Saturday, 11 June 2011

The V&A's Peasant Industries panel c.1900

Having recently read Linda Parry's excellent Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement (Thames & Hudson, 2005), I have been looking at what the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) call The Spies, more closely.  Confusingly both of the V&A's Godfrey Blount pieces are called The Spies in various literature.

Blount, Godfrey, The Spies, c.1900 at the Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A describe the panel as representing "a biblical story in which spies were sent to Canaan to look for the Promised Land and came back laden with huge grapes".  The lettering at the bottom of the panel reads "Confortamini et afferte nobis de fructibus terræ" which is taken from The Old Testament's Book of Numbers 13:21.  Having read the passage from the bible this sheds light onto the items in the panel.
Detail from Blount, Godfrey, The Spies, c.1900

The story describes God telling Moses to "send men to view the land of Chanaan, which I will give to the children of Israel, one of every tribe, of the rulers.  Moses did what the Lord had commanded, sending from the desert of Pharan, principal men...And Moses sent them to view that land of Chanaan, and said to them: Go you up by the south side. And when you shall come to the mountains, view the land, of what sort it is, and the people that are the inhabitants thereof, whether they be strong or weak: few in number or many:  The land itself, whether it be good or bad: what manner of cities, walled or without walls: The ground, fat or barren, woody or without trees. Be of good courage, and bring us of the fruits of the land." (New Advent Bible)
Detail from Blount, Godfrey, The Spies, c.1900

"Confortamini et afferte nobis de fructibus terræ" translates as "Be of good courage, and bring us the fruits of the land".

The story continues "Now it was the time when the firstripe grapes are fit to be eaten. And when they had gone up, they viewed the land from the desert of Sin, unto Rohob as you enter into Emath.  And they went up at the south side, and came to Hebron, where were Achiman and Sisai and Tholmai the sons of Enac. For Hebron was built seven years before Tanis the city of Egypt.  And forward as far as the torrent of the cluster of grapes, they cut off a branch with its cluster of grapes, which two men carried upon a lever. They took also of the pomegranates and of the figs of that place: Which was called Nehelescol, that is to say, the torrent of the cluster of grapes, because from thence the children of Israel had carried a cluster of grapes.  And they that went to spy out the land returned after forty days, having gone round all the country, and came to Moses and Aaron and to all the assembly of the children of Israel to the desert of Pharan, which is in Cades. And speaking to them and to all the multitude, they showed them the fruits of the land:  And they related and said: We came into the land to which you sent us, which in very deed flows with milk and honey as may be known by these fruits."
Detail from Blount, Godfrey, The Spies, c.1900

Hence we have an enormous cluster of grapes being carried by two men upon a lever.  The man on the left is carrying figs and on the right pomegranates.  There is no mention of the pineapple in this section of the bible!  It had sounded like this was one of a number of panels illustrating a story, if so, I can only think that the other panels would be illustrating different bible stories, as this panel seems to encapsulate the most illustrative element of Numbers 13.
Detail from Blount, Godfrey, The Spies, c.1900

Detail from Blount, Godfrey,
The Spies, c.1900
The V&A have told me that this panel "was given to the V&A as a gift from a Mrs. Joseph King in 1953", this would have been upon Joseph King's death.  Presumably the panel was a gift from King's brother and sister-in-law, Godfrey and Ethel Blount. Perhaps the panel was actually a gift to King's first wife, Maude Egerton King, Ethel's sister.  The date of the panel's creation was such an important time for the creation of the Peasant Arts movement with the Kings and the Blounts developing their workshops, at the height of the Arts and Craft interest in the Haslemere peasant workshops.  It is interesting that the panel was given to the V&A, and not to Haslemere Educational Museum with whom Joseph King had such a long relationship through his curatorship.


  1. Thank you for a fascinating post. I have seen the Blount embroidery, "The Spies" in the V&A, but not this beautiful panel.

  2. Thank you. The panel is in storage, I wonder when anyone last looked at it?

    I think that the panel could be seen as particularly symbolic for their movement. I think it expresses their personal voyage to the land of milk and honey...Haslemere.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...