Re-Thinking Renaissance Objects: Design, Function, and Meaning

Re-Thinking Renaissance Objects: Design, Function, and Meaning

Re-Thinking Renaissance Objects: Design, Function, and Meaning

Re-Thinking Renaissance Objects: Design, Function, and Meaning


Inspired by research undertaken for the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Re-thinking Renaissance Objects explores and often challenges some of the key issues and current debates relating to Renaissance art and culture.
  • Puts forward original research, including evidence provided by an in-depth study arising from the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery project
  • Contributions are unusual in their combination of a variety of approaches, but with each paper starting with an examination of the objects themselves
  • New theories emerge from several papers, some of which challenge current thinking


Peta Motture and Michelle O'Malley

The new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum result from a fundamental reinterpretation of the museum’s world-class collections covering 300–1600, and are designed to tell the story of art and design in Europe within a broad cultural perspective. Such an approach to contextualizing objects not only opens up a rich and nuanced understanding of artistic production, but also allows us to investigate how function and meaning were embedded in material and visual culture over 1300 years, a period stretching from the decline of the Roman Empire to, arguably, the establishment of modern Europe. While period terms, such as ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’ have long provided a helpful framework for grouping and viewing the museum’s objects, they are also misleading. in order to avoid what can be seen as artificial period divisions, the objects from this long time frame have been presented and interpreted in a coherent narrative for the first time. Similarly, Italian art has been reunited with that from northern Europe and Spain – an amendment to the previous arrangement in which the Italian fifteenth- and sixteenth-century material was separated out – thereby allowing associations and interconnections across Europe to be made, as well as regional differences to be more immediately evident. While each room has its own narrative and date range, the chronology overlaps. This not only makes clear crucial continuities of form and function across time, but also highlights the growing number of objects and types of objects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in comparison with earlier periods.

One of the objectives of the reinstallation is to create displays that challenge popular misconceptions about nomenclature, and to present complex ideas in a manner that is direct and easily accessible. By arranging the material in a series of ‘subject displays’ with a set of underlying themes that link their concepts together, the V&A aims to provided a focus for considering key issues at the heart of current scholarly debate. These include the overlap between

the brief of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries Concept Team, set up in July 2002 and led by Malcolm Baker until October 2003, was to build on the award-winning thematic approach established in the British Galleries, which opened to critical acclaim in 2001. As part of the development process, the team consulted widely with curatorial and academic colleagues – for example, holding seminars to debate some of the overarching issues.

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