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17th Century Pendant: Final Chapter

student holding a book-shaped pendant

Well, my experience at The Courtauld has been fantastic — but it’s flown by so fast!  Before I do anything else, I want to thank Dr. Alexandra Gerstein for her support and mentorship through these past few months.  The Courtauld Gallery staff in general are an amazing group of people to work for, and it’s been an absolute privilege to have had this opportunity to contribute in my own small way to the work of the museum.

My object – a book shaped pendant with painted-glass panels depicting religious scenes – was installed in the gallery this morning, and it looks great!  It was amazing to see everything come together so well at the end, including the beautiful labels and plinth, which I hadn’t really been able to picture until today. We were a little concerned about how such a tiny pendant would look in a large case, but I think we made very good use of the space by printing out high-resolution images of the glass panels and putting them on the plinth.  This helps the viewers see the object better and made the space feel warmer.

When I chose this object way back in July, I definitely did not anticipate all the challenges it would bring. It’s an object that doesn’t yield easy answers, that’s a little mysterious—but this is something we theologians love!  Even now, after five months of researching, consulting experts, and reflecting on the pendant, it still keeps its secrets.

Just a final comment on the research process — one of the highlights of my experience has been speaking with and learning from experts in the fields of art history and curatorial research.  Toward the beginning of my research, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr Ayla Lepine, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Essex and an expert in Victorian aesthetics, who actually helped me select my object.  I was also very pleased to meet with Kirstin Kennedy, a curator of metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on several occasions; her insight on the object helped me probe much more deeply into the questions the object raises.  Finally, I was “serendipitously” (thank you, Google) able to track down a doctoral researcher from the University of Giessen in Germany who is currently studying book-shaped pendants from the Renaissance.  This was an amazing coincidence, and Romina was kind enough to fly to London and share her expertise with us.  Meeting these generous scholars has been a delight, and one of the experiences I will treasure from my internship is having been in a truly collaborative educational environment.  In my experience, university academia can sometimes feel resistant to this kind of collaboration, and it was refreshing to be involved in a project in which various perspectives were so vividly able to cross-fertilize and enrich my own study.

This blog post was originally published on The Courtauld Gallery Blog.
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The German Miniature Picture Bibles

Josephine with Paper Conservator Kate Edmondson looking at how the Küslins’ Bible was made

Curating the the Küslins’ Bible was an attractive prospect for me as I have an academic background in Prints and printmaking and my current PhD is in Theology and the Arts.

Delving into the Protestant devotional context of Augsburg and seeing how it influenced their pictorial compositions has been an exciting opportunity.

When I first looked at this pair of miniature Bibles, I was amazed by their near perfect condition, given that they were primarily used as supports in spiritual contemplation which would mean they would have been used regularly.

Holding one of the miniature Bibles

In addition to limited factual documentation on the books, I soon established that finding out any information concerning the Küslin sisters themselves was going to be a tricky task – in this early stage of my research I only found one reference to them!

However, research on thumb Bibles, their function and German printmakers luckily proved to be more fruitful.

I spent a lot of time emailing many specialists and worldwide libraries, which had other sets of the Küslins’ Bible, to see what information could be found – the results confirmed I was working on some unique objects!

I also worked with The Courtauld’s Conservation team to find out about the physical make-up of the books and the cleaning had brought the silverwork back to their former glory.

Looking at the Bibles under the microscope and seeing the details of the clasps and the engravings of the putti on the mounts emphasised the pain-staking work that went into making these beautiful objects. Even the detail on the small engraved crosses was made to look like wood-grain.

Dr Alexandra Gerstein, The Courtauld’s Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, examines the books

The Courtauld’s Paper Conservator Kate Edmondson also gave me an insight as to which parts of the picture books were likely later additions, and the question arose as to how much of these books could definitively be dated to late seventeenth century Augsburg.

Josephine with Paper Conservator Kate Edmondson looking at how the Küslins’ Bible was made and ‘re-made’

For example, the silk headbands sewn into the structure of the book to protect the top and bottom may have been re-done in the Victorian period when the books were likely to have been re-bound.

Midway through my research, a lead from the Rare Books Curator at the Bodleian Librarycame to light on a picture Bible, called the Hexastichon Hieron printed in Oxford in 1677 which used German engravings.

I went to investigate, and to my excitement the illustrations turned out to be near identical to many of the engravings in the Küslins’ Bible!

In fact, the engravings for the Oxford Bible came from Matthaeus Merian, who was the grandfather of the sisters! Comparing the Küslins’ Bible to Merian’s engravings from the Icones Biblicae at the British Museum, was enlightening.

Towards the end of my research, I started to think about how I wanted the books and labels to be displayed and show off the books to their best advantage.

Designing the mounts for display

A day with the professional photographer was a good way to see how carefully these valuable objects needed to be treated while taking accurate photos.

Wearing latex gloves became a constant feature!

Ensuring the books are in place for the professional photos

Towards the end, getting the labels, captions and web-text finalised became the priorities. A meeting with Eva, the web-developer, threw up some inspirational ideas as to how best to represent the web page; I knew the page-turning feature would be an additional success!

Discussing possibilities for the web text

The entire project was overseen by Dr. Alexandra Gerstein, who was a source of good advice and support, and special thanks to the team at the Ashmolean Prints Department, Angela Roche at the British Museum, Alan Coates at the Bodleian, Christopher Rowland, Ben Quash and Helen Hills who have all provided enormous encouragement and feedback, Christopher Mendez, John Hindmarch, Richard Valencia, and Joanna Selbourne and Kate Edmondson at The Courtauld Gallery.