Go back to article: The Panstereomachia, Madame Tussaud’s and the Heraldic Exhibition: the art and science of displaying the medieval past in nineteenth-century London

Abstract

‘Panstereomachia. This title, as long as a man’s arm, belongs to an exhibition of a novel kind, which was opened on Monday, 19th June, 1826.’ Devised by Charles Bullock, the exhibit featured a large model of the ‘memorable battle of Poictiers’ where the English hero, Edward the Black Prince, defeated French forces in 1356.[1] The exhibit spoke to a burgeoning market for historically-themed exhibitions and a growing fascination with the Middle Ages in the nineteenth century. A key selling point of the exhibit was its mysterious name which alluded to a new type of exhibition experience. Yet the Panstereomachia was only one of many ‘educational’ exhibits which employed old and new technology to bring the past to life in order to edify and entertain new consumer audiences.

This essay will trace three exhibitions across the nineteenth century to assess how exhibitors drew on science and technology to offer competing visions of the medieval past. Moving from the Panstereomachia model, it will look at the introduction of medieval-themed figures and tableaux at Madame Tussaud’s from the mid nineteenth century before exploring the 1894 Heraldic Exhibition and the debate over the preservation of medieval artefacts. Underpinning this discussion are two key questions: What role did technology play in the ways in which people exhibited and accessed the past historically? How can visual and material culture inform our understanding of shifting notions of the Middle Ages?

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181011/001