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Paul Mellon Centre | Metamorphosis–Britain & the World in the Middle Ages: Image & Reality

April 28, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Metamorphosis – Britain and the World in the Middle Ages: Image and Reality

A lecture by Tom Nickson. The fourth in a six-part public lecture course on Britain and the World in the Middle Ages: Image and Reality.
This lecture examines five objects and their “biographies” in order to trace Britain’s connections with the medieval globe. Medieval material culture was much more local than it is today, but occasionally artworks and materials travelled considerable distances, their form and meaning metamorphosing over time. For example, in the twelfth century an English craftsman carved delicate foliate designs on a narwhal tusk, likely obtained via traders who sold fur and walrus ivory from as far away as Russia, Greenland and even Newfoundland. Other marvels of nature came from tropical climates, including coconuts which in the Middle Ages were known as ‘nuts of India’ and were commonly transformed into drinking vessels. A delicate painted glass vessel from Egypt or Syria was probably acquired by a pilgrim to the Holy Land, and has been preserved, in part, because a special new leather case was made to protect it after it was brought to England. A glazed porcelain bowl from China was given new English metalwork mounts in the early sixteenth century and may have been valued because it was thought to reveal the presence of poison. Finally, a group of jugs made in fourteenth-century England somehow found their way to what is now Ghana in West Africa, where they were valued highly but were forcibly removed by English troops in 1895.
These and other objects betray Britain’s entanglement with the wider medieval world, and the enduring value placed on craftsmanship and rare or precious materials.
No prior art historical knowledge is necessary.
The event will also be live-streamed via Zoom Webinar.