Here is some more of the story…

At this point, I must acknowledge my debt to my friend Simon Fleury whose research uncovered this story.  In fact, Simon is very much part of the story as you will find out.  You can read more about his work here.

Briefly, between 1516 and 1521, the Cartoons were woven into tapestries at the workshop of Pieter van Aelst in Brussels, the main centre for tapestry production in Europe. In 1623 the Cartoons were brought to England by the Prince of Wales, later Charles I. From 1865 onwards, they have been on loan from the Royal Collection to the V&A.

Richard Redgrave, the first curator of the South Kensington Museum, as the V&A was originally called, was tasked with condition checking the Cartoons, seven of which had now survived largely intact for over 3 centuries.  He used the most up to date technology of the day: photography.   Twelve collodion glass plate negatives, 3 foot by 1 foot, were made in 1858 by Charles Thurston Thompson (1816—1868), the V&A’s first photographer.

Charles Thurston Thompson’s collodion on glass negative of Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, ‘The Conversion of the Proconsul: Elymas Struck Blind’, 1858. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Redgrave then annotated these negatives in pen – noting tears, smudges, wrinkles, fades, etc.

Detail of Richard Redgrave’s annotated albumen print, 1865. V&A 76:598. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


These annotated prints live in the V&A’s store, have been subsumed into the collection and are catalogued as museum objects in their own right.

This is the second time we have come across objects that were never intended to be museum pieces.  First the tapestry templates, now the condition reports. Both had a clear purpose and both achieved their goals.  But change the context, introduce someone with a different way of looking and their value and identity change.

Before I suggest how we create this same process for ourselves and our teams, I want to jump ahead a century to Simon’s inquiry, because I think it makes a fascinating leap.

Researching how objects change in context, purpose and human intervention – commissioner, designer, weaver, purchaser, curator, photographer, conservator, researcher – Simon drew upon more recent condition reports, ore drawings on photographs, and using digital photo techniques managed to extract the annotations from the Cartoons, layered them upon each other and created a completely new image.

Detail from Condition Report: encountering the museum-object Simon Fleury, 2016.


Had I shown you this image from the beginning, and asked you that same question, “What are we looking at?” what would you have said – a doodle, somebody’s notes?

So, how has the context of the previous few pages helped to frame your thoughts?

What I love about the image is that it exists in its own right.

It is a visual object – as if Jackson Pollock had graffitied a Mondrian.

And it is also a research product of Simon’s work.

But is it a work of art? Is it an art object?

How does the information that Bill Sherman, formerly Deputy Director at the V&A and now Director of the Warberg Institute, has a framed print, not of Raphael’s Cartoon, nor of Thompson’s annotated photograph, but of Simon’s work on his office wall, change your view on that question?