In the late 14th century, the kings of France and the princes of the blood constructed, commissioned, purchased, gave, appropriated, pawned and liquidated some of the most extraordinary and magnificent objects of the late medieval period, in a dizzying range of forms and material, from metalwork, manuscripts, textiles and panel paintings to cameos, talismanic stones and giants teeth. Our knowledge of them today relies in large part on the extraordinarily loquacious, often ad vivam inventories made of these possessions, termed, collectively, ‘joyaux’. These inventories are arguably the largest body of descriptive responses to objects that we have from the late medieval period, often demonstrating, and demanding, an intimate and sustained attention to, and engagement with, visual form. This lecture will consider some of the ways in which the language, order and structure of these texts might provide insights into late medieval ways of assessing, judging and grasping things, of ‘reading’ objects, or what has been termed by Michael Baxandall, famously, the ‘period eye’. But it will also explore these inventories as objects in their own right: their often remarkable physical properties can be as revealing as the texts they contain.
Organised by Professor Deborah Swallow (Märit Rausing Director, The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Dr Alixe Bovey (Head of Research, The Courtauld Institute of Art).