Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New Medieval Gallery at the British Museum


by Kathryn Hadley

A new gallery showcasing the museum’s collection of medieval material opened today, March 25th, at the British Museum. By placing the collection in its historical context, the gallery aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the period from 1050 to 1500, from the West to the Byzantine Empire.

Various sections in the gallery explore different themes, including the world of the nobility during the medieval age through a display of artefacts revealing noble pursuits at the time and some of the rituals and protocols surrounding aristocratic amusement. Artefacts on display notably include the celebrated Royal Gold Cup, crafted in Paris between approximately 1370-1380 under the patronage of Jean duc de Berry, and the Lewis chessmen, which date from the 12th century and may constitute one of the few complete surviving medieval chess sets.

A further section devoted to sacred art also illustrates the major devotional developments of the age, from the flourishing of monasteries in the mid-eleventh century to their dissolution in the sixteenth century. A display of icon paintings, ivories, wooden figure carvings and jewellery, combining objects from the Byzantine world with contemporaneous pieces from western Europe, notably explores the concept of iconoclasm and provides and insight into how the divine were represented in two different, but related Christian cultures.

Lastly, another section focuses on the Byzantine Empire and considers the empire's role as a pivotal point on the medieval map and a trading capital and centre of intellectual and artistic ferment. Related displays develop the theme of internationalism and illustrate the vast movement of people and commodities around the medieval world through commerce, pilgrimage and crusade.

The British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG
Telephone: 0207 323 8299
http://www.thebritishmuseum.org/


Pictures: Shield of Parade, late 15th century, from Flanders or Burgundy; and The Lewis Chessmen, c. 1150-1200, probably made in Norway and found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland (The Trustees of the British Museum)

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