WATERFORD TREASURS: a virtual tour

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2021), Reviews, Volume 29


By Tony Canavan

Above: The Mayor’s Wine Vault, complete with barrels of wine, just after the Chorister’s Hall, the first gallery on the virtual tour.

As we are once again in lockdown, Museum Eye has resorted to the internet in order to visit a museum. Most museums have adapted to changed circumstances and have made exhibitions available online. Among those that provide a virtual offering, the tour of Waterford Treasures, that city’s medieval museum, is worth seeking out.

Follow the instructions on the website until you come to the page inviting you to take the tour. Simply click on the large purple arrow to ‘walk’ through the museum, room by room. As you enter each new section, the camera turns to give you a panoramic view of each gallery, and by using other arrows you can look around a full 360 degrees, as well as up and down, giving you a close approximation to actually being in that room. Using the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons, you can focus in on a particular object or get a wider view. There are nineteen sections in total, not all of which may be of particular interest to you, but the strip of thumbnail pictures at the bottom of the screen allows you to skip ahead to another gallery or go back to an earlier one.

Above: Christ Church Vestments (1460–80) in the next gallery ‘upstairs’ from the Art of Devotion gallery.

After the entrance, the visitor enters the Chorister’s Hall, a long vaulted chamber, which leads onto the Mayor’s Wine Vault, complete with barrels of wine. If these two rooms are of interest primarily as examples of medieval architecture, with little in the way of objects to look at, the rest
of the tour has more to offer. The next gallery, ‘The Art of Devotion’, concentrates on religious art and iconography, and even has a relic of the ‘True Cross’.

You go ‘upstairs’ to the next gallery, which contains more religious artefacts, such as the Christ Church Vestments (1460–80). There are other objects related to medieval Waterford here, including a scale model of the city in 1160. You can zoom in on this to examine it in detail, as you can with the similar models of the city at different periods throughout the museum. Beyond this gallery is the small Vestments Room, which has examples of medieval priests’ lavish vestments.

One comes closer to the modern era with the ‘Luke Wadding’ gallery. Artefacts, including a death-mask, associated with this prominent figure in the Catholic Counter-reformation can be seen, along with displays that place his life in the context of events in Europe and Ireland.

Most of the rest of the exhibition is concerned with Waterford as an important city in medieval Ireland. The ‘Charter Roll’ gallery has the Great Parchment Book of Waterford, which contains the city records from 1356 to 1649. Interestingly, its last entry, which recorded the execution of Charles I and recognised his son as Charles II, was defaced when the Cromwellians took over the city. Here, too, is a collection of charters granted to Waterford by a succession of English monarchs, reflecting Waterford’s position as an ‘English’ city for centuries.

Elsewhere there are displays dedicated to the other aspects of medieval Waterford, depicting domestic, public and military scenes. Waterford’s importance as a port is emphasised. For centuries it was the centre of wine importation into Ireland, as well as being the major route for exports to England, France and beyond. Throughout this area, and elsewhere, good use is made of mixing archaeological artefacts with images, such as murals and life-size reproductions of illustrations from manuscripts depicting kings and important personages.

There is also an impressive mannequin of King Edward III, sitting in state on his throne, based on an illustration from his charter. Nearby are information panels explaining how cloth and clothes were used to distinguish social position and ethnicity. Waterford played a role in the Perkin Warbeck affair and the tour ends with the Bearing Sword of Henry VIII, given as a reward for Waterford’s loyalty in troubled times.

Below: Various kings in the Charter Roll gallery.
(All images: screenshots of the Medieval Museum, Treasures of Medieval Waterford)

The virtual tour of Waterford Treasures was certainly interesting. Being able to ‘walk’ through the museum and to get a 360-degree view in all directions did bring it close to the experience of actually being there. The exhibition and the various objects on display all kept my interest and I could probably have spent more time in the virtual tour than I did.

Having said that, there were some drawbacks. The museum is empty of other people, so ‘walking’ through it alone is an eerie experience. Occasionally the glare of the camera’s light meant that I could not read or see clearly. It may have been my fault, but I got stuck in a loop in locations 14 to 17—that is, I kept finding myself going in circles. The biggest drawback, however, was the lack of either text or commentary to explain what I was looking at. I tried in vain to find a button to provide either. Without any explanatory text or commentary, I think the tour gives you the opportunity to look at rather than experience this exhibition.

Tony Canavan is Consultant Editor, Books Ireland.


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