I had a reason for going to see this wonderful exhibition. It took place at the V & A – the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The exhibition is of medieval English embroidery, called Opus Anglicanum, (English Work) and I am planning using some of the information I gained in my next murder mystery novel The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery, so when I heard about the exhibition I was keen to get down to London and take a look. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes, and in fact the exhibition is almost over, as it finishes at the beginning of February, so I nearly missed it but I am so glad I finally made it.
Due to it being the off-season, the number of visitors wasn’t quite as large as usual, and the organisers were happy to allow everyone to wander around and browse to their hearts content, and also due to the busy but not crowded exhibition, I was able to perch on a bench and gaze fondly at the Butler Bowden Cope, which was the main item I had come to see ‘in the flesh’, and I was able to sit and make notes without feeling a need to hurry along and make way for others. The items were fabulous, far beyond what I had expected, and beautifully displayed. Here is a little of what I felt and noted:
‘The red velvet background was, as I expected, greatly faded away to a soft, deep pinky red although here and there it remains fresh and vibrant, and the threads of the velvet fabric were worn and even almost bare in places. As is typical, tiers of Biblical scenes and characters are interspersed by smaller tiers of angels ad twining branches form vertical barriers between sections.
‘The figures are more or less uncoloured now, but their hair still shines softly gold or silver, and here and there a vivid patch of blue cloth has retained its glorious colour. Lions peer between branches of oak, their heads realised by spirals of tiny pearls, for the main part still intact after, what, almost 700 years? 700 hundred years – I can hardly believe it.
‘Actually, I feel rather in awe. Of the creators, their skill, and even of the measure of inspiration they enjoyed, and the execution of the work: it all touches me, and I feel grateful, even tearful as I look at these beautiful garments and draperies. Who knows how long it will be possible to move these often fragile items and take them to other audiences? And then, when they are gone…will we be left with photographs and facsimiles? Somehow it isn’t enough just to go and look, I feel a need to record my experience, to capture it for the future.’
The cafe, too, is well worth an hour of contemplation! Entrance to the main part of the museum is, as ever, free, but the specialist exhibitions such as the Opus Anglicanum, have to be booked and paid for. But this is surely a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I certainly didn’t mind paying the price of £12.