Byline: CORINNE JULIUS
FRESH on the heels of its success in reawakening the public's interest in Art Deco, the V&A is set to generate a new enthusiasm for the glories of Gothic with its autumn exhibition, entitled Gothic Art for England 1400-1547.
Londoners tend to take the city's Gothic landmarks for granted, but the exhibition sets out to make us look again at wonders such as Westminster Abbey or the oldest parts of Hampton Court Palace, and to enjoy interior objects ranging from simple toys to exquisite tapestries that are rarely put on public view. These vary from a collection of silver spoons, the only surviving objects from Dick Whittington's vast collection of plate, to a monumental stained-glass window at the Cotswolds' wool church, St Mary's in Fairford.
The latter part of the medieval age was a turbulent period in English history, dominated by the 100 Years War, the War of the Roses, (the struggle for supremacy between the houses of Lancaster and York) and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. As is so often the case, amidst the turmoil and smashed windows, art and architecture flourished.
"Many people think that it was all battles and bloodshed and that there was no time, money or inclination to make beautiful things," says cocurator Eleanor Townsend. "We hope that the exhibition will show that this was not the case. People tend to think about before and after, but this period was very splendid in its own right." In architecture, Gothic reached its zenith with the Perpendicular, as witnessed in the soaring fan vaults and expanses of glass in King's College Cambridge.
Merchants during this period were making good money and showed this off with conspicuous consumption intended to confirm their status and wealth. Visual imagery was important, not only in heraldry and religious art but in more functional items. The significance of the imagery was clear to rich and poor alike.
Visual display was a key element in establishing power and authority-from the King downwards, and while the royal family and nobles commissioned all manner of objects, the rapidly expanding mercantile class was also creating patrons of architecture and consumers of luxury goods, as well as of professional regalia. Wealthier ar tisans spent on their homes and on their parish churches, funding eccles i a s t ic a l commissions with the help of the betteroff peasants.
"Unprecedented numbers of English men and women bought, commissioned and built on a lavish scale. It was one of the richest periods for the arts in England," says curator Richard Marks.
Because commissions were allied to status, patrons were keen to get the best that money could buy. Royalty set the fashion for foreign art works and goods from all over Europe, but objects from France and Flanders were in particular demand.
London was England's most important producer of elite goods, rivalling the output of Bruges and Paris. Foreign makers - the economic migrants and asylum seekers of their day - flocked to London, congregating in Southwark and upsetting indigenous artisans who, nevertheless, had plenty of work in what was an everexpanding market. …