Gloucester Cathedral Cloister, Lavabo

The Frank Davis lectures in the winter term had a medieval theme. Entitled ‘Late Gothic in Europe: Connexions and Contrasts’, they were designed to coincide with the ‘Gothic Art for England 1400-1547’ exhibition at the V and A, and offer a continental and European counterpart. A range of English, American and continental scholars lectured to us on aspects of late Gothic art and architecture outside England, but in relation to it. All nine lectures were delivered to a full house.


Professor Richard Marks, Chief Curator of the V and A exhibition, opened the series with a behind-the-scenes account of the organization and policy-making of the show. Professor Robert Suckale of Berlin University related Early Netherlandish painting to Burgundian court ceremonial, and enthusiastically took questions from the floor. Dr Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz, of the International Medieval Corpus Vitrearum, drew our attention to the cross-fertilizations between stained glass and panel painting in French court art of the 15th century. Media overlap was also the theme of Professor Peter Kurmann’s (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) lecture on the relationship between real architecture and the architectural fictions and fantasies in Flemish painting. Dr Robert Maniura, of Birkbeck College, concentrated on the the royal burial chapel of King Kasimir IV in Cracow cathedral as an integrated statement involving sculpture, altarpieces, tomb design, architecture and Ruthenian/Byzantine wall paintings. Professor Jeffrey Hamburger, from Harvard University, used 15th century manuscript and panel painting to demonstrate his thesis that the image in the Middle Ages embodied more authentic power as a vehicle for the spiritual than the book or the word. Professor Jonathan Alexander, from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, offered us a masterly overview of Italian manuscript illumination in the 15th and early 16th centuries and contrasted it with the poorer quality of book illumination in England in the later Middle Ages. Professor Christian Heck, from Lille University, cast fresh light on one of the most famous images of the European Middle Ages, Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece at Colmar. The series ended, as it began, with the English picture. Dr Christopher Wilson, of University College, who had played a central role in the shaping of the V and A exhibition, discussed the ‘Grand Narrative’ of English Perpendicular architecture, throwing wholly new light on the most successful of English architectural styles.

All these papers were of formidably high quality, and together they provided a rich context for the art assembled at the V and A.

Dr. Paul Crossley