‘Crossroads: Travelling through the Middle Ages’ at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

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From 15 September 2017 to 11 February 2018, the Allard Pierson Museum is hosting an exhibition entitled Crossroads. Travelling through the Middle Ages. The exhibition features a wide variety of unique objects from all over Europe, from the period popularly known as ‘The Dark Ages’. Crossroads throws new light on this misconception, presenting a fascinating image of migration, contact and exchange – of the birth of Europe.

'Crossroads: Travelling through the Middle Ages' at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

Identity and influence

In the Early Middle Ages, Europe was a place of great change and mobility. The influence of ancient civilisations continued to be felt, while at the same time, new religions from the Middle East began to take hold. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, entire populations were on the move. This dynamism brought a huge amount of cultural exchange and diversity. The countless beautiful objects from every corner of the continent that can be seen in Crossroads are not only a testimony to the plural identity of Europe, but also to the mutual influence in different spheres: religious, cultural and material.

Visitors to the exhibition see objects ranging from an alluring Egyptian lady on a fragment of cloth from late antiquity, to a fierce Germanic god portrayed on a gilded buckle from a female grave of the Pannonian Avars. Early Christianity is represented by the cover of a sarcophagus from Syria. The sarcophagus, which has been digitally reconstructed, would have contained a saint. It was possible to pour oil into the sarcophagus, which became consecrated through contact with the bones, and was then collected. The change in religious ideas can be clearly seen in a Byzantine icon which has been painted over several times through the centuries. The Muslim Umayyad Caliphate in Spain is represented by a tenth-century diadem of gold and skilfully worked glass.

Themes and stories

Crossroads uses eight themes to bring together top exhibits from leading collections of artefacts from the Early Middle Ages from museums in the Netherlands and beyond, including the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, the Byzantine and Christian museum in Athens, the Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum in Budapest, the Museo de Jaén (Spain), the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.

Early medieval travellers provide the connection between the themes and the objects. The travellers – actual historical figures – tell their story in an introductory film and the publication accompanying the exhibition, and feature throughout the exhibition itself. Digital applications provide more in-depth information: holographic boxes are used to add digital content to objects, and visitors can access a Cross Culture Timeline to focus on a particular object and request extra details.

Activities, publication

The museum is offering guided tours of the exhibition, as well as a range of lectures and symposia. A special route for families through the exhibition encourages dialogue between children and their accompanying adults (parents, grandparents, friends) on the objects shown.

The exhibition is accompanied by the lavishly illustrated book Crossroads. Reizen door de middeleeuwen / Crossroads. Travelling through the Middle Ages. Published by the Allard Pierson Museum in collaboration with WBOOKS, Zwolle. ISBN 97 89 46258 2231 (Dutch) and 97 89 46258 2248 (English). Price € 24.95.

Source: Allard Pierson Museum [October 15, 2017]

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