Movement of the Month: Part 1 – Renaissance

In this weeks post, Hannah posts the first of her 12 part series, ‘Movement of the Month.’

Movement of the Month is a project I started using our collection archive. Beginning with the Renaissance and moving right through up to Contemporary and Mixed Media works, I take pieces from that era and examine them on our Instagram account; @WhitworthArt.  So for more, look out for posts tagged with #MovementOfTheMonth!

Part 1 of a 12 part series is Renaissance!

An era when Science and Art worked together.

So what is the Renaissance, I hear you cry! We’re talking about a period in art history that spanned between 1300 and 1600, (the 14th and 17th centuries). The word “Renaissance” – deriving from both French and Italian parents – literally meaning “born anew” or “rebirth”, marks an era when art and science worked simultaneously. The Renaissance even saw the beginning of scientific method – which involved conducting an experiment, collecting observations, then coming to a conclusion. The invention of the printing press, a revolutionary turning point in western distribution of knowledge, gave artists a new way to show their works alongside literature and even early scientific pamphlet works. Famous Venetian painter Titian even had agreements with physicians which allowed him to delve further into anatomical study. However, this is not to say that art and scientific accurate depictions of the body was here used together for the first time! Florentine painter Giotto in the 6th century is credited for making such early advances and the representations of these within his works. By the early to mid 1500s, Rome had taken over Florence in being the centre of Renaissance art. This is when we see a peak in art from well-known artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci. These men studied physiology and form and we refer to this as the High Renaissance – that is to say the pinnacle of that era. Highly religious, mythic and moral, these paintings were mostly viewed as devotional tools.

Transported into a realm of Visual Depiction

Early Netherlandish Artists such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden in the 15th century became extremely popular in Europe. Some great examples to research are van Eyck’s The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment, from 1440-41 and ven der Weyden’s Triptych: The Crucifixion of 1443-45. Artists such as these used painting to convey metaphors and messages which had only previously been examined through literature. In using such bold colour and vivid imagery, the owners of the pieces were transported into a realm of visual depiction never before entered.

Ok, enough about painting! What about textile? And what about our collection! Well the piece below is one of many fantastic representations of such Renaissance textile and religious influence.

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13th Century Funeral Cope

The Funeral Cope above is a liturgical vestment worn by any rank of the clergy and well established as a liturgical garment by the 13th century. Early examples such as this feature a triangular hood, however, over time this became purely ornamental. Similar vestment’s were often featured in early Netherlandish art such as Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, c. 1435. These were often fastened with an elaborate and costly broach. ⠀⠀

Earthly wealth and Spiritual devotion

This amazingly well preserved piece is made from silk velvet with applied hand embroidery in silk and metal thread and was purchased as part of Sir John Charles Robinson’s collection in 1891. In the late 12th century, Pope Innocent III established rules specifying appropriate colours for the vestments worn at major church festivals. Black was for Good Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion, and consequently the colour came to represent mourning and repentance. The application of the skull and cross bones to the hood and orphreys of the cope was a macabre practice mainly confined to the Netherlands, and this vestment may have been commissioned in the Spanish Netherlands rather than Spain. When laid flat the piece would also form a perfect half circle. Vestments like this one illustrate the sumptuous and costly textiles which were favoured by the Christian church during this era, often given by wealthy donors, making a conspicuous show of both earthly wealth and spiritual devotion.

So what about accessories? As the above, textile became an expensive and important commodity throughout the Renaissance era to express affluence and social status. Essentially the heavier and more detailed the better. We know purses were used for the first time such as this bag below as pockets weren’t yet invented! What a thought!

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16th Century ‘Sweet Bag’

In the 15th century, small bags were first traditionally used by men to carry important items such as relics, a Bible, money or documents. These would be attached to a belt or girdle and made of leather. After the introduction of the pocket in the latter end of the 16th century, men’s bags were a much less common occurrence. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀

So what is a “sweet bag”? This particular 16th century purse from our archive would have made a fabulous present for an elegant dignitary. Whilst this could have been used as a luxury gift bag to carry jewellery or miniatures, this would have usually been stuffed with perfumed powder and flowers and attached to the girdle for scenting clothes. ⠀ ⠀

Embellished with metal thread and embroidered with flowers, this beautiful bag is made from silk. The bright yellow, darker green and pale peach pallet of this delicate purse makes this piece the perfect autumnal accessory!

Next blog, I’ll be moving on to the Baroque period and looking at 1600 to 1750 and three exciting pieces from our collections, including an item which has not only me puzzled, but the rest of the art history world too! Don’t touch this dial!

You can search our collection online here.

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