Monday, May 7, 2012

Sophie and Rebecca Day 2 (V&A and Chicago)

So.... even though she has long since gone home, here is the report on Day 2 with Sophie visiting! (from back in April)

Day 2 started at the V&A museum. Once again, we arrived just in time for the tour.

This time the tour was of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries... the ones they just spent 30 million renovating. I have to say, it is well worth the visit!

We started with a stroll through Room 50, "The Renaissance City" .  It is too cool! it is exactly what it says it is... designed to give you the sense of a renaissance city, with statues and fountain, and balconies along the walls looking into the streets. (the picture above is off the V&A website... check it out here) (

We headed from there down the stairs to the medieval area, to see what we could see. 

Symmachi Panel
Our first stop was the carved ivory Symmachi Panel (400 AD) 

The carvings are beautiful, and you can see pagan elements present even though europe was beginning to be christianized at the time.

I had not known that gifts of ivory were 'restricted', and that by law ivory could only be given to high roman officials (this one was probably given to commemorate a marriage).

Gloucester Candlestick

Then it was off to see the  Gloucester Candle Stick (made in 1107). 

 If you click on the picture on the link above, the picture will expand so you can get a closeup look at it.

You can see 4 apostles represented by their traditional signs: Angel (Matthew), Lion (Mark), Ox (Luke), and Eagle (John).  You can aslo see apes and humans attempting to crawl up from the inferno towards the heavens.

Syon Cope

Next was the Syon Cope (which is a kind of cape worn during religious services)   It is old, but in pristine condition.  It would have been destroyed during the reformation, but a bunch of nuns moved it off to Portugal, so it survived intact.  

Again, you can click on the link to see it, though the picture does not do justice to it up close. The colours have faded somewhat with time...all the parts that look brown would have been a vibrant red! 

I stood there looking at it, thinking about the small embroidery stitches my mother had Melanie Phillips and I practice on the corner of tea towels when we were little.  The skill here was astonishing.  The guide told us that after the tour, we should go check out the golder spider silk cloak also in the gallery.  huh?  spiders?  yep.  I will come to that later.

Pisano's 'Christ Crucified'

From there we went to take a closer look at Pisano's "Christ Crucified". 

Hard to believe that it is ivory.  It was also interesting looking at how, over the years, the styles of representing religious figures had changed so significantly. 

Rather than focusing on monsters and demons, the religious objects begin focusing attention on emotional impacts of people who look 'like us'.

It is certainly an object of compelling beauty

While we couldn't get close to it (some reno work in the room), we also had a peek at the Devonshire Tapestry, which gives you a great sense of what nobel life was supposedly like: tournaments, hunts, and showing off your wealth in every way imaginable.

And, on the topic of wealth, we walked past the facade of Sir Paul Pindar's house.  He was a wealthy merchant, who loaned money to Charles I, and put thousands of pounds into the building of St. Paul's Cathedral.  The king was unable to repay him, so he ended up in poverty.  But... the house survived the great fire of London.  It was taken down to build the Liverpool Street Station, so you can now see the facade in the musuem... installed just as if it was a building.  It is pretty cool!  

Da Vinci's notebook...
 Another highlight was seeing one of da Vinci's notebooks!

Part of the renovation includes interactive computer stations. 

The one right beside the da vinci notebook has all of the pages scanned in, so you can flip through the pages, looking at both the original text, and at the translations for each page.

Da Johnson's notebook...
  Now what could be more fun than THAT?!   I have resolved to treat my own notebooks with a bit more respect (who KNOWS where they might end up?)  :-)

As an aside, there had been only 10 or so of us on the tour, which is luck beyond belief: no problems seeing or hearing stuff!  Oddly enough, one of the people in our group had also been in our tour group at the National Gallery the day before.... in a city of millions, that was a bit unusual.  As Sophie will attest (if you ask her for more of the story), our fellow-traveller was 'memorable' (to say the least).

the individual threads at the edge of the cloth

Before leaving, we headed off to the other side of the museum to take a look at the famous golden spider silk cloak. 


Spiders (click here).  

Online, you can see a video of people catching the spiders, and then pulling the silk out of them, keeping them for only a while, then letting them go. 

I suspect the spiders don't love it, but they let each one go after 20 minutes of 'work' (ie. having the thread pulled out of you). 

cloak woven from spider silk

You then get to watch the strands being woven together, and finally, woven into the cloak itself.

The golden yellow colour is the natural colour of the spider silk.
Wow!  Hard to believe something so creepy can produce something so amazingly beautiful! 
spider design on the cloak

 From there, we headed back to the world of bodies!   We managed to get day tickets for Chicago: the Musical, so we sat on the very front row for a couple of hours of adultery, mayhem, music and murder, all set to music.  The only question we were left with was "if you had a choice, would you be Roxie or Velma?"  Hard call!

Rebecca strikes a pose....

Sophie strikes a pose...

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