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Medieval armour in Victorian society

The image of the armoured knight in late 19th-century art
15th December 2021 - 10:00 am - 11:00 am

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Medieval armour in Victorian society
The image of the armoured knight in late 19th-century art

Speaker: Anna Gubinskaya, PhD candidate, Victoria University of Wellington

For many, Victorian art and literature still sparks interest in the Middle Ages. But what drew the Victorians so strongly towards knights, chivalry and armour? This talk will shed light on the role of the ‘knight in shining armour’ in the 19th century.

The Victorian era was a turning point for medievalism as both a field of study and an aesthetic movement. Before the reign of Queen Victoria, the Middle Ages were seen as dark and barbaric times of transition from the Classical period to the Renaissance. Thanks to the writers and artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts Movement, the idea of an idealised Middle Ages gained currency. The image of a knight donning shining armour played a significant role in associating the ideals of chivalry, valour and masculinity with the Middle Ages for Victorians.

To illustrate the scope of the dissemination and popularisation of this image in Victorian society, the talk will introduce Natsume Sōseki’s early writing. This famous Japanese author was sent by his government to study English literature in London from 1901 to 1903, the twilight of the Victorian era. His experience resulted in Kairo, a unique adaptation of the Arthurian mythology into Japanese, and one heavily influenced by Victorian medievalism.

Image: The figure depicted, Takeru, has been suggested to have been inspired by a north-east Iranian legend comparable to King Arthur, due to the structural similarities in the two stories.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

This is a free online lecture. Please register to be sent a link to the online presentation.