Renaissance Reliefs From The V&A Visit The Henry Moore

By Roslyn Tappenden | 23 September 2004
Bronze sculpture depicting a dead Christ surrounded by six grief stricken people.

Donatello: Lamentation over the dead Christ. 1455-60. Courtesy of the V&A.

Depth of Field, currently on show at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, is an unusual collection of art and artefacts from the Renaissance period, all sharing a common theme – relief sculpture.

The show is open until March 27, 2005, and is a collaboration between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Henry Moore Institute.

Its focus is on 15th century Renaissance relief sculpture and draws from collections at both the V&A and the British Museum.

The fact that the show has used museum collections rather than gallery pieces quite rightly suggests that the theme is just as much historical as aesthetic.

Highly decorated wooden box with raised lid with blue and gold coloured pattern.

Casket (or forzerino), c.1400. Wood with gesso duro relief, painted and gilt. Courtesy of the V&A.

Exhibits range from the functional to the devotional, including an intricately carved comb to the star of the show, Donatello’s ‘Ascension’ – considered to be his most important work outside of Italy.

The shallow marble relief is displayed in its own spacious display area – a contrast to its usual home at the V&A where it cannot be viewed from a distance.

Dr Martina Droth, a curator at the Henry Moore Institute, said: “It was a privilege to think about how to install it in a modern setting.

“Because it is such a pale and shallow piece it was necessary to project the light in a certain way so it could be viewed from a distance.”

A round blue cast in a glass display case, behind which other relief sculptures are displayed on the wall

After Donatello. Modern cast from the 'Chellini Roundel' of c.1456. Glass. Photo by Jerry Hardman-Jones.

She added: “It has been a chance to rethink the objects. People are already very familiar with most of them so it is a chance to show them in new ways”

The marble sculpture has been in the V&A collections since 1861 and, until now, has never been displayed outside of London.

Katherine Hunt, a curator for the V&A, said: “The Ascension relief is really the key object of the exhibition. Here it has a lot more space and it looks a lot different in this setting.

“A lot of the objects have been in the same location at the V&A for decades so it is interesting to see them displayed in different ways. I hope that their new location will mean that people notice different things about them.”

Shows a photo of the top of a staff, with carved ivory depicting people.

Crozier (bishop's pastoral staff), 1375-1400, Ivory, painted and gilded. Courtesy of the V&A

The show is the first at the Henry Moore Institute to look at Renaissance relief sculpture and it brings together some unusual objects that would not normally be associated with each other.

The 19th century casts of Renaissance reliefs are normally housed in a different section of the V&A, away from the 15th century originals. But this exhibition reunites designs from the Renaissance era in one room.

The range of objects on display demonstrates that Renaissance relief was not just the realm of art objects but also functional items like coins and combs.

Other objects focus on various stages in life – relief was often used on objects for special occasions – a sarcophagus, a marriage chest and tombstone all feature in the show.

Shows a marble relief carving depicting a mother and baby who are surrounded by the faces of five angels.

Agostino di Duccio: Virgin and Child with five angels. c.1450-60. Marble. Courtesy of the V&A.

For people familiar with the V&A Renaissance collections, it is an opportunity to see the pieces in a new light. For instance, the bronze ‘Lamentation of the Dead Christ’ by Donatello has traditionally been displayed against a red background at the V&A but here it is mounted on a transparent plinth.

The cassone, or marriage chest, is an object that would have been carried in a procession at shoulder height so has been mounted at the height that it would have intended to be viewed.

The project was first discussed two years ago, although there have been several different stages in its development.

Penelope Curtis, curator at the Henry Moore Institute likened the collaboration between the Institute and the V&A to a wedding. She said: “It reminds me of a marriage between a family of noble lineage with that of a young upstart.”

Shows the side view of a relief sculpture in its location inside the gallery. In the background is another sculpture hanging on the wall.

Installation view, Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello. Photo: Photos by Jerry Hardman-Jones

Also on show at the Henry Moore Institute is a display of modernist sculptors’ interpretations of the mother figure. Exhibits include those by Henry Moore, Eric Gill and Jacob Epstein.

Depth of Field: The Place of Relief in the Time of Donatello is on display at the Henry Moore Institute until March 27, 2005.

Mother Figure: Modernist Maternities from the Leeds Sculpture Collections is open until December 5, 2004.

Beginning on Wednesday, September 29, The Henry Moore Institute is also hosting a series of four weekly talks entitled Personifying the Renaissance: Historians and Histories. All are welcome and admission is free.

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