Gothic: art for England, 1400-1547, Victoria & Albert Museum

300 objects illustrating all facets of medieval life

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The pendent to the “Age of chivalry, 1200-1400” exhibition held in the Royal Academy in 1987-88, this exhibition (9 October-18 January, 2004) follows the recent trend of elongating historical periods. Along with the “long” 18th century (1688-1839) and the “long” 19th century (1789-1914), one of the ideas that informs this exhibition is that the English Middle Ages, far from ending with the Tudor’s triumph at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, went on well into the 16th century: although forms derived from the Italian and Northern Renaissance had begun to appear, the Gothic style prevailed right through the Reformation period. Three hundred objects—tapestries, manuscripts, sculptures, paintings, armour, jewellery, church ornament, altarpieces, tomb effigies and stained glass—have been brought together and arranged to illustrate seven main themes: royalty; war, chivalry and spectacle; patrons; urban life; the household; Church and people; death and commemoration. Architecture is evoked by film and photographs. In this medieval Aladdin’s Cave, one aspect merits particular mention, that is the exhibition’s particular attention to the artistic wealth of England’s parish churches in what was perhaps the greatest era of ecclesiastical expansion until the 19th century, with a display of screens, altarpieces, missals, windows (right, “Princess Cecily”, c.1482-7, stained and painted glass), plate, alabaster sculptures, and choir books that have somehow survived repeated bouts of iconoclasm. The catalogue, edited by Richard Marks and Paul Williamson, will become an indispensable reference book (£45, V&A Publications).

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