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Sam Fogg - Winter Exhibition

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THIS year, Sam Fogg’s Winter Exhibition of Art of the Middle Ages will be on display from Tuesday, December 2, 2008 to Friday, January 16, 2009.

The show will include sculpture, painting, stained glass, manuscripts and miniatures from all over medieval Europe, particularly England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, from the 11th to the early 16th century.

There will be a large and impressive standing Virgin and Child group carved in wood, one of only a small number of wooden sculptures of this size and quality to have survived from the fourteenth century.

Its style and refinement is characteristic of Paris and the Île-de-France and it is related to the magnificent Virgin of the same scale in Notre-Dame de Chatou (Seine-et-Oise). A dendrochronology test carried out by the Universität Hamburg indicates that the tree was felled after 1359, which suggests that the date of the sculpture is around 1370.

Included in the illuminated miniatures and manuscripts will be a charming image showing Lionel arriving at a monastery, from the Livre de Lancelot del Lac, illuminated c. 1440 by the Dunois Master, the successor of the Bedford Master as the dominant figure in Parisian illumination.

The miniature illustrates part of Book IV, where the scribe followed a variant of the Vulgate Version. Lionel, on horseback, has asked to be guided to a place where he can hear Mass – a perfect knight is, by definition, also a perfect Christian. A young man points to the monastery, where a monk stands inside the entrance, presaging the discovery of Galehot within. The Vulgate version simply relates that Lionel rode out early one morning but the illuminator has created an entrancing landscape where the grass is scattered with tiny yellow flowers and golden plants grow on the grey earth.

One of the highlights of stained glass will be a finely painted roundel showing Saint Martin as a young man on horseback turning to see a half-naked beggar. As the story goes, Martin is so moved with compassion that he divides his cloak in half and wraps one half around the freezing beggar. He later dreams he see Jesus wearing the half he gave away and converts to Christianity. The elegance of the saint and his identity, much revered in France, would suggest it came from there. The roundel was in the Sibyll Kummer-Rothenhäusler Collection, Zurich.

Another important piece in the show is a lion aquamanile, or water vessel for washing hands, from Lower Saxony dated to the fourteenth century. The lion stands proud and erect with double-backed tail and a flat collar-like feature running around the neck from ear to ear with incised decoration simulating the mane beneath. The aquamanile was filled through a lidded aperture on the top of the head, and the water poured out through an integrally cast spigot at the lion’s neck.

Among the Ethiopian pieces on show will be a finely preserved triptych icon of the Virgin and Child dated to the seventeenth century. This is an excellent example of a popular icon type, with a paint surface in almost pristine condition. The central panel shows the Virgin and Child flanked by archangels above, and an image of Christ teaching the Apostles. The left wing shows the Resurrection, with Christ raising the souls of Adam and Eve above, and Saint George spearing the dragon below. The right wing, now lost, most likely depicted the Crucifixion, the Entombment and Ethiopian saints.

Inscriptions identify who the figures are. Certain icons from the same school are retained in Tigre and Gojjam (Adoua Naeder, Gär’alta and Quollälla, Tana, Ennäbsé). This icon type is characterised by a palette dominated by blue, very fine contour lines, and stocky figures with red noses. As in other examples, a large figure of Mary is placed above the scene of Christ teaching the Twelve Apostles. Her mantle fans outwards above them like a protective awning, symbolizing her role as the protector and personification of the Church.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm (closed from December 25, 2008 to January 4, 2009).

Telephone: 020 7534 2100.

Sam Fogg, 15d Clifford Street, London, W1S 4JZ