign said they were around but rare, hinting that quills were a more practical tool for writing and drawing. I spent a while studying the horn spectacle frames more closely; they're the oldest frames I've seen in the flesh (so to speak), although I've seen photos of ones more firmly dated older. These are hazily dated - 14th-16th century. That dating, however, wasn't as wide-ranging as one on a jar carved from semi-previous stone: it either 10-12th century Fatimid, or possibly 14-15th century Burgundian. There was an extraordinary inlaid wood table which was particularly extraordinary since it's been in the hands of the same family since the sixteenth century.

The recreation Medici scrittoio was crowded, and awkwardly arranged in placed, but offered some real highlights as well: a gorgeous little medieval cameo of Noah and his family leaving the ark. Miniature animals - knee-high to the people in the scene's erratic scale - cavorted in twos, and a cloud of birds filled in the air overhead - all in the space of about two inches. Overhead, the large stoneware tiles showed the labors of the months - but with a clever addition around their circular borders: the circle was divided into white and dark blue, how much depending on how little daylight each month offered.

The show ended with a painting of St. Martin's Day and housemoving, families with all their earthly goods and gear filed high on beasts of burden. The objects make the home.

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