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Posts Tagged ‘Mid-week Museum’

Having not long returned from an all-women discussion on the Scottish Independence Referendum, organised by Women for Independence, and thus being very inspired and much better-informed, how could tonight’s Mid-week Museum post not be about a Scottish work of art?

The Monymusk Reliquary, National Museum of Scotland, c.700 A.D. (wood covered in bronze and silver plates)

The Monymusk Reliquary, National Museum of Scotland, c.700 A.D. (wood covered in bronze and silver plates)

The Monymusk Reliquary dates from the 8th century, and gets its name from Monymusk House, where it was kept for an unknown number of years before being acquired by the National Museum of Scotland in 1933. (more…)

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"Strawberry Thief", 1883, designed by William Morris (1834-1896), made by Morris & Co. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

“Strawberry Thief”, 1883, designed by William Morris (1834-1896), made by Morris & Co. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

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This week’s Mid-week Museum post, as with Monday’s Medieval Monday post on the Bayeux Tapestry, is of necessity brief, as much remains to be done before leaving on holiday this weekend.

An as-yet mysterious scene of a lady, her knight, and a dragon, at the Centre de l'imaginaire Arthurien,  Chateau de Compier, Paimpont Forest

An as-yet mysterious scene of a lady, her knight, and a dragon, at the Centre de l’imaginaire Arthurien, Chateau de Compier, Paimpont Forest

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On Saturday, I had a family trip out to London’s lovely Garden Museum, next to Lambeth Palace. It was great timing – the Gardens and Fashion: Spring/Summer-Autumn/Winter exhibition was finishing the following day. The exhibition proper was contained in a single room, comparatively small, if you are used to “blockbuster exhibitions”, but so rich in details that I could have spent at least an hour there luxuriating in the minutiae, had I been alone. There will be another post on the exhibition, in more detail, soon. (more…)

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Hildegard von Bingen, Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias.

You may have noticed that Monday came and went without its/my habitual medieval commentary. If you look to the picture on the left, you will see why; I’m still not sure if it was good to have the headaches without the visions. Do they still burn witches? (more…)

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Tonight I watched the first episode of She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens, an excellent documentary series written and presented by historian Dr Helen Castor, currently being repeated on BBC4.

The first episode was about mother-in-law and daughter-in-law Matilda and Eleanor. I’ve known of the latter, whose more complete name is Eleanor of Aquitaine for as long as I can remember; I can’t remember the circumstances of our meeting, be it the compulsive reading, over and over, of the Ladybird Adventures from History series, or if it was through travelling in France on holidays, where we stayed for a week or so near Poitiers (part of Eleanor’s family’s territories) every year. I grew up fascinated by the idea of the fabled court of love, which led to my reading courtly literature, and thus, in part, to my career as a medievalist. So at least one thing in my museum has to be about her.

Effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine from her tomb,  early 13th century, Fontevraud Abbey, Anjou, France (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine from her tomb, early 13th century, Fontevraud Abbey, Anjou, France (image via Wikimedia Commons)

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I’ve never been to Fontevraud Abbey, although I plan to do so, but I have seen the 19th century plaster cast of the effigy above in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I think that the reason that this caught my eye is, unsurprisingly, because she is reading. It’s a decidedly unusual tomb, for an equally unusual woman.

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Iris under a glass dome

It’s been a very busy week, so I decided that this week’s Mid-Week Museum post would take the form of a field trip, to look at one of my favourite museums in its entirety. But last night I forgot to click that all important ‘Publish’ button. Dear readers, please accept the humblest of humble apologies.

In 2009 The Last Tuesday Society opened its first permanent home: a shop, art gallery and museum on Mare Street in Hackney. Designed in the style of a 17th century Wunderkabinett, the shop sells a wide variety of curiosities including 19th century shrunken heads, taxidermy, narwhal tusks, carnivorous plants and articulated skeletons.

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Writing desk. England, chip-carved oak, 1659, Victoria and Albert Museum

Writing desk. England, chip-carved oak, 1659, Victoria and Albert Museum

Carved in England by an unidentified craftsman. This box was made for Richard Cromwell (1626-1712), son of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). After his father’s death in 1658 he was briefly Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Boxes like this were usually sold plain and then decorated to suit the purchaser. The carving has been carried out with a chisel and a gouge.

Desk, gift of Mr & Mrs Tony Gomme, grandchildren of Lady Gomme
Notes from R.P. 31/1096, 31/11600, 95/1550

28/10/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
asks his advice re “an old carved oak desk dated 1659…with Oliver Cromwell’s arms. The desk is in fairly good condition – one inside drawer has gone and the old lock…” She wonders if a museum would be interested. She thinks it genuine but only knows what she was told by Edward Sully FRS 40 years ago. It has been in the Gomme family for years and years and was once shown at the Jeffrey Museum.

9/11/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
includes thanks for referring her to Mr Brackett regarding “our old desk”.

11/11/31 letter same to same
suggests Aylesbury might like her “O.Cromwell desk if it turns out to be genuine and a fairly good article”.

12/11/31 Brackett letter to Lady Gomme
expresses interest in seeing the desk.

16/11/31 Minute paper by Ralph Edwards
reports on his inspection of the desk. He finds it similar in style to the box in the Museum dated 1648. The desk is dated 1659 with Cromwell’s arms over the Royal Arms of England. It was exhibited at the Geffrye Museum (which wanted to retain it). It was left to Lady Gomme by her husband and she wishes to loan it to a museuml. Edwards saw nothing to make him doubt it belonged to the period; Lady Gommes has known it for 60 years.

17/11/31 Mr Van der Put
reports on the heraldry. The desk bears the arms of the Commonwealth as borne by Richard Cromwell (Oliver died in 1658).

17/11/31 Brackett
accepts the loan of the desk. Lady Gommes replies 19/11/31 that she is pleased to offer it but must await the consent of her sons before it is sent to the museum.

12/2/31 Lady Gommes
writes to say she is ready to send the desk.

3/12/31 H. Smith and O. Brackett
support acceptance of the desk as a loan as it is a “very interesting piece of English Furniture”…”an interesting and unusual object”. Both express the hope that it will ultimately be given.

23/12/31 Lady Gommes
writes to report her sons’ consent to the desk being on loan to the V & A and she agrees that the desk must be associated with Richard, not Oliver, Cromwell. She has no information to the contrary.

Later correspondence dated 1995 relates to the conversion from loan to gift.

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum item record

Christine de Pizan, Collected works ('The Book of the Queen'), vol. 2, f. 259v (Harley MS. 44311, British LIbrary)

Christine de Pizan, Collected works (‘The Book of the Queen’), vol. 2, f. 259v (Harley MS. 44311, British LIbrary)

I’ve always loved these small portable desks, since first I began reading Regency novels; it took me some time to realise that they had been around for some centuries before then. I’ve loved them so much more since discovering them in illustration after illustration in medieval art. Some use them for reading, as on the left, while others use them for writing, as on the right. But you need not only look to art to find examples of such items of furniture. Several have survived, from several different time periods, some of which are now on display in museums, as in the case of the desk donated by Lady Gomme and her grandchildren to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1995.

Saint John the Evangelist Writing, German, about 1340–50. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 17 7/8 x 12 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 108, verso

The portable desk. like the portable altar featured in an earlier Mid-Week Museum post, exists as a private space. Who knows what may be hidden beneath the lid? I don’t think it an exaggeration to thus compare the closed desk to the three mysterious caskets that will seal Portia’s fate in The Merchant of Venice. It would be interesting to compare the evolution of such caskets and portable desks, in terms of shape and style.

I’ve always wanted such a desk of my own. Living in rented accommodation and moving around the country has made it seem like the most practical option. However, I’ve ended up with three bureaux instead – two inherited from my grandparents and one a customised piece commissioned from the wonderful Lora Jones (website currently being updated). I’ve written this blogpost sitting at the third example. Looking at it now, it resembles a larger portable desk sat atop a chest of drawers. What can it then tell me about the evolution of private study and contemplation?

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The Wild Swans, by Su Blackwell (2008)

The Wild Swans, by Su Blackwell (2008)

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A portable shrine in the form of a tabernacle – a painted wooden box, (alabaster, polychrome, gilt, wire, Nottingham, 15th Century – Burrell Collection, Glasgow Museums, accession number 1.34)


I came up with the idea of building my own virtual museum two weeks ago today. The actual museum opening has had to wait until today because I was mightily conferencing last week. You can find out more about my intentions behind and aims for the Mid-Week Museum from its inaugural post. (more…)

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