ART

The British Museum brings Medieval Europe to life in Madrid

CaixaForum hosts exhibition dispelling ‘dark ages’ myth and highlighting continent’s sense of continuity

A Madonna and Christ carving on display at the CaixaForum exhibition.
A Madonna and Christ carving on display at the CaixaForum exhibition.Carlos Rosillo

Visitors to Madrid’s CaixaForum center can take a step back in time to a world where knights ruled, royalty reigned and a continental legacy was born at Medieval Power: Power and Legacy.

This exhibition brings many of the British Museum’s medieval treasures to Spain for the first time, giving visitors a chance to get up-close with these antiquities from the Middle Ages.

We hope to show visitors a map of Europe they will recognize today, with its different people, over time

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum

Covering the period from 400 to 1500 the collection traces the main events that shaped this important and still largely misunderstood period. The monarchs of that era and court life are analyzed, as are the wars, the birth of kingdoms, daily life in the cities, the role of religion and the Middle Ages’ legacy today.

Featured at the exhibition are more than 270 artifacts from the British Museum’s world-class collection, spanning the period 400, shortly after the collapse of the Roman empire, to 1500, when the modern era begins.

The exhibition explores the role of the monarchy in the Middle Ages.
The exhibition explores the role of the monarchy in the Middle Ages.Carlos Rosillo

Among the more than 250 objects on display are examples from courtly life, including jewelry made of precious metals and embellished with gem stones, as well as examples of everyday objects such as pottery, coins and candlesticks.

Other cornerstones of medieval life are revealed through the tools of war, including knights’ helmets and swords, as well as objects of religious significance such as stained glass, papal rings, devotional figures and plaques.

Present at the opening on Tuesday were Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, as well as Naomi Speakman, the exhibition’s curator, both of whom highlighted the importance of the European dimension to the show. They were also keen to dispel the commonly held view that the Middle Ages were an unenlightened period in the continent’s history.

English statue of a knight dated between 1375 and 1425.
English statue of a knight dated between 1375 and 1425.

“This was not a time of rupture, but a moment of continuity, one that was rich in cultural, social, and trading exchanges. We hope to show visitors a map of Europe they will recognize today, with its different people, over time,” said Hartwig Fischer.

Ignasi Miró Borràs, director of the cultural section of the La Caixa Foundation, said that for him, one of the most valuable pieces the British Museum has included in the exhibition is a king from the Lewis chess set. The board game set, which was found on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, but is believed to be of Scandinavian origin, is the most complete board game in a museum and dates back to the 12th century.

The exhibition runs until February 5, 2017 at the Caixa Forum in Madrid, and then transfers to Barcelona.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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