Wonder: Painted Sculpture from Medieval England

1 Oct 2002 – 5 Jan 2003

Exhibition in Galleries 1, 2 and 3

Wonder is an exhibition that explores the combination of belief and disbelief that characterised the medieval understanding of sculpture.

Paint gave the sculpted form an almost human presence which allowed it to engage directly with its viewer. The notion of ‘wonder’ conjures up the awe as well as the intellectual curiosity which marked this encounter.

Since the Reformation the English viewer has been accustomed to ‘plain’ sculpture. This exhibition has sought to bring together the very best examples of late medieval polychrome sculpture, drawing in particular from Norwegian sources as well as English abbeys and churches, to remind us how our views have been distorted by history. The list of exhibits draws on the extensive primary research undertaken by David Park of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

The exhibition will present polychrome sculpture in three forms of encounter: one of intimacy, focusing on the one-to-one relationship between viewer and individual sculpture; one of monumentality, which presents pieces collectively, as part of an architectural screen; and finally, one of perception, which illustrates the range of different effects made possible by the application of paint. In this way the exhibition moves from the focal points of the parish church, to the scale of the cathedral, and ends with a close examination of the painted surface.

This exhibition takes its part in a series of exhibitions of medieval art, following on from Tate Britain's recent 'Image and Idol', and preceding the V&A's forthcoming 'The Glory of Gothic: Art in England 1400 - 1547'. It is however the only exhibition to focus on polychromy, and to question how colour changes our perception of sculpture. As such 'Wonder' relates to recent exhibitions at the Henry Moore Institute, including 'The Colour of Sculpture' and 'Chromophobia'.

This exhibition has been organised by the Henry Moore Institute, and is curated by Stacy Boldrick, in collaboration with David Park (Courtauld Institute) and Paul Williamson (V&A). A catalogue, with essays and entries by the curators, and newly commissioned in-situ photography by Jerry Hardman-Jones, will accompany the show.

Audio recordings of the talks 'Curating Wonder' by Stacy Boldrick and 'Polychromatic and polyfunctional: plastic form and painted image in the Italian church interior during the early Renaissance' by Donal Cooper are available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Friday, 10am - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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