Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review of the Opus Anglicanum at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Last week, while in London, the Roman Anglican, finally went to the V&A to see the most expected exhibition of 2016: Opus Anglicanum.

After about half a century since a similar exhibition, the greatest museum in the world of its kind, which already hosts the largest collection of this kind, presents to the public incredible survivals of Opus Anglicanum works, the outstanding embroideries, mostly produced by London masters, that were popular throughout Europe during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The English were for vestments what the Italians and Flemish were for tapestry and painting, in fact most of the works uniquely reunited in this occasion travelled from all of Europe: Spain, Italy, France, the Vatican and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It is perhaps the most refined early English art had ever been and it is indeed a joy to admire, revaluate and even get to know these masterpieces.

Many would think that art during this age Europe was rather provincial and locally centred, it is not at all so, Flemish paintings moved to Florence, Florence bankers moved to Bruges, English wool and silk travelled from East Anglia to Florence, through the Flanders and London, artworks were often accompanied by these embroidered masterpieces. It is known that the Vatican ordered several Opus Anglicanum copes until the Reformation, Pope Benedict XI was quite impressed by these works when a delegation of English prelates came to Rome. They even went as far as Iceland. Europe and its art was pretty much connected at this stage, at least on its more refined level.

The spectacular London exhibition, located next to the cafe, hosts over a hundred of these beautiful works, both from the V&A collection and from abroad, with insights on the craftsmanship, production, the tools, materials and the people who made them, often together with related works, such as panel paintings, manuscripts or sculptures that inspired the embroideries.

Several works are on display at this exhibition, from an early seal-bag from the mid-12th century, containing the seal for the foundation of Westminster Abbey to treasures from the V&A's own collection, such as the lavishly decorated Clare Chasuble, the Jesse's Cope, depicting the Tree of Jesse, with all the prophets and ancestors of Christ, there is also an immense cope with saints, angels and stories from the life of the Virgin that comes from the Vatican Museums. The supposed mitre of Thomas Becket.

The Toledo Cope, a ceremonial cloak made for the former Spanish Capital's Cathedral dates to the early 14th century and it is incredibly fine. More fine works are the rich Butler-Bowden cope, or the Bologna cope, in which the beautiful silk and intricate patterns survive in perfect conditions. In the exhibition there are also funeral palls, single orfreys (the embroidered parts of amices, chasubles and copes, often in the shape of a cross), burial clothing from Kings and Archbishops and even secular works, that show how the works of the English masters were not only limited to commissions from the Church.

After the Reformation, in the 19th century a growth in interest for Medieval and early Renaissance art brought to the rediscovery of this treasure of the English artistic patrimony. If you are in London, I do suggest you to visit this exhibition.

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